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The NS Interview: Nicola Horlick, investment manager

“Someone who has a nanny and a PA isn’t really Superwoman”

You have five children and run a company. How do you get the balance right?
It's hard work. I don't have much time to myself, but I'm not that sort of person.

You have been described as a "superwoman".
It's nonsense. Someone who has a nanny, a housekeeper and a PA isn't really Superwoman.

What is the main barrier to work for women?
Childcare costs. To have a nanny, you have to earn a sizeable amount of money. And there is little by way of free nursery provision.

Have you found it difficult spending most of your career in the public eye?
It's bizarre, because I don't do anything terribly exciting. It's quite boring managing people's pension funds. It's only because I was senior and female that the media focused on me.

What effect did that attention have?
In some ways it was extremely unhelpful. If you are working in a team and one person is given credit for all the success, it's not fair. On the other hand, I'm working in a very comp­etitive industry and being known gets me through the door.

Have you experienced sexism at work?
I was the director of a major bank at the age of 28, so I can hardly claim that anyone has discriminated against me because I was a woman. But that doesn't mean to say it doesn't exist.

Why are there so few women in the City?
Women don't feel completely comfortable in that environment. It can be aggressive, high-pressured and demanding in terms of time.

Does that make you an anomaly?
I don't mind the pressure. I went to a boys' school when I was young, so I was used to being surrounded by boys. At university I was in a male college that had just started to take girls. I didn't find it intimidating at all.

You lost your daughter Georgie to leukaemia. How did you cope?
She was diagnosed when she was two and died when aged 12. I kept working because it helped, but I spent the last year of her life, 1998, in Great Ormond Street Hospital. After she died, I stayed at home for two months, but then the other children were back at school and I was rattling around on my own. It's better to keep busy.

It is reported that your company lost money to Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme.
That has been completely misreported. It wasn't our company. Bramdean Asset Management is my company, and Bramdean Alter­natives was a public company owned by lots of shareholders. It was managed by a different company which, yes, did lose money in Madoff, but also made enormous amounts of money in other funds, so it's rotten to portray it in that way. It makes a good story, but it's inaccurate and wrong.

Where do you stand on bankers' bonuses?
Banks pay relatively low basic salaries because it's a cyclical industry. In bad years people don't get a bonus; in good years they get a decent bonus. It's sensible from our point of view as shareholders to have a variable overhead base. But it doesn't grab the headlines to say that.

The sums involved seem very large to normal people on average salaries.
Paying a person excessive sums - say, $50m in bonuses - is wrong: the shareholders aren't doing their job.

Do you think the financial sector has learned lessons from the 2008 crash?
It's gone too far the other way, which always happens after a crisis. Banks aren't lending, and that's very difficult for small businesses.

Do you have any political aspirations?
No. My father stood for parliament three times so I was involved in my teenage years. I can't half do something - I have to throw my body and soul into it, and I just haven't got the time.

Is there anything you'd rather forget?
I'd rather that people didn't keep going on about Madoff - it's really rather upsetting.

Is religion a part of your life?
Not in the sense of a man sitting on a cloud with a white beard, but I think there's something there. I'm confirmed in the Church of England, but I'm not a fanatical churchgoer.

Was there a plan?
Everyone seems to think I worked out I was going to be in the City at the age of three. That's absolute nonsense. I had an audition at Rada when I was 17. I was going to be an actress.

Do you vote?
Always. Women fought for the vote and gave up their lives, so it's very important.

Are we all doomed?
The population's growing too fast, and we're plundering the world's resources. I don't see this as a terribly happy place to be for the next 150 years, which makes me worried for my children and grandchildren.


Defining moments

1960 Born in Nottingham
1979 Enters Balliol College to read law
1983 Joins S G Warburg as graduate trainee
1984 Joins Mercury Asset Management. Appointed director in 1988
1991 Moves to Morgan Grenfell
1997 Publishes Can You Really Have It All?
1998 Daughter dies of leukaemia
2004 Divorces first husband, Tim Horlick. Sets up Bramdean Asset Management
2006 Marries Martin Baker, a journalist

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 February 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Toppling the tyrants