Victoria Brough's career in finance almost ground to a halt before it had even begun.
Fresh out of university and with a prestigious graduate internship at international bank Barings, the recently installed head of corporate comms and media relations at London Stock Exchange Group seemed primed for a career in high finance. Cue Nick Leeson, the broker whose fraudulent trading collapsed the bank in 1995.
'My nice graduate job went out of the window and I had to suddenly think "what do I do now?"' she recalls.
Since then Brough, 37, has travelled a somewhat winding path to her current calling. A FTSE 100 comms head more by chance than planned ascent, she is now firmly entrenched as one of the top female players in financial comms.
She took over the top comms job at the LSE in September 2010 - 'the backbone of the City' as she describes it.
But the LSE, one of the world's most recognised financial brands, remains misunderstood as a listed corporate entity. That is a situation Brough is charged with remedying. 'The LSE isn't just a stock exchange,' she explains. 'Our ambition is to be one of the top global exchange groups. For people to buy into that concept they need to understand what we are and what we do.'
At one time operating steadily as a monopoly, the LSE is now in the middle of a diverse commercial competitive landscape - competing with media firms, tech providers, financial trade processors and other exchanges across the world.
'The stock exchange is in transition,' she says. 'We are now in a highly competitive landscape so we have be to nimble and quick.'
The motivation she has for her current role is palpable and she talks with wide-eyed enthusiasm about the brand and business. She is a gifted communicator, lacking the over-professional sheen of some contemporaries.
'The LSE is a City institution but could be deemed a bit of an old boys' network,' says Elizabeth Rous, group head of IR and PR at construction group Kentz and Brough's former colleague at Powerscourt. 'Victoria is dynamic, vivacious and brings some colour to the LSE as well as her heavyweight and varied experience.'
Brough has been at the sharp end of in-house comms before, having been at the helm of Reuters when it merged with Thomson in 2008 to create a vast multinational media firm.
'I guess I like businesses going through change,' she muses. 'I like to be in that fast-paced environment - it suits me.'
The environment at Thomson Reuters eventually proved too slow after it delisted in London following the merger. This triggered itchy feet: 'I'm a public company girl at heart,' she admits.
Despite this, Reuters was Brough's first role in-house, having tasted comms life at financial agency Citigate and then helping to establish Powerscourt.
She is adamant that any successful in-house PR operator needs to have seen both sides of the coin. 'You can't fully appreciate the skills you need as an in-house communicator unless you've serviced clients from an agency perspective,' she says.
Brough came to comms relatively late and via a convoluted route. After her Barings hope disappeared, she took an accountancy job at PriceWaterhouseCoopers: 'I learned useful skills, but hated every minute - I'm not a natural accountant.'
Investment banking was more to her liking and she thrived in the testosterone-driven environment of corporate finance at Dresdner Kleinwort. 'It was really exciting and dynamic, although all the stereotypes are true,' she admits.
The late nights and high pressure triggered another change in career when she eventually found her way to Citigate.
PR lacks the same testosterone-fuelled reputation, but there remain few women agency bosses. Brough suggests lifestyle, rather than ingrained macho culture, may be the reason: 'If a PRO is working on a large piece of M&A or a float, the agency will do the same hours as the bankers - it's less family-friendly than consumer PR.'
Asked what ambitions she still harbours outside comms, her mind wanders to establishing a landscape garden business or having her time again as a painter or children's TV host. 'I'd have liked to have been a Blue Peter presenter,' admits Brough. 'I wouldn't be that comfortable in front of the camera, but give me a couple of loo rolls and some felt tips and I'm away.'
What she would create with those objects remains a mystery, but it is an illustration of the resourcefulness and adaptability that have been evident throughout her career. Blue Peter's loss is the industry's gain.
2010: Head of corporate comms and media relations, London Stock Exchange Group
2008: Head of external affairs, EMEA, Thomson Reuters
2007: Global head of financial PR, Reuters
2005: Director, financial & corporate affairs, Powerscourt
2002: Director, financial & corporate PR, Citigate Dewe Rogerson
2000: Manager, corporate finance, Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein
1999: Associate, corporate finance, Singer & Friedlander
1995: Manager, audit and business advisory, PriceWaterhouse-Coopers
VICTORIA BROUGH'S TURNING POINTS
- What was your biggest career break?
The biggest break was being offered a job in PR by Citigate Dewe Rogerson - I was a banker who had never spoken to a journalist! I owe them for taking a risk on me as I found a career I loved.
- Have you had a notable mentor?
To date, there have been three who have really shaped my working life: Rory Godson, MD of Powerscourt, who is terrifyingly clever and has an unrivalled grasp of what makes a good story; Niall FitzGerald, deputy chairman of Thomson Reuters, whose integrity and wisdom had a very powerful impact on me; and a former colleague of mine, Kate Coldwell, who encouraged me to never set the bar too low.
- What advice would you give to someone climbing the career ladder?
Have passion, aim high, know you will never stop learning. Never think something is 'beneath you' - grasp it with both hands as you never know where it will lead.
- What qualities do you prize in new recruits?
Hard work, drive, enthusiasm and initiative. A little humility and humour go down well too.