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A Word with Eric Dannheim

Posted 20 April 2022 in EMpower News   |   Share


Cynthia Steele, EMpower’s President and CEO, recently spoke with Eric Dannheim, Senior Portfolio Manager, Citadel, and member of EMpower’s US Board of Directors and former member of our UK Board. They spoke about new awareness of the importance of mental health, how and why finance professionals can give back, and more. 

You and I have had some interesting conversations about mental health, especially how COVID elevated or raised visibility of mental health issues. I'm interested to know, as the leader in a financial firm, what more do you think can be done to recognise mental health as an important issue? To destigmatise it for our teams, for our families, for young people.

I think you hit upon one of them which is to destigmatise mental health struggles. When I compare what the environment was like when I joined versus where it is today, mental health was a taboo topic. You would never ask for a mental health day, you would not acknowledge that you had mental health issues. It was viewed as a weakness. I think the first part is acknowledging and feeling comfortable discussing mental health issues. 

I’m uber impressed with the way Citadel is approaching mental health issues. We have strong resources within our business e.g., Wellness Connect, webinars, bespoke talks, and discussions with people in all different facets of mental health. How to deal with stress, how to deal with work environment issues, how to deal with family loss, all these types of challenges. When you have that on the platform then it becomes easier, the stigma is being taken away. I think many firms are also going that next step and soliciting and making it clear that we can provide therapeutic support for those that are struggling. Many firms I know went ahead and provided services for people during the COVID period because I think in many ways it was a source of emotional distress. For some people it was a trigger. You had a lot of time to think, you were alone, and didn’t have those avenues of relief you might have had by being in an office; those had gone away. A lot was unpacked during COVID, and hopefully we're all better off because of it. But I think those companies that embraced it hopefully will be rewarded with healthier personnel and a little bit more loyalty.

I know you feel very passionate about the fact that finance professionals at all levels, not just managing directors, should be involved in philanthropy. So I'd love for you to use this platform to be able to make the pitch that at some level all of us can be doing something to give back.

It's great that you brought this question up right after the mental health question. Something I share with my two young adult daughters is maybe taking a moment away from yourself and potentially giving back to someone else. I think the act of giving and refocusing on somebody else's issues or problems and being able to help with that, or participate, is not just a nice thing to do, it's cathartic. You and I have been talking about this regularly; it's not just about writing the check, because that part is helpful and necessary. But giving your time and energy—or putting some of your focus on something other than your own life—is really necessary and is really healthy for all of us.

I could not agree more, and in fact, there's some really good research about that. I want to acknowledge that so many next gen finance professionals and young people are seeking purposeful engagement and work, have tons of energy and are making useful contributions.

I often hear from next gen guys, "Look, the business is different than when you guys were there," and there's a lot of truth to that. When I moved to London, it was a renaissance period for emerging markets. There was a tremendous amount of money that was being paid at banks and the income curve was very steep. People felt like they were really getting windfalls and were like, "Okay, I'm going to give some of that away." That part's real, and I don't dismiss that. But there is so much that needs to be done to run a foundation. And a lot of it is human capital and time. There's a role for people to do that; that's a real contribution. When people are saying, "I just don't have the money," well great, there's plenty of other ways to give back. There's a lot that has to be done for the organisation to be run effectively.

Two and a half weeks from now, we're going to be seeing each other at the Tribeca Rooftop for our first in-person gala after two years. What's the most compelling message about why people should give to EMpower?

First of all, I think it's a worthy foundation. It depends on the background of the person, but if it's a person in the emerging market field, I think the easy answer is: this is a great opportunity for us to give back to some of the regions that we've invested in and seen the need. There are a lot of bad situations where we can make a difference on—so that's one piece. I think the second issue is: we're all risk managers, and this is a proven solid trade. You're not putting money in and worried if this is going to work. It’s a well-established institution that has a track record of success. You can feel comfortable that your hard-earned money is being used in an effective way. Then, the last would be: we're all lucky. There's so much that's gone on—so much death, so much disease, so much tragedy. By virtue of the fact that we’re at the dinner, we're the lucky ones. We need to pay that forward a little bit and recognise that fortune and share it.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would continue to press on with my normal mantra, which is: we need new people, we want to bring on new donors. We want to encourage anyone that has any interest in being either part of philanthropy, or being part of EMpower, to look for a way to contribute. I think organisations like EMpower are organic and that means that we need fresh life cells every year, every day in order to keep the body healthy. And anything that I can do to encourage that I will do.

Thank you, Eric!  See you very soon.

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