Trust Yourself

Monday, October 16, 2023

Rosa Henriques is the Chief Information Officer COO & Functions at ABN AMRO, and a seasoned IT Director with more than 20 years of experience working in the financial services industry, of which the last 16 have been focused on IT. As one of the keynote speakers in the RightBrains Celebration Event in 2023, we sat down with her to learn more about some pivotal moments in her career, how the skill of listening made her a better leader, and the importance of staying true to one’s strengths.

In search of the WHY

Rosa has been an inquisitive person all her life and credits her curious nature as one of the most important drivers in her decision to pursue a career in STEM. The field of study that initially piqued her interest and catered for her drive to constantly discover the ‘reason behind the reason’, led her into the world of physics. After she completed her studies in High Energy Physics at the University of Lisbon, and concluding her PHD at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN), she took a moment to reflect on whether to pursue a post-doctorate or to venture into the corporate world. It was the latter that appealed to her most – and she accepted her first position in what would become an incredible tenure at ABN AMRO.

In her first role within the world of banking, she found many parallels between physics and data modeling: “In order to be a physicist, you need to do a lot of programming to develop your own models to analyse data in order to get the answers to what you are looking for.” Rosa utilised her skills honed during her studies in her first role as a Data Analytics Scientist, and recalls that at the time, there was a lot of model development within the field of data analytics to extract the right data from a risk perspective for banks, which naturally handled large amounts of data. From there, her career at ABN AMRO has gone from strength to strength as she progressed to a Project Leader, Information Technology Project Lead, the Head of Global Markets IT, and most recently, her role as Chief Information Officer COO & Functions.

Rosa’s leadership journey – and inspirations

The one constant over the course of Rosa’s extraordinary career is her continuous drive to keep adding value. “I constantly ask myself: where can I spend my energy where it can be of most worth to my company?” It’s this intrinsic motivation that has kept Rosa anchored over the years, and her continual curiosity has served her well when taking on a new challenge or position as she progressed within the ranks. When she was approached to take on the role of line manager, she found that the dynamics of leading people energised her, while still affording her the opportunity to stay close to projects and to see them come to fruition.

Rosa’s affinity towards physics eventually made for a soft transition into the bank’s IT landscape, which she moved to about sixteen years ago. At the time, the tech was not yet centralised in the process of selling banking products to clients; and being witness to the digitalisation journey has been incredibly rewarding. “Today, IT is a critical enabler of business in the banking world – and I believe IT is one of the most fascinating spaces to work in.” As technology develops at a dizzying speed, she is sober about the ever-evolving challenges posed to IT professionals and leadership in terms of cybersecurity and the use of artificial intelligence, but watching the industry respond and adapt to technological advances has been an exciting adventure to date.

The power of feedback

Actively listening to and acting on the feedback from her own teams is one thing that Rosa singles out as one of the most valuable influences in her leadership journey. She has developed a bottom-up performance management framework, which helps her to zoom in on her blind spots. “Your own managers see you in 360 circumstances, like when dealing with clients, or at speaking engagements – basically, when you are in your element. Your employees, however, have a unique perspective on whether you are having a positive impact on people, and I value this perspective when honing my skills and capabilities as a leader.” In turn, Rosa also credits the skill of listening to your employees as an important factor in fostering their own ambitions. To her, it’s important to match someone’s strengths with their aspirations – and to uncover what makes someone smile and gives them energy as opposed to what society expects of them.

Shifting the focus

Rosa is an avid supporter of larger organisations looking outward and supporting external initiatives that support D&I efforts. She believes that one cannot learn in isolation and that companies should make an effort to collaborate with organisations like RightBrains in order to sustain momentum. Her personal experience as a non-Dutch person and a woman is that there is a much clearer focus on diversity today than in her early days in STEM. But as someone sitting at the hiring table, she still notes that women tend to focus more on what they cannot do, while men often highlight why they would be a strong candidate for a role. “I believe that it’s important for every woman, especially in a male-dominated field like tech, to build on her strengths, and to believe in herself, and bring that to the table -- rather than focusing on the improvements she needs to make before being deemed worthy. There is a powerful difference between being arrogant, and trusting yourself.”