Maria Wiedner, Cambridge Finance & Real Estate Women
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It's the start of another busy week, we're still on a high from the big launch event and preparing for the next in Manchester (keep your eyes peeled for news). There is only one thing that could top such a brilliant time off- another fantastic interview with one of our inspiring individuals!

This week we have the absolute pleasure of speaking with Maria Wiedner, the CEO of Cambridge Finance and founder of Real Estate Women. Maria has had a fantastic journey stemming from university in Austria, Brazil and the UK to her current position as a CEO and advocate of equality and diversity in the workplace. She discusses why you should do something you are passionate about, not be afraid to take the initiative, and continue to learn in order to achieve your goals!

Hi Maria, we are hugely excited to talk to you this week. Could you start by briefly describing your career journey so far?

After finishing a post-graduate programme in Environmental Economics in Austria and an undergraduate degree in Business Administration in Brazil, I got a job calculating stock indices at the Financial Times in London. This was 2005. After a year, I got the job of implementing the FTSE fixed-income indices, and together came the property indices (yes, the financial markets think property is like a bond…). It was a bit like finding a passion though: The fact that there was no stock exchange involved was liberating!

From there, I never left the property industry: After the FT, I got a job at a hedge fund, researching strategies and trading property derivatives; but when the Global Financial Crisis hit the market and made us, property derivatives people, look bad (maybe you will have heard of mortgage backed securities, "toxic" assets, negative equity… all positive words, right?), I went back to study and finished my Chartered Financial Analyst programme and also completed a Masters in Real Estate Finance in Cambridge.

Going back to the market after a two-year break was nevertheless tough, there weren't many jobs and I was a "new" mother. Eventually I got a job doing financial analysis for the renewable energy sector. I was the only woman in the team and it was hard not to notice the gender disparity that goes on in the property industry. So in 2012, I set up the Real Estate Women Network (RE:WOMEN) to really raise the flag about gender equality and get more people talking about (then) taboo topics, such as lack of diversity and the gender pay gap. This volunteering work has proved amazing and I am proud of our achievements, not only as a network but as an industry as a whole; I recognise we have come a long way but there is still so much more to do.

In 2016, I founded Cambridge Finance, a property finance and financial modelling training company. The idea was to use and leverage the backbone of my education and professional experience for a cause I was passionate about: education and improvement of financial skills in the property industry. It has been a very rewarding job helping hundreds of graduates pass their APCs, get new jobs and be recognised as high-potentials in their jobs.

Wow, it's wonderful to hear somone talk with such conviction about an area that they are truly passionate about. So after such a diverse and courageous career, you must have some advice you could offer to someone starting out their own journey?

It is not my advice, but Sheryl Sandberg's really, and it is about answering the question: "What would you do if you weren't afraid?"

For me this is about taking the initiative and trying to change the world for the better.  So my advice would be:

a)    Find something that you love doing, because you will need the conviction and passion to do something new.

b)    Learn the most you can about it: read, take courses, talk to people, be interested. You will need to be persuasive.

c)    Last step: don't be afraid to take the plunge and start something new. With conviction, passion and knowledge, you will achieve your goals.

Hopefully we can all find a career that we are as passionate about as you. So to finish, who is a person that really inspires you and why?

Not only one person, but two: my parents.

Mainly for what they have gone through in life and what they have been able to achieve. They are the first generation of Japanese migrants in Brazil, they worked in the fields and faced economic duress all their lives. They had 7 children (I am number 6!) and life was tough overall for all of us. However, they always pushed us to be our best and achieve excellence. Looking at it now, it is quite remarkable that we all managed to get at least a university degree (some of my siblings  even have PhDs in Medical Studies), and we are all economically independent with established careers.

Hopefully you're feeling as inspired as we are after hearing from Maria and are ready to jump into life with a fearless drive. Thank you to Maria for taking time to talk to us and we hope that you have a wonderful week ahead.

Be sure to check out (and enter) the competition we are running with Cambridge Finance for the chance to win one full scholarship place for a two day Real Estate Investment and Financial Modelling course.

Harri John