Sandra Alves is the kind of leader everyone wants — pragmatic, humble, and deeply engaging. She’s enjoying her career as an Executive Director at J.P. Morgan. An initiative she is focusing on at the moment is the launch of Chase digital consumer banking in the U.K. There is so much to learn and admire about Sandra — we didn’t want the conversation to end!
Standing on your own two feet
Resilience is second nature to Sandra. Her parents passed away when she was young, less than two months from each other, leaving behind herself and her two sisters. Together, they were determined to get good grades, work hard and build a successful life.
“I am grateful I was educated by my parents to be independent from a young age. My older sister was the first person in our extended family to go to university and has also been a great inspiration. My sisters are my rock.”
Today she is at the top of her game and doing a dual role as an Executive Director in Operational Risk Management, leading the risk coverage of both International Consumer and Asset & Wealth Management in the EMEA Region.
“Chase is being rolled out in the UK and will be a digital retail bank delivered via an innovative mobile app. My team and I are helping to build a completely new banking choice here in the UK. I’m looking forward to it going live.”
Planning a career on opportunity
Sandra says she didn’t have a set career plan. The only non-negotiable criteria was that it had to be international. That’s why she feels right at home and in her element at J.P. Morgan.
“Not everything was planned [in my career] but one of the things I made very clear to my managers was that I wanted to have an international experience. I wanted to see the world, whether through travelling and working in different locations or being part of a cross-border team, so I made sure it happened.”
Sandra’s career at J.P. Morgan spans over fifteen years with mobility between Brazil, and the UK, and travel around Asia, Europe, and Latin America.
“Joining J.P. Morgan in a trade compliance and control management function was a great combination and, after that, it was really a matter of carefully considering how each career move would not only make me happy but also help me continue to learn.”
Before joining J.P. Morgan, Sandra had a career in international trade working with the United Nations Industrial Development Agency in Egypt, import and export business consulting in Spain, and the British Consulate General in Brazil.
“I worked with Egyptian companies opening in international markets. I supported them with their export consortia strategy, logistics considerations and getting them familiar with international trade regulations. I originally wanted to work as an interpreter for the UN, but after further study for a master’s degree in Spain I ended up in a different area. I travelled a bit for work and then the role at J.P. Morgan came up.”
Walking the talk on equity
J.P. Morgan has long been vocal around diversity and inclusion matters, but in the last couple of years, Sandra is pleased that efforts have intensified.
J.P. Morgan is conscious about creating an inclusive environment where employees can be themselves. The firm is heavily investing in their development, and working to attract more top talent, particularly women. I am a diversity champion and give back by coaching [remotely] my fellow Brazilian Black female colleagues from the J.P. Morgan Brazil office and being involved in mentoring them.”
“I hope that sharing my lived experience can help them overcome some of the challenges that may lie ahead. I am proud that we have a license to talk about diversity and inclusion and that there is a strong code of conduct in place to help us have respectful and inclusive dialogues.”
Be bold and brave
Sandra has led an astronomical career, so we asked her to share her top tips for success:
- Take the chance to network: Sandra is grateful for the networking opportunities at J.P. Morgan. It’s the main reason why she’s had so many diverse experiences and opportunities.
“Over the years, I have built a strong reputation and relationships with my peers, my team, seniors and business stakeholders. I’m balanced, reliable, knowledgeable and passionate about the function I serve in. You can connect with anyone here – the firm is great like that. Every week I get an email from someone I haven’t encountered before, this gives me an opportunity to meet someone new.”
- Take risks and be brave: “A few years ago during an event run by our Women on the Move business resource group, one of the women on the panel said, ‘I think we sometimes doubt ourselves more than men. For example, when reviewing and applying for jobs’. I don’t want to generalize, and things are certainly changing, but I find men take more risks than women. In my career, I had never done a consumer role before the role I’m in now, but I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to be part of building a digital bank, so I just took the risk and embraced the change. I am inquisitive and prepared to ask questions to learn everything that goes into making the role a success.”
- Be comfortable with not knowing things: Continuing on from her advice on taking risks, Sandra says leadership skills and having a team of engaged people is very important. “You don’t have to know everything – you need to identify and develop a team who have diversity in thought and who can bring their own knowledge to the table, and take the time to learn from them and other sources. J.P. Morgan has given me a number of tools to help me succeed. I make a conscious effort to use them!”
“When I came to the UK, the job post had a number of requirements I didn’t have. I interviewed from Brazil. They asked me about specific things however I made clear I didn’t know about them all but was eager to learn. I got the job, I was promoted after 8 months, and was in that role for three years.”
- Last, but certainly not least, be kind to yourself. “We all make mistakes; we all have bad days, a bad meeting, those moments of ‘I shouldn’t have said that’. Most of the time, it’s just in our heads and nobody else is thinking about it. So, learn from it and move on, don’t let it keep you up at night!”
When Sandra is not working or travelling, she is actively searching for the next fitness craze.
“I love everything about fitness. If there is a new class at the gym, I’ll be there trying it out! I enjoy running, HIIT and playing tennis. I am also very good at archery — crazy, I know, but it’s very meditative to me.”
We also learnt that Sandra is quadrilingual and can speak fluent English, Portuguese, French and Spanish. Sandra’s career journey will inspire just about anyone to stretch their boundaries — even beyond borders. The world is truly your oyster.