Q&A with Tangy Morgan of the Bank of England

Tangy C. Morgan is a financial services executive with over 25 years of experience in the U.S., Bermuda, London and Lloyd’s markets. Tangy currently works as a Senior Advisor in the Prudential Regulation Authority directorate of the Bank of England, and a Senior Advisor of Strategia Worldwide. She is also a Trustee of the Ethnic Minority Foundation in the UK. We recently sat down with Tangy to discuss the various chapters of her career, her experience as a woman in the financial services sector, and her views on cultivating talent and promoting diversity. The opinions and views expressed in response to our questions are Tangy’s own, and the interview has been edited for publication.

Q. Tell us about your background. How did you go on to work for a multinational energy corporation after graduating from university?

I grew up in the South, in Augusta, Georgia. My parents were middle-class professionals and they instilled in me a keen desire to do well.

I was expected to attend university and I chose to study business management at Tennessee State University, a Historically Black College and University. I never saw myself working for a multinational energy corporation as I was really focused on getting my MBA immediately after graduation, but an opportunity came up through my university to interview with Conoco Inc.  I walked into the interview with a lot of confidence. The interviewer was surprised that I was interested in the position because few women applied for the role, and I had a business degree instead of an engineering degree. During the interview, Conoco representatives told me that because I was a business major, they would require me to complete an offshore training program to learn about the petroleum industry. I did not know precisely what that would entail but I said yes to the opportunity and received a job offer.

I remember discussing the offer with my parents at the time. My father was not keen on the idea; he wanted me to come back home and either become a teacher, because my mother was an educator, or to work for a relative who was a bank manager. Those were the more typical professions for women at that time. It was in my fact my mother—who was a maverick—who encouraged me to make the most of the opportunity I had been given. She was extremely supportive and proud of the fact that I was going to do something different. She and I drove down to Louisiana together, and she helped me settle into my first apartment.

Q. What happened when you started at Conoco?

This time is what I describe as Chapter 1.0 of my career. It was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I was hired at Conoco as an Oil and Gas analyst and was required to complete a six-month offshore training program in the Gulf of Mexico. The program was designed for non-engineering majors to learn about the petroleum industry, from geology to refining. I was one of the first women in the program, and lived on the offshore rigs for seven days at a time. I have over five hundred hours of training credits with the American Petroleum Institute. This experience was unlike anything I had ever done before, and really gave me the confidence that I could do anything I put my mind to. It also served as the backbone to the later stage of my career in the insurance industry, where I worked within the petroleum insurance and corporate sectors.  

Q. Why did you then decide to move from the oil industry to the insurance sector?

It happened unintentionally. After spending over six years in the oil and gas sector, Conoco was downsizing. Oil prices were down at less than US$20 a barrel, and oil companies were not drilling as much. The company underwent a restructuring and merger with a large chemicals company. I moved back to Georgia where the job market was booming. In 1987 I got a job with Chubb & Son Insurance Group insuring petroleum companies. A few years later, several of the people I trained with at Chubb moved to AIG and they wanted me to join them, so I moved to work with them in Philadelphia. I spent the next ten years working extremely hard; I felt like I had a lot to catch up on and I chose to relocate six times in that period for more senior roles in order to progress my career.

Q. At Lloyd’s of London you were the first African American woman ever to be hired there and you were managing a team of predominantly men. What was that experience like? Was it a challenging transition from your previous roles?

This was one of the highlights of my career to date. Rolf Tolle, who was the Franchise Performance Director at Lloyd’s of London at the time, wanted to hire me to “shake up the old boys” – in his own words! He was a 63-year-old German heavyweight in the market and he gave me what I can only describe as an incredible opportunity. I was directly responsible for 42 Lloyd’s syndicates representing 50% of Lloyd’s US$42 billion market, and voted on the yearly approval of all syndicates in the market. This was a challenging transition from my previous role because I had a comfortable position at AIG London. It was a risk for me to make the move as I was a specialist and had never worked in the Lloyd’s market. In the words of Robert Frost, “two roads diverged…and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference.”

Q. The financial services sector is said to be one of the worst sectors in the UK economy for gender equality. How has this impacted your career choices? Have you seen any improvements in the gender gap?

