Two of the most Commanding Women in Finance Soon to be Fired

Two of the most prominent women in investment banking, JP Morgan‘s Blythe Masters – head of their commodities units – and Brevan Howard’s Geraldine Sundstrom – may soon be looking for work.  Sundstrom, the star fund manager for Brevan Howard’s emerging market funds, is coming off a disastrous year. The nimble market manager who managed to turn a profit in 2008 when the rest of the world was trying to stem hemorrhaging losses from the implosion of credit default swaps, had a 15% loss on her signature 2 billion dollar unit within the giant hedge fund’s portfolio. While Brevan Howard was quiet about it, it’s the largest annual single loss the giant hedge fund manager has experienced, and it happened in her department, on her watch.

Blythe Masters downfall comes from regulatory changes. During the chaos in the banking world between 2008 and 2010, JP Morgan bought commodities businesses at pennies on the dollar. Their focus on investment banking has since run afoul of SEC and FDIC regulations requiring retail banking outlets for commodities sales. JP Morgan appears to be negotiating a sale to Mercuria Energy Group, insiders say it’s unlikely that Blythe Masters will move with the unit.

Masters was the youngest woman to become a managing director at the bank at age 28. In spite of her stellar track record, JP Morgan has declined to make official statements about her future employment with them or what the divestiture would mean for her career. Masters has joined and quit a Commodities Futures Trading Commission advisory group in early February, which may be evidence of her exploring multiple options.

While Sundstrom’s departure from Brevan Howard fits a more conventional narrative, there are still elements of concern. Both Masters and Sundstrom are rising stars and talents to be reckoned with…and both are women who are being let go in male dominated industries. It’s not our place to second-guess employee retention policies, but the number of diverse voices in investment banking has taken a significant drop.

In a leaner, more networked world, where investment banking can’t stay totally focused on New York and London, having different perspectives in the executive boardroom is only an asset, not a virtue. While finance is the ultimate results-driven business, and both Masters and Sundstrom will find comparable positions in short order, the impression that Masters might have been let go in spite of her record is implicit evidence of an internal echo chamber at the higher ranks of JP Morgan.

We’ll be watching the job prospects of both women to see where they land; a failure to stick the landing someplace soon may be a sign of executives hiring people under stress because of their familiarity or similarity, rather than their ability.


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