“I was not expecting to be a trailblazer in this business,” Bethany Logan Ropa says. “I thought the generation prior to mine had already paved the way and that I would follow along in their footsteps.”
When Ropa joined UBS Investment Bank after a successful summer internship experience, she anticipated that investment banking would be substantially more diverse.
Now as a managing director in the real estate, lodging, and leisure group for the Swiss multinational investment bank and financial services company, Ropa found herself to be the most senior woman on the team quite early during her career there. As the first woman in the company’s global real estate investment banking business to get promoted to managing director and the only female managing director of the bulge bracket banks in New York covering the real estate sector, Ropa is now intent on connecting more women in the real estate sphere while continuing to build and strengthen client relationships at UBS.
Part of this is helping to give people a clearer understanding of what exactly investment banking is. “I advise on strategic transactions and raise capital, including debt, equity, and everything in between,” Ropa explains, adding that she works with both public and private owners of real estate. “On the advisory side, there are many types of transactions—portfolio sale, spin-off, corporate merger, public to private.”
Early in her career, Ropa had the dubious benefit of trial-by-fire. “I came to UBS straight out of business school in 2008, just in time for the market to crash,” Ropa recalls. The apprenticeship-style training of investment banking was alluring and operating deep in the trenches amid general economic chaos was a unique learning opportunity for the first-year associate.
Ropa says the gender disparity of her industry wasn’t immediately apparent. “In business school, nearly 30 percent of my class was female and plenty were planning to go into banking,” she says. “But when I started at UBS, of the 65 in my associate class, only six of us were women.”
Growing up with brothers, Ropa said she never felt like an outsider among her team, but as she rose in the organization, she increasingly wanted the guidance and perspective of senior women who could provide context and scope to what a successful career in her field might look like.
“I went to the senior members on my team and asked them if they knew any senior women, either in investment banking or the real estate sector more broadly, that might fit that role,” Ropa says. “One of the managing directors I worked closely with connected me one of his clients who was a CEO running a public REIT, and for that I am forever grateful.”
The mentorship experience was so encouraging and empowering that Ropa continued to seek out her own portfolio of senior women in positions of leadership, and she says it has been key to her continuing development. “I needed to see successful women who were a couple decades ahead of me, and I sought it out. If other women find that they’re not getting that kind of mentorship, I would encourage them to ask for help in finding it.”
Ropa believes that learning to be more vocal was also crucial to her success. “Women often don’t like to talk about the political portion of this business, but it is important,” she says. “Managers aren’t just looking for talent; they’re looking for someone who shows the desire to take on a role.” She continues that many women put their heads down and assume that if they work hard, they’ll be tapped for those jobs when the time comes, but it’s not always the case. “They don’t come for you because they don’t know you wanted it,” Ropa says. With that in mind, she has worked extensively to unite and support women looking to continue developing their careers, both internally at UBS as well as in the real estate industry more broadly.
In 2018, Ropa launched an annual UBS Women in Real Estate dinner in conjunction with an annual real estate conference in New York City. After a successful gathering of 30 C-suite leaders, board members, and women in rising roles, the momentum has continued in 2019 with the second annual UBS dinner held in early June.
“There are incredible women across the real estate industry, and I wanted to help them to meet each other,” Ropa says. “I’m tired of the narrative that women don’t help other women, because I’ve found the complete opposite to be true in my career. I’ve found women in my industry to be so helpful and supportive, and I want to be that, too.”
One of the ways that Ropa demonstrates this passion is through her work with multiple diversity initiatives at UBS. She is on the steering committee for Women in Investment Banking, a member of the IB Diversity Council, and helped to launch a program called RISE, which focuses on empowering mid-level women in the bank. In 2019, Ropa became the senior sponsor for her division’s sophomore diversity internship program, which has recently been expanded to include interns from underrepresented minorities and the LGBTQ community. “I want to take the lessons we’ve learned from initiatives focused on gender diversity and apply them to making the bank more diverse and inclusive for everyone,” she says.
While it was not part of Ropa’s original game plan to be a pioneer for women leaders in her industry, she says she has become passionate about the work she is now doing to pave the way for more diversity. “I know what it’s like to come into an organization not look like anyone there,” she says. “Thinking about those who aren’t in the room and working to get them here will make us all stronger.”
As a self-described “older millennial,” Bethany Logan Ropa might not fit the job-jumping stereotype of her generation. “My friends from business school joke that I’m a magical unicorn because I haven’t changed jobs since graduation,” Ropa says. The chance to continue to evolve into new roles at UBS was worth staying around for and was also encouraged by her father, an electrical engineer in the power and utilities sector for more than 30 years.
“Over the years, he saw so many résumés of candidates with only two years of experience at each job. He had strong reservations about hiring them because he knew they would only put in a year before looking for their next job,” Ropa says. “In my early years at UBS, he really encouraged me to stick it out through tough times to build the necessary skills and experience before I considered making a move. I didn’t want to be the kind of person my dad wouldn’t want to hire.”