Although a career-enriching post on an exotic island sounds exciting, few ever make it to the boarding gate. Perhaps the thought of re-establishing oneself in a foreign place – with a culture potentially unwelcoming to outsiders, or to female professionals – overrides our ambitions?
To beat this ‘fear of flying,’ one should chat with Bettina Roth, since this financial industry executive has ‘island-hopped’ between the desert isle of Abu Dhabi, the island of Manhattan, and the Cayman Islands, before accepting her present post as Chief Executive Officer of the Isle of Man Financial Services Authority.
And as I learned during our recent conversation, Bettina’s advice on risk-taking is relevant even to the most devout homebody, since an ‘island’ is just a metaphor for any unfamiliar career challenge we might face, near or far.
Look carefully before you leap
When I asked Bettina how she adopted her risk-taking persona – when others shy away from daring foreign assignments – she explains that, from a young age, she saw the less-travelled path as a chance to learn from new experiences, rather than a risk.
In fact, instead of heading to university right after high school, Bettina took an ‘au pair’ job with a Swiss family to learn French: “Not only did I meet my future Canadian husband, but it really shaped me as a person who wants to keep learning fresh things, and discover different, innovative cultures.”
That must be why, even decades later, Bettina’s voice is charged with excitement – about learning and applying risk-based methodologies and automation in new jurisdictions, rather than world-weary from jet lag or the frustrations of sometimes baffling local cultures.
That said, Bettina emphasizes that she never leaped blindly into a foreign assignment: “You do have to be very organized and methodical in assessing the benefits and drawbacks, and that includes analyzing the specific role and researching the jurisdiction.”
For example, when accepting her newest post, Bettina was impressed to see that a government agency on the Isle of ‘Man,’ had six women on its nine-member board, strong female representation across the organization, and a workplace culture that encourages flexibility.
Bettina adds that she also weighed the impact on her family. “It takes quite a bit of thought to decide if and how you can make it work at that moment,” says Bettina. “I’ve been fortunate that my husband has been very supportive, and we’ve both been flexible at different times. I worked part-time when our sons were young and later, when my career advanced quicker, my husband stepped more into the parenting role. We never made a move without a very thoughtful review of the pros and cons.”
Land and prove your value
Bettina points out that deciding to ‘leap’ is only half of the challenge, since you must be ready to learn and lead, after you land.
Admitting that this is not easy, particularly in a Persian Gulf nation where cultural norms might dictate women’s opportunities, Bettina advises others to, “Be yourself, be prepared, and bring value to the discussion, since that will resonate with those around you.”
She describes how, in the Middle East, “It was illuminating to see that, in spite of certain formalities, senior stakeholders are very interested in talented people, whether female or male, who have ideas to help move things forward. They are willing to look at what you bring to the table.”
“That’s the common denominator in each country where I’ve worked: Since everyone is looking for the next idea, opportunity or threat, they will listen to you, regardless of your gender or level, if you can contribute something. Naturally, you need to read the room and deliver your message in the right way, but you can do it, if you are prepared and know where you can really influence the discussion.”
Bounce back from bumpy landings
Since an ‘island-hopping’ career isn’t all smooth landings, Bettina often reminds her mentees to be resilient when things don’t go as hoped. “In my career, I never took it personally when I didn’t succeed. It’s not easy in the moment when you are disappointed, but I just said, ‘I’ll dust myself off, continue to learn new skills to help next time, and better things have always happened’.”
In particular, when working in different cultures, Bettina describes how, “If someone says ‘no’ to my proposal, I don’t view it as a ‘no’, but rather I just need to explain it in a different way or from another angle. That helped me push many things forward over the years.”
However, she adds that it’s equally important to be alert to barriers you cannot break through: “If you feel that you are in an organization where you can’t be authentic - or that the things you do are not valued - you should consider if that’s the right place for you. Otherwise, you won’t find the energy and joy to truly succeed.”
Being deliberate is critical for young professionals, she says: “We are all busy, and time passes quickly, so we may not remember to ask ourselves occasionally, ‘What skills do I want to pick up in the next three years? and ‘What is my plan for the next five years?’” As part of such a flexible plan, Bettina urges professionals to consider an international transfer: “We are in such a global environment, that anyone who limits themselves to a domestic career may not maximize their potential. That’s especially true if you are building specialized skills in a small market where you might not find your next career step.”
Looking back on her worldwide experiences, Bettina concludes that, “There has never been a role I took on that I didn’t learn from or gain new skills - many of which helped me bring value later. I’ve really thrived in challenging assignments and others can too. Be prepared, know what you are bringing to the table, make your point, and good things will result from that.”
More about Bettina Roth: In Autumn 2021, Bettina became Chief Executive Officer of the Isle of Man Financial Services Agency (FSA), where she heads financial industry regulation for the self-governing, Irish Sea nation. This appointment caps a 29-year career serving senior posts in the public and private sectors, most recently as Deputy Head of Division, Banking, at the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority, and three years prior, as the Director, Supervision, Banking and Insurance with the Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM). She also held the positions of Managing Director and Director, Deposit-Taking Group, Conglomerates, with Canada’s Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions, which included a one-year secondment to the Large Bank Supervision group of the Office of the Comptroller of Currency In New York. The German-born Bettina began her career as a Chartered Accountant with a Big Four accounting firm in Canada and Australia. She has accreditations in Anti Money Laundering, Conduct Risk and Project Management, and holds a Master in Business Administration degree from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.