First investment banks tried to instil resilience in their employees. Then, mindfulness was brought into large financial services organisations in an attempt to combat stress. Now, if this former Goldman Sachs banker has anything to do with it, the new thing needed to propel your finance career forward is 'body intelligence'.
Body intelligence - or more specifically the Powerful Posture Technique - was launched last year and is the brain-child of Alexandra Prigent-Labeis, a former Goldman Sachs executive director who left the industry in 2012 after more than ten years at the bank. She tells us that senior executives and employees at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse have signed up so far, as have people at KKR and Pimco.
Essentially, it's about improving your presentation skills and using your "legs, spine, and shoulders to generate energy, power, confidence and inspiration" during public speaking - whether that's hosting a town hall meeting for a roomful of employees, or pitching for new business. While senior bankers have signed up, most financial services professionals embracing the technique are investment managers looking to raise capital through roadshows.
“It’s about learning body intelligence for fast and dynamic communication. Partly, this means confident and intelligent posture, but also body control when speaking, standing, walking to consciously demonstrate self-confidence and leadership,” says Prigent-Labeis.
Front office employees are used to pitching to clients, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they're doing it right. "People think they are technical or smart enough to compensate for a lack of physical presence but as one of my clients puts it: 'the competition is too high at the top to be only super-smart'," she says.
Fund managers embarking on road shows often fail to maintain control of client meetings, says Prigent-Labeis.
“By the time capital raising teams meet a potential client they have already sent the marketing book and the client has a sense of what they want to talk about. They go from a perfectly crafted pitch to leaping straight into questions from the client, and this forces them into a defensive posture,” she says. “I teach them how to maintain control of these situations. It’s less about the words you use and more the manner in which they’re delivered – 80% of communication is non-verbal."
Prigent-Labeis never wanted to leave Goldman Sachs in the first place. After nearly ten years at the firm, she was an executive director and leading a new team of people advising insurance firms on how to deal with Solvency II.
But a battle with an auto-immune disease, which had led her to take a year out previously, ultimately led to a decision to depart.
"My auto-immune illness demanded that I significantly reduce travel and working hours, which was impossible while building a pan-European team and I didn’t want to stay in the bank simply to do any job and become someone who used to be successful before she got sick,” she says. “It was an excruciating decision to leave. There weren’t many senior women at Goldman Sachs, and working in investment banking was something I’d wanted my whole life."
By the time of her departure in 2012, she had spent nearly a year trying to unsuccessfully work out a way to stay. But, as you might expect from a former Goldman Sachs banker, her next move was already carefully planned out.
Prigent-Labeis was a professional figure skater in her youth and practiced ballet at a high level. She enrolled into the Pilates Foundation in 2011 to study anatomy, physiology and – of course – Pilates with the eventual aim of working with professional athletes. By the time she left Goldman, she had launched a new business.
“I re-trained in Pilates to help professional athletes prevent injuries and optimise physical performance, and after two years of studying, I discovered that it is about biomechanics, kinetic chain and neuromuscular science,” she says. “We work with professional tennis players, boxers and dancers, but there’s also a growing demand for this among senior financiers and company CEOs.”
Prigent-Labeis says that her firm Pilates Excellence still works with professional athletes in hockey, boxing and tennis – although they’re not household names – but she’s recently stepped back from running it day-to-day to focus on the body intelligence business, APL Leadership and Communication.
The new technique takes elements of mindfulness and resilience and combines them with verbal communication skills and a physical presence.
“People forget that public speaking is a performance and most senior financiers need a lot of preparation,” says Prigent-Labeis . “Pitches are all about delivering a consistent and convincing story and how you present this is as important as what you actually say.”