We spoke to BlackRock’s Managing Director, Ian Cowan, to find out more about the success of the company’s Edinburgh-based operations.
BlackRock’s roots in Edinburgh stretch back to 1998. Back then, the company made its first foray into Scotland, acquiring a small equity fund house based in the city. That operation went from strength to strength, as the company took advantage of Edinburgh’s rich talent pool and heritage in financial services.
Today, BlackRock in Edinburgh employees over 700 staff, in a high-quality office space nestled in the heart of Edinburgh’s financial district. At a global level, the company employs almost 13,000 people, with 70 offices spread across 30 countries. A common purpose unites its staff: helping investors around the world achieve their financial goals.
Ian Cowan, BlackRock's Managing Director explains the success of the company’s Edinburgh operation.
“As a location, Edinburgh almost always surpasses expectations. I believe that the quality of life here, combined with the varied career opportunities on offer here at BlackRock, has given us the power to attract and retain good people.
“We have corporate operations like finance and human resources, we have portfolio and risk analytics, client operations, investment operations, portfolio operations, technology, portfolio management and our BlackRock Solutions business. Essentially the Edinburgh office is involved in supporting almost all operational and technological activities required of a modern, global investment solutions firm.”
All that, combined with the charms of Scotland’s rich history, art galleries, architecture, and teeming nightlife. As Ian points out:
“Edinburgh has a great quality of life. You can be part of a significant global business and take advantage of a beautiful, vibrant, city which is easy to get around with a relatively short average commute”.
Ian adds that “Edinburgh has a long history as a financial centre, with a developed talent pool experienced in international financial services. This, alongside a strong student and graduate population, provides excellent opportunities to identify and develop talent. It also means we can build sustainable operations at a reasonable cost”.
Connected to skills
“Edinburgh has a long history as a financial centre, with a developed talent pool experienced in international financial services.
This, alongside a strong student and graduate population, provides excellent opportunities to identify and develop talent.
Ian Cowan, Managing Director of BlackRock
Creating a culture for success
BlackRock is very successful at both attracting and retaining its staff, both in Edinburgh and globally. As well as career progression, Ian cites innovation and a respectful, collegiate corporate culture.
“We encourage innovation, for example through regional competitions. Our people suggest ideas on a whole swathe of topics – from software development, to investment solutions. Basically, we want to hear about any ideas that help us deliver better outcomes for our clients”.
Diversity of thought and ideas are themes close to the company’s heart, with two-thirds of BlackRock’s staff holding degrees in a subject other than finance, economics, or business. 45 languages are spoken among its global network of employees, and for its Edinburgh-based workers, that means opportunities to work and learn across the globe.
Another key aspect of BlackRock’s culture is to encourage their staff to connect with the communities within where they work and live. In Edinburgh, BlackRock actively supports philanthropic efforts in the community, and recognizes its staff's ability and desire to positively impact the community around them not only through fund raising for charities but also volunteering.
Planning for Edinburgh’s future
BlackRock is just one of several asset management firms that has spotted the benefits of basing its operations in Edinburgh. A striking factor about Edinburgh’s asset-management industry is its close-knit nature and access to collaboration. Ian talks about forums such as the Scottish Financial Risk Academy, where members talk over the skills Scotland needs to remain competitive as the industry evolves. Ian believes Scottish Enterprise also plays a crucial role in supporting the industry.
He comments that “we’ve worked with Scottish Enterprise (SE) on a number of levels, from discussing changing business needs as the world evolves, to ensuring Scotland provides the most useful skills for the future. The people at SE helped us identify appropriate properties in Edinburgh in 2013 when we were looking to expand. They also keep us informed of development initiatives that could align with our future needs as a global business”.
It’s clear to see that both in BlackRock and Edinburgh’s asset-management community, there is a real collective will to retain the city’s position as a progressive and innovative financial centre. Looking to the future, Ian concludes by commenting:
“Edinburgh is an important part of our global operations. Our business has grown organically in the past, and we hope it will continue to do so”.
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