People are realizing that women and other minorities have purchasing power and money to spend. Companies are also learning that having women in leadership positions can lead to better results. For example, when it comes to fund management, women led funds often outstrip that of male-led companies, according to a MassChallenge/BCG study. Similarly, deal teams that included women produced on average internal rates of return 12% higher than deals led by all-male teams, according to findings from a study conducted by HEC Paris and MVision Private Equity Advisers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gretchen Dahlberg, General Counsel at Merrill Corporation.
Thank you for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the Banking/Finance field?
I joined the financial services industry 10 years ago when I came to Merrill Corporation, a leading global technology provider for M&A professionals, as part of its legal team. I’ve stayed at Merrill because I’m able to learn about various areas of law from all over the world and because I have been able to grow inside and outside the company. With Merrill, I’ve had the chance to live and work as a lawyer in the UK, which not only gave me a great perspective on an important market, but more broadly provided great insight on European commerce. I’ve travelled to Asia, to work with teams in Hong Kong and Singapore and I helped set up Merrill’s office in Japan. Similarly, Merrill’s DatasiteOne platform for intelligent due diligence and enterprise collaboration, which is entirely based in the cloud, is another element of the job that continues to expand my knowledge and areas of interest. Since technology is constantly changing, I am regularly considering developing legal and business issues and the impact they have on our customers. On this front, jurisdictional issues for our users and customers, as well as IP protection and licensing implications, top the list. .
Can you share with our readers the most interesting or amusing story that occurred to you in your career so far? Can you share the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of my favorite stories is from several years ago when I first started traveling internationally for business. Before my first trip to Tokyo, I told my contacts in Japan that I wasn’t a picky eater and would try anything. My first night there, I went out for my first meal and the opening course was a full baby octopus with all eight legs! I was not prepared for it, but knew I had to eat whatever was put in front of me. I was nervous and thought I might even gag, but when I tried the octopus, it was so delicious! That lesson has stuck with me throughout my career — you shouldn’t pre-judge anything. Any assumptions you have can be utterly wrong.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
As a company, we are gearing up for a new release which includes many product innovations, as well as the release of our first new application, DatasiteOne Marketing. Currently, our platform, DatasiteOne, powers secure, intelligent due diligence and enterprise collaboration for thousands of deals across the globe. DatasiteOne Marketing will help deal makers manage the early stage asset marketing processes, including buyer outreach, tracking, managing and customizing email content, providing a huge time savings. The initiative is part of Merrill’s ambition to surround the M&A lifecycle with technology, insight and expertise to support our customers’ administrative and decision-making processes. My team has been busy providing counsel on business and legal issues for the project, including on intellectual property and compliance.
Another initiative that is also taking up a good deal of my time is understanding the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), ethics and the law. AI’s rise will make life better in many respects, but it also presents important risks. AI relies on algorithms which learn from real-world data. This means it could, inadvertently, reinforce existing social biases. To ensure proper use of AI, there need to be transparency, clarity and policies on how data is collected and an understanding of what is used to create the algorithms. AI is only as good as the people who design it. I’m leading a panel discussion on ethics this fall and I’m excited to discuss AI and the importance of making sure that its inputs are unbiased, non-intrusive, and of course, useful.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Merrill has developed as a company based on its commitment to service. Even though we have transitioned from a financial print company to a SaaS-based M&A technology platform for dealmakers, our initial commitment to service has not changed and remains a key competitive advantage. For example, several years ago, a junior banker met with one of our sales leaders for help closing a big deal. The junior banker needed a data room set up in under 24 hours and delivered a massive amount of data to be included. Not only did Merrill get the job done, but the junior banker was so impressed with the effort, particularly the customer service, that he ultimately decided to join the company. Now he works for Merrill. He could have remained on his career path in banking, but he saw the value in being an employee at a place like Merrill and made the change. This is a great example of the power of excellent customer service.
Another factor that makes Merrill unique is our ability to constantly innovate. As technology rapidly changed and some of Merrill’s legacy businesses faced market and technological pressures, Merrill pivoted toward its technology platform, DatasiteOne, and reimagined its vision and mission. Under CEO Rusty Wiley’s leadership, Merrill sold several of its declining businesses and used the proceeds to upgrade its platform, using cloud-based technologies and microservices architecture. The overhaul has allowed us to dramatically increase our global distribution scale, as well as address other areas of the M&A life cycle. Our first new application — DatasiteOne Marketing, which will help deal makers manage the early stage asset marketing processes, will provide a huge time savings and allow M&A professionals to focus on higher value activities.
Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?
Reality has certainly promoted some of the change. People are realizing that women and other minorities have purchasing power and money to spend. Companies are also learning that having women in leadership positions can lead to better results. For example, when it comes to fund management, women led funds often outstrip that of male-led companies, according to a MassChallenge/BCG study. Similarly, deal teams that included women produced on average internal rates of return 12% higher than deals led by all-male teams, according to findings from a study conducted by HEC Paris and MVision Private Equity Advisers.
Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a) individuals b) companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?
Many financial services firms have made it a priority to increase gender diversity and women have made strides in the field. But there’s obviously more progress to be made, especially when it comes to financing and supporting women-led businesses. However, creating a diverse team is still a challenge for most organizations. To combat this, organizations should recognize that broader perspectives can and will add value and ultimately produce better results. To this end, organizations must commit to bringing more diverse slates of candidates in for leadership roles, and identifying women early in their careers for leadership development. So it benefits the bottom line to encourage women to study finance at both the undergraduate and graduate level, and to support the development of female-centric networking programs, associations and events, such as Exponent Women, to inspire and educate women on how they can make a difference in financial services, and more specifically, the deal making industry.
Thank you for all of these great insights!