Cayman’s newest law firm is three months old, and its two female founders cite former U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama as inspiration for a venture they hope will “change up the corporate game.”
Jamaican-born, Canada-raised and Cayman status holder Christine Bodden, 45, and Guernsey-raised and educated Juliet Fenn, 52, started financial-services firm Quality Corporate Services Limited in July in a rented office in the old Mirco Centre – renamed and refurbished last year as Cannon Place – and say they are determined to be different.
“We have drive, passion, experience and determination,” Bodden says, “but also humility.”
“As for changing up the corporate game in Cayman’s financial-services space,” she says, “we quote Michelle Obama: ‘We as women, we have to understand that we know more, just even instinctively, than we think we do.’”
Neither Bodden nor Fenn were explicit about what QCSL might do better than their male-led counterparts, but offer intriguing hints: “We couldn’t possibly comment on what we can do that men cannot do in this business,” says Bodden, but “we bring a wealth of experience to this industry and I guess as women we have different needs and wants out of our business.
“As women, and working mothers in this case, we know what needs to get done and we get on with it,” they write in an email exchange with The Journal. “We are champions of multitasking, able to balance work and home life.”
In a refreshing – and provocative – dialog, the pair observe that male-led firms, “in general, are more likely to be striving to get to the top, viewing the world through hierarchy rather than focusing on teamwork, building relationships and ensuring that everyone gets a fair bite at the bullet, whatever their position.”
The allusion to collaborative, cooperative “teamwork” at the new firm echoes sentiments expressed elsewhere by other women in business, who variously characterize their own leadership styles as “affiliative and coaching,” often “consultative,” seeking “contributions” from coworkers, and “supportive of others’ initiative[s].”
Such attitudes are not “softer” than those at larger companies, but intended to broaden participation. Greater inclusion, however, does not indicate lesser requirements for productivity – just a different way of playing “the corporate game.”
“We are passionate about business, but not to the exclusion of all else,” Bodden says. “We may be swimming against the mainstream, but instead of fighting the current, we are always looking for ways to use the current to our advantage for our clients and for the business … we all want to get safely to the other side.”
She employs some tough language to describe traditional – not to say “hidebound” – attitudes.
“As business partners, we are uniquely creating a sustainable professional environment that provides a global outlook,” Fenn says, “yet with a culture that appreciates individuality and smart work vs. an inflexible hard-work model.”
That “hard-work model,” she says, “often overlooks and undervalues – or completely overlooks – talented individuals who want to succeed in the professional space, but face the obstacles of an inflexible work culture dominated by outdated, rigid and blinkered views of what equates to valuable staff.”
On the other hand, “smart work,” Fenn offers, is “more about being organized and efficient rather than being present for long hours because it looks ‘good’ and appears ‘committed.’
“If someone can work effectively and efficiently in six hours or eight hours, as opposed to 10 hours or 12 hours – often referred to as ‘hard work” or ‘putting the hours in’ – then why not?” she asks.
“From personal experience, smart workers enjoy their work more and in turn enjoy life more … a very positive circle.”
And by “blinkered,” Bodden means “corporate cultures that do not appreciate that people have a life outside work … and do not appreciate that egos can be stifling and [can] impact staff turnover, which is ultimately expensive.
“QCSL want to be recognized as professional, authentic and sincere because that comes easily to us. We believe successful companies appreciate the individuality of people,” Fenn says, key to both gaining clients and recruiting and retaining staff, such that they “feel like they are not just a worker but a part of a team and appreciating the need for family/work/life balance.”
Bodden has a 2002 bachelor of law degree from the University of Liverpool, via Cayman’s Truman Bodden Law School, and did barrister training in 2006 at London’s Inns of Court Law School on a scholarship from Appleby, where she worked as a litigation paralegal.
The same year, she gained admission to the Bar of England and Wales, then completed 18 months articles with Appleby, and in 2008 was admitted as Attorney-at-Law in Cayman.
She is a long-standing volunteer lawyer at the Women’s Resource Centre [now the Family Resource Centre], and has been director, corporate counsel and consultant at Sinclairs and in-house counsel at Credit Suisse and Citco.
Fenn attended the Guernsey College of Further Education and in 1992 gained a Certificate in Supervisory Management from Britain’s National Examining Board.
She arrived in Cayman in 2005, spending 4½ years as a senior administrator for fund services at Rawlinson & Hunter.
With a “higher diploma” in “administrative procedures,” a certificate in offshore finance and administration, and a diploma in paralegal studies, Fenn has worked in directorship services for fund structures and corporate management, specializing in company formations, corporate governance, compliance, and liquidations – and at law firms in Gibraltar, Guernsey and Cayman – for more than 30 years.
She is also a notary public and member of the Cayman Islands Directors Association.
While she says she “thoroughly enjoyed her time” at Rawlinson & Hunter, Fenn dropped hints that “not all” her working experiences had been positive, indicating “some negativity” from a previous employer – whom she declined to name – “with regard to the start-up of QCSL.”
“We have definitely encountered some obstacles along the way,” she says. “In fact, there are some out there that definitely want us to fail.”
However, Bodden adds, “we don’t believe that has anything to do with us being female, but more an expression of concern that our different approach may prove to be better and more successful.”
“After all,” she says, turning again to her favorite First Lady, “success is only meaningful and enjoyable if it feels like your own.”
They believe Cayman offers a niche for “a good-quality, registered-office facility” targeted at small companies, with fees tailored accordingly.
“We believe in being approachable and ‘user friendly,’” Bodden says. ”Opening, registering and running a new business is quite daunting enough without being faced with a brick wall of processes, procedures, legal requirements, applications, etc.
“We will be there for our clients, to advise, to discuss, to help clarify the way forward and to simplify – peace of mind is a wonderful thing and we want our clients to be able to count on us for the best possible service and help, and to be human, to understand the issues and challenges.”