By Anjuli Davies and Sophie Sassard
LONDON, March 7 (Reuters) - A bee sting nearly killed Natalie Blyth in 2012 but the HSBC investment banker didn’t take fright from the experience - she took inspiration from it.
Blyth is one of the highest ranking female bankers at HSBC. In between advising the likes of Diageo and Kraft on acquisitions, she also sits on the strategy and management committees which decide the future direction of Europe’s largest bank.
Downtime for the 47-year-old, who is fatally allergic to bee stings, is tending to her beehives at home in Oxfordshire. Despite coming close to death once, she says maintaining the hives and watching the co-operation among their inhabitants offers a model to follow in business life.
“Beekeeping has become part of my soul; for me it’s about risk. Risk, efficiency and productivity”, she says.
Blyth applied this attitude to risk and reward when she took on HSBC’s underperforming consumer M&A group in 2007, building it into a unit that in 2013 advised on $30 billion worth of transactions including Unilever’s $5.4 billion deal to raise its stake in its Indian unit and China Mengniu Dairy Co’s $1.6 billion acquisition of Yashili International Holdings.
Blyth originally had her sights set on becoming a vet after growing up surrounded by animals.
She studied biochemisty at St Andrews University in Scotland, but then trained as a lawyer and then switched fields again, into banking.
Initially, she thought little of being a woman in the world of finance.
“The environment I grew up in, there’s never been women versus men. It never mattered. You just need to be good,” Blyth says.
Blyth’s first job was at Kleinwort Benson, where she spent 11 years. While there she had four children - and took only two weeks off after having the first one because she felt that she needed to make a point to her male colleagues.
She regrets that decision now, and at HSBC - where only 23 percent of senior roles are occupied by women despite them making up over half of its 262,000 staff in total - Blyth mentors younger female staff.
“I do feel it is my responsibility and duty to spot talented women, and get a great satisfaction reaching down, pulling them up fast, trying to help them avoid all the mistakes I’ve made.”