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LONDON (Reuters) - For top Morgan Stanley financier Cecile Houlot-Hillary, every day brings pressure in the form of complex bond deals, intense competition and demands from high level clients.
But, says the 17 year veteran of investment banking, the most challenging part of her career so far has been navigating her three spells of maternity leave.
"It was clearly the crunch point - coming back and making sure I was still on track and nothing was going to stop me."
Her successful return to work was largely down to the support of her managers, says French-born Houlot-Hillary, who believes such coaching is key for banks and their female employees.
The 39-year-old, co-head of debt capital markets for financial firms at Morgan Stanley, is now a key player in the bank's diversity program, which includes coaching for women returning to work after having children.
"Whether you call them mentors or sponsors, I think it's helpful to get independent advice from senior people, helpful to bounce ideas off someone else, it's helpful to have someone senior who looks out for you," she says.
"It seems simple and obvious but it is very important to have these processes."
Houlot-Hillary did not set out to be a banker, considering careers in medicine and politics first. But after attending business school she embarked on a career in investment banking at JPMorgan, rising from intern to managing director during a 13-year stint. She moved to Morgan Stanley in 2010.
Her proudest professional achievement to date, she says, was winning the mandate with her team to help the Bank of Ireland return to money markets - raising 500 million euros worth of bonds after the bank was locked out for two years in the wake of an international bailout.
"In this job you have to be resilient, motivated and quite passionate about what you are doing," she says.
"There's a thrill to pitching and knowing that you're in a very competitive environment, sometimes you lose and you feel very sick and sometimes you win and you feel super excited."
This same attitude is winning Houlot-Hillary results in her role as "gender champion" on Morgan Stanley's Diversity Advisory Council: In 2014 27 percent of the people promoted globally to managing director level at the bank were women.
"Retaining employees with high potential is obviously a priority for us," she says. "Moreover, Morgan Stanley sees diversity as an opportunity to better serve our clients by bringing diverse perspectives to the table."
(Refiles to clarify type of deals in paragraph one)
Editing by Sophie Walker