Press Release

Catching up with Willis Towers Watson’s Sonja Lee in London

January 18, 2016
Thinking Ahead Group member - Sonja Lee
Sonja Lee

Sonja Lee, Senior Investment Consultant with the Thinking Ahead Group 2.0 was interviewed by Industry Moves on her role, the highlights and challenges of the Thinking Ahead Institute’s inaugural year, and what she likes best about London.

Q&A: Catching up with Willis Towers Watson’s Sonja Lee in London
January 2016

Sonja Lee, Willis Towers Watson’s former marketing director, left Australia in mid-2014 to join the consulting firm’s prestigious London-based ‘Thinking Ahead Group’ (TAG2.0) as a senior investment consultant. Nineteen months on, we ask Sonja about the role – including the highlights and challenges – and what she enjoys most about her new home.

Can you tell us a little about your role at the Willis Towers Watson ‘Thinking Ahead Group’ (TAG2.0)?

I’m a Senior Investment Consultant with the Thinking Ahead Group 2.0 (TAG), the research think tank of the Willis Towers Watson Investment business. In effect, I’m the business development and marketing head for TAG and was brought in to help build the global brand of the Thinking Ahead Institute which we launched 1 January 2015. The Institute was set up to change investment for the benefit of the end saver/end investor and to bring together the key participants of the investment value chain – the asset owners and asset managers – to discuss industry issues and come up with joint solutions.

I also look after the Institute’s members. Currently we have just over 30 members comprising asset owners and asset managers and I suspect we’ll grow again this year, so I think things will be very busy this year.

What have been some of the highlights so far?

One of the major highlights to date has been signing up over 30 members from across the world in the first year and keeping them happy.

Our Cambridge global roundtable, our flagship for the year, was another highlight. Sitting inside the Old Library at Pembroke College Cambridge, members came together to discuss topics like trust, alignment and efficiency in the investment industry, new ways of looking at finance theory, long-term mandates and to give feedback on the priority areas of research.

Another highlight is the quality research we’ve produced. In all, we’ve produced nine thought pieces across a range of topics including the State of the Industry, Stronger Investment Theory and Practice, the Impact of Culture on Institutional Investors, and Stranded Assets.

And finally, it’s been great to see the commitment to our mission of changing investment for the benefit of the end saver and to see the high level of trust that’s developed among our members.

…and some of the challenges?

For me, getting diversity into our membership base has been a challenge. Upon a member’s suggestion at our March global roundtable, who observed that gender diversity was an issue for the Institute and the industry as a whole, the Institute initiated research on the importance of cognitive diversity. As a side note, I’ve added a personal performance objective to my goals and that is to ensure that at least one third of participants at events are either female and/or from an unorthodox background.

The other challenge over the past year has been simply keeping up. The Institute is to some degree similar to a start-up in that this has never been done before; we’ve had to establish systems, processes, host events, and complete thought leadership over the course of the year. The team was stretched in all directions, often doing things that they hadn’t done before. On reflection, it’s been a stretching and excellent learning experience for all involved.

How long do you plan to stay?

I’m really not sure, come back to me in a year’s time.

Where are you living in London?

I’m living in Kilburn bordering on West Hampstead and South Hampstead. I’m five minutes away from Abbey Road studios of The Beatles fame and often pass it on my rather scenic bus route in to the office!

What do you enjoy most about the city?

I really like the City (or as locals call it, the Square Mile), the historical centre of London and what is now the financial district – its hidden, twisting, turning laneways, über modern architecture placed smack bang next to the old. For me, this is the real London and you can see top examples of architecture from the 17th to 20th centuries. Working in the financial services industry allows me very privileged access to amazing views of The City and inside its heritage buildings. Last week for example, I went to a meeting that took place at No 1 Poultry which is opposite the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange buildings. The City is right next to gritty parts of East London, there is a massive amount of construction going on and I look forward to seeing what the skyline will be like in 20 years time.

What tips would you give to someone relocating to a new city?

  1. Learn the local language, culture and environment as much as possible to help you understand why people think, say and act the way they do, and to get your bearings. I’d also recommend connecting with the locals and making as many friends as you can for the same reason.
  2. Build a support network inside and outside your organisation. We often take these things for granted at home.
  3. Take some time to identify an escape valve and your comfort zones – somewhere you can retreat to – as quickly as possible, it’s not easy moving overseas and moving to a new job at the same time and can be stressful.

The article can also be found at Industry Moves website.