Britt Lintner: "I revamped my wardrobe and my career"

Katie Morley meets the hedge fund manager and dress designer who's used finance to fulfil her creative potential

I wait for Britt outside her Mayfair office, noticing some dirt on my two-day old jeans - an outfit choice that I immediately regret. And as she glides down the stairs towards me, she's everything I expected -elegant and immaculate with an air of natural confidence. Suddenly I begin to regret the jeans twice as much. She directs us to a café over the road from her building where she likes to have coffee - her order is a macchiato. She's wearing a camel coat from Chloe with a fur stole, one of her own designs in gunshot grey, matching shoes and to finish it all off, a black-faced Rolex.

She starts off by telling me about her love for sales. "I've always been a sales person. I'm now in a senior sales role at Man GLG, and I absolutely love my job. I love the atmosphere and the speed. The people are so bright and I'm fascinated by them. I see them as artists - there's so much scope for creativity in banking. It's like a marriage between science and art. The science is the mathematical part, and the art is the bit that you won't know about until you get there." Britt works in a predominantly male team, but it doesn't faze her. In fact, she thrives on it. "It's less bitchy - and I love it when they tell me I look good! There's a lot of banter, but if you're going to get offended every time someone takes the mickey, then perhaps this world isn't for you."

Britt had her eye on banking from a young age. "I always wanted to do it. When I was studying Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I had a friend who was working at the Options Exchange in Chicago and he took me in to look around. It was super-fast. There were people screaming and shouting at each other - but I loved it! The electricity and the adrenaline spurred me on."

I'm also interested to know where her passion for fashion came from, so I decide to ask her about her pre-college days. Unsurprisingly, Britt was precocious in developing a sense of style. "I first became clothes-conscious when I was about ten. I'd co-ordinate my school outfits right down to my socks. As I was growing up, my look was always changing. I went through a really preppy phase at one stage, and then during the 80's (as a fan of Wham!) I'd wear neon yellows and blues. I've always been obsessed with shoes. I used to have a pair for every outfit, and would wear heels to high school every day - which, thinking about it now, is ridiculous. But I did get named "Best-dressed Girl" in my yearbook." Britt had an aunt who recognised her creative potential, and advised her to pursue fashion as a career. But her parents never saw it as a credible path, favouring the lucrative world of banking as a more prestigious and sensible route for their daughter.

When she first started out in finance, Britt endured 6am starts and admits to finding her job's demands a massive shock to her system. "It was awful. When my parents picked me up after my first day at work, I was sobbing. But of course I got used to it, and then once you start travelling the world and making big bucks, banking is very seductive."

"But when I was 30, I suddenly realised that banking wasn't all I wanted to do with my life. I'd worked straight through for nine years non-stop from the age of 21. I loved it, and I thought I wanted to become a managing director, but equally I was scared of waking up one day with nothing but money to show for myself. I'd always wanted to do my own thing - I just didn't know what it was then. I live my life to have no regrets, and so I thought: "I'd better do it now, or else I never will."'

Britt's first step was to enrol on an art history course - and it was this decision that began to shape her life into what it is now. "My husband was reading the Economist and found an art column at the back. He said: "You should write them". So I got in contact with the chairman, explaining my background in banking and my recent art history course and, to my surprise, they hired me. Through that opportunity I was mixing with people from hedge funds and so on, as well as with eccentric art-dealer types. I had a great wardrobe at the time - I owned several Armani suits, but I felt that my closet was polarised. I had my casual wardrobe with jeans, hippie Ibiza clothes - and then my boring old suits with nothing in between. It frustrated me. That was when I thought, why do I spend all this money on clothes if I still don't have what I need?"

Britt was getting ready for work one morning when she had her epiphany. "It was a lightning-bolt moment. I was jumping up and down on my bed with excitement and from that moment on, I never looked back." She realised she should make stylish dresses which would provide women with an alternative to a suit in the workplace but could also work in the evening. They have become metaphors for her desire for women to stop hiding their femininity. She says: "I want women to start showing who they are!" but still believes in old fashioned rules: "I don't like things too tight, too low-cut or above the knee. You can look totally smoking in a tailored dress without showing any skin."

How did she turn her idea into a business? Thanks to her years in finance, she had the capital behind her to start her venture but admits to having absolutely no idea what she was doing. "I'd talk to anyone who would listen to me. One of the first people I spoke to was a German nanny who studied fashion as well as looking after my friend's children."

Before long, Britt had a sweatshop in her flat with four people working in a jumble of sewing machines, mannequins and fabric. At this point she was pregnant with her first child but somehow learnt to juggle it all.

Just how I'm wondering how on earth Britt does it all, she admits that her secret is delegation. "I have a very efficient analyst at work, a brilliant team at home and then an amazing team working on my dresses at Britt Lintner Ltd. I'm not Superwoman, but I'm good at directing. I have to-do lists for everyone, and every time I have something new to do I think to myself "Do I have to do this?" If not, I'll delegate it. I've also learned to compartmentalise my life. It's like turning switches in my head off and on. One minute I'll be talking about a structure of a fund, and within half an hour I could be at home being Mum. When I've put the kids to bed, I'm wife and then I'll reply to my emails before bed. I sleep for around six hours a night. I work all the time, but I love it."

To a certain extent having two careers has been an advantage. Part of the genius of Britt's dress business is the way it dovetails with her career in finance. Britt's financial knowledge must help her keep her business on track, some of her hedge fund clients have invested in her company and, wearing Britt Lintner dresses to her high-powered hedge fund job "five days a week", she's her brand's best way of advertising to its target audience of busy professional women.

But such multi-faceted success inevitably means sacrifices. Britt admits that she's had to give up some time with her family and friends - and doing so is far from easy for her. She jokes: "All I really care about is having enough money to buy the clothes I want!", but it's clear that despite working around the clock to fulfil her ambitions, her heart lies with those closest to her. "It's the guilt that's the worst thing. I always feel like I'm cheating someone, but you can only do your best."

Britt's recipe for success isn't just looking good: "You have to really work hard to earn respect", she says. But will the right clothes boost your career prospects? According to Britt, damn straight they will. "If you dress really well, it's going to help you. However, having the right attitude and being exceptional at your job is the only thing that'll get you to the top."

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