Ayse Yazir of Bench Walk Advisors Talks About Diversity and Leadership
Ayse Yazir of Bench Walk Advisors has been selected as a finalist for the Woman of the Year award under the Outstanding Leaders category for the Women and Diversity in Law Awards. She is the only funder to be nominated for this prestigious award. We spoke to Ayse about the nomination, her leadership style, the importance of mentorship and more.
Can you tell us about your role as the Head of Origination at Bench Walk Advisors and the team you lead?
Bench Walk only employ eleven people globally; since our team is small, we have to do a bit of everything, such as origination, execution and due diligence.
I oversee our global origination, bringing insolvency and commercial cases, from arbitration to class actions. I review the matters, and in some cases, I am involved in the execution, insurance and monitoring process. We also have Nick Sage in New York, who covers the US alongside Stuart Grant, with Hasan Tahsin Azizagaoglu, Mike Cumming-Bruce, Adrian Chopin and me covering the UK.
What qualities do you think to make a good leader? Is there anyone you look up to as an ideal leader? What memorable lessons did you learn from them?
You should monitor your juniors, discover their strengths and weaknesses, and when necessary push them out of their comfort zone. I always take juniors to my meetings and work closely with them. But remember sometimes it’s best to take a step back and allow them to develop their own style.
I am fortunate to work with two excellent leaders at Bench Walk Advisors. Stuart Grant and Adrian Chopin have been very supportive of us, and I have learned so much from these two incredibly smart individuals. They have always been patient, listened to our views, and supported our development. We are all very lucky to work at Bench Walk.
What is your leadership style? How do you keep your team motivated?
I am hands-on, and my style changes according to team members’ personalities. Some of them learn new things very quickly; in that case, I step back, while some members might need more support. I remember to praise my team members when they do something good, especially if it’s out of their comfort zone, and encourage them to take on more responsibilities.
My team is very motivated because we do not compete internally at Bench Walk. If Bench Walk wins, we all win. We are like a family; we help each other, teach each other, and after work you will often find us socialising together.
How important do you believe mentorship is in the legal/litigation finance community? Did you have any particularly exceptional mentors when you were coming up in the industry?
It is essential. In previous jobs I have wanted to find a mentor, but couldn’t. I find people are good at giving critical feedback during meetings when you are more junior, but they fail to give you constructive guidance or share their knowledge. You need leaders that are confident enough to open the door, push you in front of the audience and let you flourish while giving you support when you need it.
Stuart Grant and Adrian Chopin are my mentors at Bench Walk. I am also lucky to have external mentors such as Natasha Harrison, Katrina Dewey, Andrew Clarke, Jane Colston and many more impressive individuals. I try to learn from everyone.
What was your first/most memorable job prior to joining Bench Walk?
I come from a ‘regular’ civil servant family in Turkey, so when I decided to do a law conversion course in the UK I had to self-fund my education and living expenses. My first job was working as a waitress/kitchen porter on the weekends and as a sales advisor during the week. I had a year off and worked seven days a week before my law conversion course.
Both jobs were great, as a sales advisor I learned to listen and read people’s body language. Working as a waitress and kitchen porter made me appreciate my dishwasher more than anything!
In my funding role, especially in origination, the most important skill I have is listening and implementing the type of funding based on their needs.
How important do you believe diversity is to the overall health of a legal organization?
It is essential. However, when it comes to diversity, one of the things people overlook is that not only your employee’s gender or ethnicity should be diverse, but also their backgrounds. For example, you can employ various genders and races, but if they all went to the same schools and grew up in the same manner, you will not benefit from a truly diversified workplace because everyone will largely think in the same way.
One of the struggles I experienced when joining this market was overcoming people’s preconceptions based on my background, not being Turkish in itself. I know many Turkish lawyers who were born and grew up here and did not encounter any issues. I attended a university in a different country alongside my diverse (and some would see as unusual) work experience and upbringing. It took me a long time to be accepted by employers, to convince them I could be as good as someone who matched their usual tick list.
What advice do you have for women lawyers/funders looking to take on a leadership role and add value to their firms?
They should have confidence, assist junior women regardless of which funder they work for, and mentor them. It is one of the main things promoted in the London Women of Litigation Funding group.