Ivelina Delcheva (MiFPT2016) has worked in various senior positions in the financial service industry, first in her native Bulgaria, then at BNP Paribas in Germany. To progress her career Ivelina joined the London Business School’s Masters in Finance programme and went on to win the coveted Student Award in 2016. With her experience and learnings from the programme, Ivelina was able to successfully achieve her first C-suite position just two years after graduating, and is now the Chief Financial Officer at the innovative investment fintech Shoal.
I grew up, built the foundations of my career, and qualified as a Chartered Financial Analyst in Bulgaria. I’d always known I wanted to work in financial services, but as it’s such a broad industry, it took a while to discover exactly what I wanted to do. Working at various companies, I advanced to financial controller and director roles, eventually taking an operations job at a banking group, where I was tasked with establishing a separate financial services entity as well as building and leading its finance team.
This was the first chance I’d had to build something from scratch. It was a truly fascinating, eye-opening experience. Our small team of five developed a leasing company, shaping it from the ground up. It wasn’t just that we had to find offices and clients; at first, I was still using a private Yahoo email address. But despite these slightly auspicious beginnings, within two years we were the largest leasing firm in Bulgaria in terms of newly acquired business, and we built on that success for almost six years. In my last three years, I was tasked with restructuring the business and reshaping its credit strategy, a role new to me at the time, but something the management trusted me with.
I loved growing that firm, but our parent company was hit with a range of issues, which were exacerbated by the 2008 financial crash. When the banking group was taken over by the government, it became clear they were going to shut down the leasing company. After that, I left Bulgaria to work for BNP Paribas in Germany where I led a team of four credit analysts. It was like journeying into a new world, coming from a small country with small activities to a giant bank in a European powerhouse where my team was originating €600m of deals a year – the contrast really struck me. Before I applied, I was worried my experience wouldn’t translate, but I soon came to understand how much business thrives on different experiences. And it’s also where I began to realise how much more there was that I needed to learn.
“I did my research, and it quickly became apparent that London Business School was the only option for me.”
I knew that if I was going to go back to study, it had to be at the best school. I did my research, and it quickly became apparent that London Business School was the only option for me. I’d never been to the UK before, but I didn’t even apply anywhere else. London Business School tops the rankings, its programmes are excellent, and having the option to study part-time was essential because I needed to continue working. At the beginning, I was still travelling back and forth from Germany every week. But despite the 4am starts, the 40-hour work weeks and all the flights, it didn’t feel too intense. The more I was coming to the UK, the more I wanted to be here. So, after a few months I transferred to the Global Strategy and Risk Team at the BNP Paribas London office.
I had a friend who gave me some great advice before I started the programme. “Just enjoy it”, they said. “Do everything you can, don’t think about costs or time. Be as involved as you can be, and it’ll be worth it”. So, I made the decision to take every opportunity the programme had to offer. I did all 10 electives and audited more classes to learn as much as I could. I wasn’t sure which direction I wanted my career to head in once I finished, so I learned about corporate finance, investments – basically anything to give me a real mix. We also had the flexibility to add in electives for soft skills like negotiations and navigating corporate environments, but most of all I loved the constant teamwork.
I particularly liked the Private Equity and Venture Capital and Negotiations and the MBO & Corporate Reorganisations electives. They were both very practically orientated, with case studies that were challenging and very revealing in terms of how industries and companies work. I ended up working in companies going through reorganisations/difficult times, or startups, where I was able to put the knowledge I’d learned on the programme into practice.
The networking at London Business School was as important to me as the studies. Part-time studying attracted others like me, and my class was full of people who were already mid-career and looking to advance. From day one, I was really impressed with all the other students in my cohort. For any question the professor asked, there was always a bunch of hands in the air ready to answer, each one with a different background, a different perspective. It was like when I moved to Germany all over again – my views were valid and useful to everyone else, but there was also such a wealth of experience I was constantly able to tap into.
I wanted to give something back at London Business School, to express my gratitude for all the great support I’d received. So, I became a class representative, which I’ve since converted into an ambassador role, meaning I’m still organising events for my class. Those of us still in London meet regularly for drinks, and others also travel in for a Christmas dinner that we’ve only missed once because of Covid.
Studying at London Business School helped me create a network, not just for finding jobs, but for any time I need to seek advice. Whenever I’m thinking about my next step, I can ask them, does it make sense? Is it logical? I can be open to what they’ll tell me in terms of career advice because they can appreciate my situation and even be critical. Studying here also gave me access to the alumni from the broader School environment – and there is someone everywhere who’s studied at London Business School. You can reach out to them for business opportunities or different perspectives; I often work with start-up companies, and I’ve met so many useful contacts that have helped me make a difference.
But beyond networking, the programme also really shifted my mindset. It changed the way that I think about my career making me realise that, actually, sometimes the most direct way to achieve what I want means taking a more roundabout path. Acquiring skills is a lifelong process, and through learning to be flexible and think outside the box I’ve taken on different roles to find my way to the jobs I want. I do my best to learn from the people around me wherever I am. I’ve learned that through being confident, people will naturally follow you; that building an equitable team means figuring out everyone’s skills and finding ways of complementing each other’s strengths.
“Coming from a country with such a high percentage of the female population working helped me realise that I was capable of succeeding, wherever I ended up.”
I’ve always had a ‘can do’ attitude. But studying at London Business School made achieving my goals that much more accessible. Two years after graduating I made the jump to C-suite. The theory, soft skills and shift in mindset that I gained through studying on the Masters in Finance programme have all played a key role in helping me progress into my current role as CFO at Shoal.
Coming from a country with such a high percentage of the female population working helped me realise that I was capable of succeeding, wherever I ended up. In the last few years there has also been a big push to accommodate all different backgrounds. My London Business School classes were a kind of microcosm of the way the industry was moving – we were a really diverse group, but there was never any discrimination. Rather, everyone was just as energised and excited about the different perspectives and views the programme offered as I was.
To other women considering a career in finance, I would say, it is quite diverse. It’s challenging but it’s worth it, and ultimately finance is very broad. There are roles for everyone. Take all the opportunities that present themselves. But most of all, focus on your strengths and that will allow you to succeed.