Most Powerful Women in Finance: Suni Harford, UBS Asset Management

Register now


Suni Harford called it her "Post-It challenge." When she took over as head of UBS Asset Management late last year, Harford sent out packs of Post-It notes to employees around the globe and asked them to "write down all of those little things that drive them crazy" and send them back to her.

Hundreds came back. Among them: a 10-slide rule for PowerPoint presentations and no more prep meetings ahead of internal meetings.

The notes were posted on what's called "The Wall" and when an issue is addressed, Harford removes it. Progress updates on The Wall are now part of Harford's quarterly town halls.

"Our first objective was straightforward, but it wasn't easy: Simplify our everyday world to free up time, energy and money to invest where we wanted to invest," said Harford, the first woman to head UBS Asset Management. "Eliminate bureaucracy. Cut back on unnecessary meetings. Stop spending more time documenting and presenting ideas than actually executing on those ideas."

Harford was head of investments at UBS before being promoted to president and on her watch the unit thrived. Assets under management climbed 16% last year to $903 billion and profits increased 17%. At the Lipper Fund Awards earlier this year, the group took home 95 best fund awards across 11 countries.

When she was promoted in October 2019, Harford was also named to the executive board of UBS Group AG — potentially putting her in line to someday be CEO of the Zurich-based global investment bank and asset manager.

Sergio Ermotti, the group chief executive at UBS, said Harford has all the "critical traits" it takes to lead a large, global organization.

"Her style is to be open, demanding, accountable and collaborative," he said.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.
Asset management UBS Suni Harford Women in Banking