Banking on Beijing
After a dramatic life event, Martine Mills Hagen was ready for a career change. Today, she is in charge of funding at the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) in Beijing.
‒ I am very fortunate to be the first Head of Funding at AIIB, and so it is my responsibility to put all necessary infrastructure in place for the bank to be able to borrow in the international capital markets, says Mills Hagen.
Established in 2015 with a capital base of $100 billion, some welcomed AIIB as a potential rival to IMF and the World Bank, while the UN proposed the bank could become a powerful contributor for sustainable development. The New York Times even suggested that China, after the launch of AIIB, now «rivals the United States at the global economic table».
Mills Hagen however, views AIIB as a partner to its peer multilateral development banks (MDBs), such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank (ADB). They are already teaming up to co-finance road, energy and sustainable city projects in their member countries.
‒ Our mandate is to improve social and economic development in Asia by investing in infrastructure and other productive sectors. The infrastructure funding gap in Asia is estimated to be somewhere in the region of $26 trillion out to 2030, something which no one institution can fill alone, says Mills Hagen.
Her background is extensive in the banking and finance sector, including 10 years in the City followed by several years as the Executive VP of Funding & Lending at Eksportfinans, the Norwegian partially state-owned export credit institution. She believes working within such a young organisation as AIIB, poses some unique opportunities in the MDB landscape.
‒ For us we have everything to do, which really is fascinating and in fact a privilege to be in at the ground floor. We have three core values of being lean, clean and green, where we have tried to take learnings from the public and private sectors, in order to create an efficient and productive organisation.
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However, the decision to leave Norway for China, did not come easy. In 2016 she was diagnosed with cancer, but luckily, the treatments were successful. The experience, while tough and difficult for herself and her family, also brought about a sense of urgency ‒ and the determination to seize an opportunity to do something different.
‒ When I finished treatment, I was more than ready for a change. I was very fortunate that this position came up at exactly the right time and that those closest to me gave me their complete backing.
Spending at least half of her time travelling, there has been little opportunity to get to know Beijing, so there are still countless fascinating places to discover. And, you could definitely say she has embraced the local traditions.
‒ Yes, I have joined the ranks of the electric scooter owners. People tend to say there is a before-scooter and after-scooter life in Beijing, which I completely subscribe to!
Mills Hagen loves Asia and had visited the continent numerous times before being offered a job there, even travelling to China while achieving her Executive MBA at BI Norwegian Business School. In fact, she was made aware of the position at AIIB by fellow EMBA student Søren Elbech, the bank’s current Treasurer. The banker says it is fun to work together again after all these years ‒ and emphasises that the degree has helped her career forward.
‒ I genuinely felt that I got a huge amount out of my EMBA. Most importantly, I gained a real sense of self-efficacy which served me well when I shortly thereafter moved into the executive management team during some extremely turbulent times at Eksportfinans.
Now, she describes working for a new Triple-A rated MDB as «the chance of a lifetime» - and working in Beijing as an amazing experience.
‒ Things change all the time and it is so vast I doubt I would ever get to fully know it, but Beijing truly is an exciting city to live and work in.