From working with, to working for Rebel

Financial advisor Trixie Conlu had been collaborating with Rebel for years, including on a proposed subway system in Manila. Now a Rebel herself, she’s working directly with some of those same Rebels in Rotterdam. Trixie tells us how she got here, and discusses her work on public-private partnerships: ‘In a PPP, the public and private sector get to complement each other’s strengths to jointly address a societal need.’

Trixie, can you tell us something about your professional background and how you wound up working at Rebel?

Trixie Conlu: ‘As a business graduate fresh out of university, I started working at the department of Transportation in the Philippines. I had wanted to work in government, but didn’t really know what I was getting into. By chance, I got to working on public-private partnerships (PPP), which were high on the economic agenda for the government at the time. One of the studies I worked on was a proposed subway system in Manila.

‘Seeing a lot of these projects never come to fruition, however, was frustrating. I realized I wanted to continue working with the public sector, but needed a break from being in it. That’s why I decided to join Rebel, which has a lot of clients in the public sector. Rebel was actually our consultant on the subway project, eight years ago. Now, I’m working with some of the same Rebels again, only on the other side. It feels like something of a full circle moment.’

How would you describe your role?

‘I’m a financial advisor specializing in PPPs. It was actually my career that led me in this direction, because my studies were pretty broad. I started specializing in finance while working at Transportation in Manila, and got my CFA (a certification for financial professionals, ed.) during this time.’

Could you, in short, explain how PPP work?

‘With a PPP, the government enters into an agreement with a private sector partner to help solve a specific problem or societal challenge. The government focuses on the policy outcome, let’s say wanting to shorten travel times through a railway system, while the private sector can figure out how to best achieve that goal, let’s say by installing new technology. Depending on the scope of the PPP, the commercial party could be involved for 20 or even 30 years. Not just in constructing the asset, like a rail system, hospital or school, but also in operating and maintaining it.’

What is the added value of PPPs, in your opinion?

‘With a PPP, the private sector can put its creativity toward solving a public problem, while the government gets to focus on its mandate: providing better public service. The two complement each other’s strengths. I wholly believe in the value the public sector can bring to society, and that the private sector can contribute in a meaningful way. With PPPs, you get both. And though the private party in a PPP is remunerated of course, it only gets paid when the public policy goal is realized. In this way, well-structured PPPs help hold the private sector to account.’

What project(s) are you currently working on?

‘I’m helping the government of Romania set up guidelines and tools for developing PPPs. The country has relatively little experience with them, so that’s where we come in and design a framework. I know from experience that knowledge and skill around PPPs can be highly dependent on who’s in power at any given time. But when you’re able to institutionalize their use, my theory is that PPPs can become more sustainable.’

You’ve been in the job for a few months now. What do you think separates Rebel from government and other consultancies?

‘I’d have to say the one thing that sets Rebel apart is that people here tend to think outside of the box. There’s no copy-pasting. Of course we draw from our experiences in other projects, but we always try to tailor to every specific context and need. And there’s a great level of autonomy, which encourages people here to be proactive and independent in their thinking.

‘Another Rebel core value is that rank or age doesn’t really matter. What’s most important at the end of the day, is the strength of your argument and the depth of your analysis. At Rebel, you’ll see people with more than 20 years of experience working alongside colleagues who’ve only just gotten started. And everyone gets a say.’

Interviewed and written by Tim Igor Snijders

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