I have always tried to remain motivated by the fact that I was different. It really helped me to stand out as a trailblazer, and I took great pride in being a woman of color in this industry. It has been fun being different: I celebrate it. When I walk into a room for a meeting, they don’t forget me.

I was conscious of negative stereotypes that abounded but I chose not to focus on them or the barriers that were supposedly in my way. I chose to keep my focus on my work. I have seen many improvements in the gender gap as time went on. To put things into context, in 1996 I was offered a role as a reinsurance broker at Guy Carpenter in New York, and at the time I was the only African American woman doing that job in New York City. The dynamic is different now, with the likes of the 30% Club promoting inclusivity and improving the gender balance on boards and in senior management.

I should also say that I have been afforded many opportunities by my career in financial services for which I am grateful. I enjoy visiting new places and my job has allowed me to travel to over 30 countries across six continents.

Q. What has been your greatest career challenge? What did you learn from it?

One of the challenges and disappointments I faced was not being promoted at a time when I knew I deserved it. I had been vying for a role at one of the organizations I worked for, and I felt my promotion was unfairly hindered because there was a sentiment that others needed to be promoted alongside me. However, I stuck it out and eventually did get the promotion I deserved. No organization or boss is perfect. In the words of the late U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and the first African American to run for U.S. President in 1972, “if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.” I knew that if I dwelled too much on the negative, then I would lose my motivation. I always try to focus on the bigger picture.

Q. You have been a great champion of diversity and inclusion within the Prudential Regulation Authority, and you also take an active role within the community to promote social inclusion, as well as being active in mentorship programs. Did you have a mentor who influenced you in your career? How did they help you and how does that experience inform your mentoring of others?

My most important mentors in life were my mother, father and maternal grandparents. They gave me a tremendous amount of support and had unwavering faith in me, and this is what really helped me achieve what I have done so far in my career.

Having said that, none of them were in the corporate sector, and so along the way I did have sponsors and mentors who offered advice. One person who really impacted my career was Kevin Kelley, the former CEO of Lexington Insurance Company, a subsidiary of AIG. After 9/11, I wanted to leave my position in New York and he was the one that signed off on my transfer to the UK and the reason why I am in London today. At that time, the London market was not known for being very diverse, but regardless I became the senior vice president of a US$100 million global portfolio. In addition to being one of my biggest advocates at work, Kevin was also a decent and caring human being. I remember seeing him at a golf tournament shortly after my mother’s funeral, and he took time to speak to me and asked how I was doing. When he travelled to London soon after, he again came all the way down to my office just to ask about me and how my father was getting along. His acts of kindness made all the difference to me, and we still have good conversations when we meet at industry events.

Q. What is the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume alone?

I love flying and I have taken flight lessons. A close friend of mine was an aviator and he got me into a MD10 simulator, which was the envy of most of the aviation underwriters at the time. I took off in Memphis and landed in London. I would like to take more lessons and eventually pursue a certification in flying.

Q. What advice would you give to women starting off in your industry?

When I mentor women, I always try to get them to focus on the positive. I would encourage women not to dwell on what other people’s perceptions of them are. We should all go about doing our jobs well, in a professional manner, hopefully dispelling any perceptions and stereotypes people have of women and/or minorities in the workplace.  

Q. What is on your reading list right now?

The Fifth Risk: Undoing Democracy by Michael Lewis, and Future Politics by Jamie Susskind.

Q. What are you passionate about outside of work?

I recently went back to school to study for an MSc in Business Continuity, Security and Risk Management at Boston University. That degree focused on technology, innovation, cyber security risk, and it positioned me well for the role I have now as a Senior Advisor at the Bank of England. It also opened my eyes to the topic of algorithmic bias, which is something I have become very passionate about. I am troubled by the lack of cognitive and cultural diversity in the coding of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Safiya Noble discusses in her book, Algorithms of Oppression, how search engine data sets are flawed. I also have a lot of respect for the work done by Joy Buolamwini: she is Ghanaian-American computer scientist and digital activist based at the MIT Media Lab and founder of the Algorithmic Justice League, which aims to highlight algorithmic biases and develop practices for accountability during the design, development and deployment of coded systems. This is an important topic, particularly in our world of growing diversity and inclusion.

Akima Paul Lambert is an international counsel and Nadya Rouben is an associate in Debevoise’s London office.

Comments? Suggestions? We’d love to hear from you. Send us an email at women@debevoise.com.