Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg Profile
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg (Québec & Brasenose 1978) is the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Israel. As such she is a member of the bank’s monetary committee and supervisory council. Previously, she was associate dean at the IDC School of Economics and prior to had a long career at Bank Hapoalim, where she served as Head of Investor Relations, Head of the Securities Research Division and Head of Advisory and Trading Services. Nadine holds a BSc in Economics from the University of Montreal, a B.A. and M.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from the University of Oxford, and a Ph.D. in economics from Harvard University.
Rhodes Project: How would you describe your time at Oxford as a graduate student and as one of the first women Rhodes Scholars? What were significant experiences for you?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: There are two things I would say. First, I would say that it was a difficult time—but of course it was a lot more difficult at the beginning than at the end. There were many, many challenges, some of which were shared by my colleagues and others that were more specific to me. Language was the first challenge. My English was poor at the time and having to read and write in English in such large amounts proved very difficult. The cultural gap was also significant. Oxford has become much more international, but at the time it was still very much an English place. It was also challenging, I think in my case, because it was the first time I was surrounded by people who were truly all outstanding. I had come from a decent university, but it was not difficult to be top of your class there. Suddenly, to be placed in a group where all the people are high quality people brought a kind of stress I had not anticipated.
The other side of the coin—the side I really appreciated as I was leaving Oxford—is that it opened up the world to me in entirely new ways. The constant interaction with the vibrant minds of people who surrounded me, and whose studies encompassed a wide range of fields, pressed me to look at the world in novel ways and challenged me away from the comfort zone to which I had been accustomed. So I came out of Oxford with a much, much broader view of the world and I was able to taste many more things that I would have otherwise. So, the things that were very challenging at the beginning were also the things I probably most appreciated by the end of my time there.
Rhodes Project: What inspired your interest in economics, finance and policy?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: I wasn’t brought up in an environment where economics or finance or public policy were discussed. So, initially I studied the sciences—I was a math and physics and chemistry person. However, I also had an interest in philosophy, and at one point I had to take an elective, and so I took a course in economics and I discovered a world there that matched almost all of my expectations in terms of interest. It’s a bit by coincidence that I came to economics, but it was love at first sight. It had a sufficient quantitative focus to satisfy my thirst for using quantitative tools. On the other hand, economics was trying to tackle big questions on how the world is organized, how it moves, and how it should move. These are questions that I had always asked myself at the philosophical level and sometimes at the religious level. These are also questions that political scientists, psychologists and philosophers ask.
Rhodes Project: How were you thinking about your professional and personal life as a graduate student? In what ways has the actual trajectory matched or veered from these earlier plans?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: I think I’ve had a rather nonlinear trajectory. It’s funny, when you look back it seems very logical that you would go from A to B to C, but this was very unclear at the start. In fact, it wasn't obvious to me that I would do more than a B.A. I had not really thought farther, but I realized that I liked economics and that I wanted more of it, which led me to graduate studies. Even during graduate studies, I did not look at the very long-term trajectory. At each step, I asked myself “what next?” and it depended on the options at the time.
When you do a PhD, and certainly when you do a PhD at Harvard, the predominant inclination is to stay within academia. People who are in academia to a certain extent have never left school. They started at the age of four or five, and this is the world they know and they continue with this world. But I was only half-comfortable with continuing within the university, because I was always interested in policy. My PhD research was on the reforms of the Canadian sales tax, so if I had returned to Canada, my career would probably have been half academia, half policy.
However, my personal life brought me to Israel and this also diverted my career as it presented more challenges, some of which were familiar—such as adjusting to a different culture and language—while others were not. The very first job offer I received in Israel was at the Central Bank, which complemented my studies in monetary policy and public finance. However, I lived in Tel Aviv at the time and the job was in Jerusalem. The commute seemed too heavy for a (carless) young mother-to-be, so in the end I turned the offer down despite its appeal. Financial survival was also an issue. I started working for a commercial bank, which allowed me to do applied research, to later on serve in managerial and business positions, and to return and spend time in academia. So, if you had told me 15 years ago that I would be Deputy Governor of the Central Bank, I would said, what do you mean? It has been a long detour, but I would say this position has justified the whole trajectory.
