A spotlight on Nina Johnston
As Managing Director of Equiom Isle of Man, Nina Johnston is responsible for the overall operation and performance of the business with a particular focus on client service delivery and business growth. She is also a Director for Equiom’s DIFC branch in Dubai. To start our spotlight series, we get to know Nina, her career journey and what her top priorities are.
Why did you choose this career path?
I’m not ashamed to say that I fell into this – I didn’t know that corporate services was even an industry when I joined a local accountancy firm after leaving full time education (I knew I wanted to work in an office and thought I had the choice of accountancy or law). They had a corporate services division and I really enjoyed learning about fiduciary services and understanding the needs of the clients – it seemed so very personal and a basis for forming long term relationships, it remains my favourite aspect of the job to feel like we are part of the families that we work with, which is important as our decisions can really influence and impact their lives. As it turns out I now have to wear the hat of lawyer, accountant, tax advisor and sometimes personal counsellor in my role and I couldn’t ask for more – I’ve learned a lot over the years.
How long have you worked at Equiom?
This year marks my 15 year anniversary and a couple of other members of the team are also celebrating significant milestones this year. We have a well-established, loyal and experienced team and this is something I’m particularly proud of.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the variety and the learning opportunities that my role brings. When I was asked to take on the MD role 2 years ago it was a fantastic opportunity to get to grips with the wider business, having focussed my attention for the majority of my career on my specialisms: private clients, commercial real estate and corporate pensions/savings. I now make daily decisions on areas relating to business transformation, compliance & risk, legal, marketing, finance and of course our people. I enjoy working closely with the function heads in those areas to understand and appreciate their objectives and priorities and how they tie in to the overall operation of the business. Predominantly though I love the fact that I get to work with some amazingly interesting and entrepreneurial clients.
What is currently top of your agenda?
Without a doubt, business continuity. We are all operating in new, unusual circumstances and ensuring the health and wellbeing of our staff while maintaining client service is my highest priority. Despite the global disruption, our goal is for clients to feel as though there has been no disruption to the high levels of service they are accustomed to and I’m pleased to say we are achieving that.
How are you finding working from home?
We are fortunate (thanks to our robust IT and Business Continuity teams) that we are able to operate relatively ‘normally’ through this crisis but all hands are well and truly on deck to achieve this. Staying in touch is so important to demonstrate leadership during this time so I’m having lots of video calls during the day and catching up on emails in the evening (with a bit of home schooling going on in between!!)
What has been your proudest career moment?
Gosh, I’m lucky to say I’ve had a few so it’s difficult to choose one. I was involved in the single largest real estate transaction concluded on the Isle of Man in 2012, where I led the refinance of a large residential portfolio through an Isle of Man corporate structure in a deal valued at £1.2bn – that was probably the highlight when it comes to a specific transaction. More recently, I was immensely proud when Equiom was appointed as Master Trustee of the DEWS Plan, a mandatory savings plan for DIFC employees in Dubai. I feel that my experience in this area really helped to secure the business. Achieving the position of Managing Director of Equiom was obviously a huge milestone for me and earlier this year I was shortlisted for Woman of the Year in the Citywealth Magic Circle Awards – the awards have been postponed as a result of Covid-19, but I’m very honoured to have reached the shortlist. If I had to pick one out though, I would say it is the manner in which the team adapted to the emergency invoking of our business continuity plan in mid-March, ahead of Government guidelines, and the feedback received from the team about our swift and decisive actions to ensure their overall wellbeing. Seeing each and every team member help each other out in these unusual circumstances literally makes my heart melt on a regular basis – I’m so very proud of all of them.
What do you love most about Equiom?
I love the passion - that is part of our DNA and one of our core values. The team work so hard to achieve our corporate objectives which can be at times quite challenging (especially in times of global economic crisis), but the passion to deliver is always there at all levels.
What would you usually be doing and how are you working differently due to Covid-19?
My role involves significant amounts of travel, particularly to the Middle East but also frequent trips to the UK and Ireland. While in the shorter term, it has been great to have two feet firmly on the ground to catch up on some admin and strategic initiatives (and of course valuable family time), I want to ensure we don’t dilute our visibility whilst being ‘desk bound’. We have looked at how we can adapt our approach from the usual face to face and ‘upped the ante’ in terms of our digital marketing business development strategy.
How are you supporting your clients through Covid-19
Our relationship management teams are assessing each and every structure to consider the impact of a loss of revenue or capital depreciation and how this in turn could result in difficulties in meeting certain obligations. They are stress testing cash flows for an initial period of up to 12 months and we are guiding and reassuring our clients through this difficult time and looking at ways to reduce outgoings and alter asset allocations to meet the changing needs.
Being available just to chat through scenarios with our clients and provide support is invaluable. We have been through difficult economic circumstances in the past and our clients have valued the support in the bad times just as much as in the good. We are very much open for business as usual regardless of where we are physically sitting.
What’s the best feedback you’ve ever received from a client?
A longstanding client provided this testimonial when we asked for feedback:
'Nina displays leadership characteristics which go way beyond her role. She has been able to understand both our client needs as well as those of the ultimate beneficiaries and builds levels of trust and understanding which, no matter what the challenges between us, always results in positive outcomes. She is a first rate communicator and is able to take a highly complicated project/subjects and provide clear direction and encouragement so that all parties understand exactly what is needed and by when.
For leaders to be successful I believe they must have the emotional intelligence, empathy and intuition to understand other people’s feelings. Nina has these skills and is able to successfully use them for the benefit of both Equiom as a company and its clients.'