Originally from Madrid, Fuensanta Diaz Cobacho works for Intesa Sanpaolo in New York. She heads the Structured Finance Americas department, with responsibilities for originating and structuring project and acquisition financing in energy and oil & gas, infrastructure, real-estate and leverage finance.
Tell us something about your working life so far
I began my professional life at the International Finance Corporation, part of the World Bank Group, financing SMEs and projects in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa region. Most of my career since then has been spent between New York and Washington DC, working in Europe and the Americas. I worked for 10 years at Santander, then moved to WestLB. I started with Intesa Sanpaolo in 2014.
How has international experience helped you grow?
My work in project finance has taken me to many places around the world, whether to visit a project or hold negotiations with sponsors from Asia, Europe, North and South America. Some of my most memorable anecdotes are: being questioned in Tel Aviv in the middle of the peace accord after a marketing trip through the area; and being bitten by a rabid dog in Zimbabwe after a due-diligence trip for an ecotourism project, then having to go through treatment.
Working and travelling across regions makes you intellectually richer because you are constantly learning from people and the environment they live in. For instance, working in Sub-Saharan Africa taught me humility and also how to speak to different people in small businesses and politics, from a small business owner in Ghana – who wanted to export tulips to Europe – to the country’s finance minister.
When you work across regions and organisations you develop chameleonic traits. You learn how to adapt to every different environment in terms of decision-making, risk culture and behaviours.
Learning precisely the best way to behave or communicate with clients across countries is so important if you want to build strong relationships. Not everyone communicates in the same way and you must adapt according to whether people like to meet, talk or just exchange emails; the same medium does not work for all. Listening is also a rare talent. People love to talk and share their stories or challenges, and when doing business, “listening and understanding” is key to build a rapport and address your clients’ needs.
Another thing I have grown to appreciate and be proud of is my Spanish origins. We need to celebrate the fact that we are all different and have our own quirks.
How does it feel to be an ambassador for the Intesa Sanpaolo group?
As cheesy as it may sound, three things attracted me to Intesa Sanpaolo: the people, who made me feel at home from the first day; its plans for international growth; and the idea that I could make an impact. The more I get to know the institution, the prouder I am to be part of its history and growth.
I believe we all need to give the bank direction and show where the opportunities lie. We are at a unique point where we can position the bank to lead and structure highly visible transactions worldwide. Every time we have considered financing opportunities in new territories, such as Canada, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, we have set up country visits where we met 20-30 companies to give the bank a 360-degree overview of the place. It has been an incredible experience to represent Intesa Sanpaolo in this region.
What do you like about Intesa Sanpaolo and its people?
At Intesa Sanpaolo you don’t have to travel far to be inspired; simply stopping to speak to colleagues and share experiences is enriching. People are very approachable and they are all very “human”. People listen if you speak up or have constructive ideas.
How has the bank helped in your career progression and the choices you’ve made?
I quickly discovered how my colleagues and managers really notice and care. Since then I have had great leaders guiding me in the organisation. In May 2017, management trusted me to head our efforts in structured finance in the Americas and I can attest to how supportive my colleagues have been. Loving what you do, patience, resilience, hard work and collaboration across departments give results; results speak for themselves.
Where would you like to be in your career in five years?
One of my first managers told me that you should always be thinking about where you see yourself in five years. I am not sure I have ever had such perspective, but all I know is that I have a job I truly enjoy. Intesa Sanpaolo offers many opportunities and I am ready to take assignments in any part of the world where the organisation thinks I can make a difference.
There are lots of opportunities and there is a lot to be done
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