10 candid career questions with PPP professionals – Isabel Chatterton

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Editor's Note: 
Welcome to the “10 Candid Career Questions” series, introducing you to the PPP professionals who do the deals, analyze the data, and strategize on the next big thing. Each of them followed a different path into PPP practice, and this series offers an inside look at their backgrounds, motivations, and choices. Each blogger receives the same 15 questions and answers 10 or more that tell their PPP career story candidly and without jargon. We believe you’ll be as surprised and inspired as we were.  


1. What was your first job?
My first job was a store attendant at the Unicentro Shopping Mall in Bogota at the age of 14. I worked full time from December 1 until Christmas Eve on December 24. It was a store called Shetland that used to sell mostly argyle pullovers and sweaters. I learned a lot about the importance of genuine hard work and of attitude.  Attitude really matters.  I continued working at that store when they needed extra help during busy sale weekends or holidays.  I remember picking strawberries at a farm in Maryland one very hot summer when I was 16 (I don’t remember getting paid that much but it was a delicious job). Perhaps the job that left the strongest mark on me when I was young, was when I was an undergraduate student at engineering school.  For years I worked part-time at an engineering company that provided construction supervision services, project management, and construction budgeting and control.  I had to control the material supplies at several construction sites, close physical inventory of the warehouse at month-end, and report on the construction budget versus actuals. It was a great complement to the hours of classroom teaching, quantum physics, and the like.  Besides becoming an expert at every possible construction material there is, and how much it costs (how interesting, right?), I learned a lot about the importance of plain common sense – and about being an action-oriented person. Overall, I learned that university doesn’t prepare you for life; but life prepares you for life.
2. What was/is your best job?
My best job is my current job.
3. What does your family think you do all day at work?
I have two sons who explain to their friends that I am an engineer. They think I still spend most of my time on site, wearing a construction safety helmet and boots. 

4. What do you really do all day at work?
I really spend all day at work doing a combination of tasks. I have been a regional manager for IFC for almost four years. Now I cover all Asia Pacific. I jealously watch over my technical and analytical thinking time. Hence I end up doing pretty much all the administration of my unit at night or over weekends. Still, I count myself fortunate to love what I do.  My most important life job remains being a Mom.

5. What do you wish you did all day at work?
I wish I spent all day at work doing transaction structuring and negotiations with private sponsors. 
6. If some days at the office you feel like Sisyphus, and other days you feel like Midas, what character from literature or history do you identify with the rest of the time?
Some days at the office I feel like Sisyphus, occasionally I feel like Midas, but most of the time I feel like Astraea.  Although I don't consider myself virtuous enough, I do spend most of my time on questions of fairness.  What is fair for the private sector. What is fair for the government. What is fair for each of my team members. How can I be fair to each one of them. Fairness is probably the one word that defines me the best. 
7. What did you think "PPP" stood for before you entered the field?
Before I entered this field, I thought "PPP" stood for Purchasing Power Parity. 
8. What is your go-to industry website?
My go-to industry website is the new PPP Knowledge Lab, of course!

9. What did you learn from the book that made the biggest impact on you professionally?
The book that has made the biggest impact on me professionally taught me that there is never a wrong time to do the right thing.  

10. What shocks you about your own career advice to young professionals? 
When I give advice to young professionals, I’m shocked to hear myself say "learn to say no. "
11. What is the most rewarding thing you’ve ever experienced in the course of PPP practice? 
There are too many to mention.  There are tons of small achievements that are rewarding, and I experience these on a daily basis. Career experiences from my earlier years made an especially significant impact on me, like the 1999 tariff review done of the private water companies in the UK by Ofwat, the Water Regulator.  Privatization was undertaken in 1989 by the government of Margaret Thatcher of the ten previously public Regional Water Authorities in England and Wales through the sale of assets. My contributions were deemed “Top Class Business Plan Contributions – Hugely Influential” by the Regulator during the public awards ceremony in reference to the financial modeling and economic analysis undertaken of seven water companies’ five-year business plans submitted to the regulator on April 1999 as part of the periodic review.  I was very proud that my company got an award for my work. It was very rewarding, particularly as I covered seven companies spread over a large geographical area.  I had to recreate their financial models and genuinely understand their assumptions and claims for special circumstances.  All within a very tight deadline, with the associated challenges and thrills of living over a year on the road.  I have always treasured the inspiring conversations I used to have with the companies' financial operations teams and regulatory affairs teams covering a wide range of topics, all impacting their return.  Seeing the management of privatized companies in action, through the eyes of the regulator, was a unique experience -- and a lesson in why we need to get things right from the start with PPPs. 
12. What is the most surprising thing you’ve experienced in the course of PPP practice?
The most surprising thing I’ve ever experienced in the course of PPP practice is the termination of the Male Airport Concession.  Many of us will never see a termination in our lifetime. 
13. What do you refuse to compromise on professionally?
I’ve learned never to compromise professionally on integrity and ethical matters. My moral compass defines who I am. It doesn't matter how tough negotiations are getting with a private sponsor, or how difficult conversations get with a government client. 
14. In what ways do you think the PPPs will look different in 10 years?
I think the PPP area I work in will look different in 10 years because we will be doing much more nuanced PPP procurement processes, like negotiated dialogues. 

Read  posts by Isabel at the PPP blog.
Read previous posts of “10 Candid Career Questions”.
To contribute your PPP career story, email 


Isabel Chatterton

Regional Industry Director for Global Infrastructure, Asia Pacific, IFC

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