Rhodes Project: Can you tell me about your role as Deputy Governor of the Bank of Israel? What are some of the most fulfilling aspects of your work, and the most challenging ones?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: In Israel, there is only one Deputy Governor at the Central Bank—and as such the Deputy Governor is also the acting Governor when the Governor is absent. This means I am involved in almost everything for which the Central Bank is responsible. First and foremost, of course, is monetary policy. Like many other countries, we have a monetary policy committee and once a month, we have to make a decision about the interest rate, and other relevant policies at the time. The context is always changing, not only in terms of what is happening here with regard to economic development, but also what is happening in the rest of the world with regard to monetary policy and economic fluctuations—which matters a lot for a small and open economy that is Israel's. Another particularity of the Central Bank of Israel is that it is quite independent from the government. However, the Bank of Israel is also, by law, the economic advisor to the government, which means that we are involved in a whole range of economic policies, not just monetary policy. In fact, we have to provide a view on almost all policies that the government undertakes—the whole range of economic policies, and social policies that have an economic element to them. Accordingly, we have a large research department and we comment on all sorts of issues. For instance, not only on the size of the government deficit, but also on whether the new tax on natural resources is appropriate, the issue of rising housing prices, or anything else that comes on the government's table. So, I regularly sit on government commissions where the Central Bank has to provide its view on the best direction. For someone like me, experiencing this range of issues is like a kid in a candy store—it’s absolutely fascinating.
However, the work also has some challenging aspects to it. The work we do and the opinions we share are very much in the public eye and the subject of a lot of media attention. So, we have to learn how our every word can be interpreted, or misinterpreted, by the public and this requires us to put much more thought into the way we express ourselves, ensuring that we hit the right nuance, the exact note, tone and shade. Another challenge is that this is the first time I have worked closely with the political arm of the government. If you want policies to be implemented, you need ministers to further that legislation on your behalf. This sort of pulls us into the whirlpool of political life, and in Israel, the fact that we have coalition governments as opposed to majority governments makes this particularly challenging.
Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to young women, especially those with an interest in public sector leadership? Reflecting back on your experiences, is there anything you would have done differently?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: Despite what I just mentioned about being careful and cautious in the public eye, my advice would probably be exactly the opposite. Do not be so careful. Reflecting back on my experiences, I think that we should be less influenced and less overwhelmed by our peers than we actually are.
One thing I’ve noticed is that people who look outstanding to us when we’re 23 years old are not necessarily going to be outstanding 20 years later, and vice versa. The vice versa is important. You will occasionally find that people who look pretty much run of the mill will become outstanding in what they do afterwards. So, one should not be comparing oneself too much to others, which I think can often impede on one's take off. Looking back, I think that I was too careful in certain regards. And I think young women, and women in general, tend to be too careful, too risk-averse. For instance, when you offer a challenge to a young woman, her first thought is, “Can I do it?” Young men, typically, do not ask themselves this—they assume they can do it. So women should be much more willing to take risks, and more willing to fail. No big deal if you fail. It’s not the end of the world. You tried, and it didn't work.
Rhodes Project: What books have been important to you?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: Books have been my companions all along, and they continue to be. Mostly, I’m talking about literature. For my professional life, I have to read economics and politics and some of these have been very important to me in terms of shaping how I think about the world, but it’s literature that stands out for me. There is a wide variety of writers that I will read—I’m a fan of Murakami, Gabriel García Márquez and Amitav Ghosh. There are also a few Canadian writers including the famous women Canadian writers with whom I have a love-hate relationship. To me, they are so English-Canadian and so different from where I was brought up. On the other hand, there is a texture to their books that is incredible.
Rhodes Project: What are your reflections on finding balance in life?
Nadine Baudot-Trajtenberg: The eternal question of life balance has been a major dilemma throughout my adult life. It is not at all something I thought about until I became a mother. Even as a graduate student, it was not something I thought I would have to deal with, and thus I was very unprepared for it. The minute you start parenthood, it becomes a major issue—and it was particularly an issue for women of my generation. Now, I think it has become an issue for both men and women, and it’s a very difficult issue. It literally involves daily dilemmas.
I’m not sure I have very good answers to it, and I don’t think there is one formula that works for everyone. The tendency has become to postpone motherhood, but I’m not sure that’s the optimal solution.
Balance in life is not just about parenthood, though parenthood certainly thrusts the issue so vigorously that you cannot avoid it. But each person has their own compass, each will want to be involved differently and it will be for each person to find their own path. Again, it is not only about children—for some people, it will be parents or siblings, or others. We are faced with demands from people about whom we care, people who need us at an individual level, and this will always force us to face the tradeoff between these demands and our own desires and goals. It is a tricky issue for all of us.
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