September 4th 2011, 8:58 am, heart pumping, bead of sweat on my brow and over two hundred fresh faced graduates from around the globe on day 2 of their UBS discovery week, no doubt many with a hangover, no doubt not that interested in ‘How UBS makes money’ and no doubt many were academically more gifted than me.
Deep breath, last check of my notes, check the lapel mic is on, and showtime…
When I think back to the official start of my career in learning I wonder quite how it happened. I know it’s a cliché, but I was a seriously shy kid, I even had an imaginary friend! Just look at me in this picture:
Let’s get a couple of things straight from the off:
- I’m still quite shy, which you might find odd for someone who spends most of their time ‘on stage’ be that in-person or virtually.
- I’m not that smart and don’t really know a lot, but I know enough and have developed a system that works for me.
I’ll come to these points as we go through, but it’s often what I get asked about the most. How are you able to teach on so many topics and be confident about them?
To answer that I guess we better take a little trip down memory lane.
Little by Little
Despite living in Essex, we have a disproportionate number of grammar schools, meaning you have to pass an entrance exam, still referred to as the 11+ to get in. I passed and went to Southend High School for Boys. Quite a culture shock from a small catholic junior school but despite a few initial ups and downs I started to progress nicely. Partly helped by the fact I was a decent middle of the road student, and partly by the fact I was a hard worker.
The hard work part I put down to being a decent footballer from an early age and certainly over time something that helped with my confidence. Like most other kids from Essex I was on the books of a professional team for a while. I ended up playing for Tottenham schoolboys from the age of 13-16.
However, I was not really pro material, at least not at that level but I was realistic and took it for the great opportunity that it was, plus it got you a bit of attention from the girls. I broke my ankle towards the end of the U16 season and alongside a bunch of others was told you’d be better off progressing elsewhere. To be honest that worked for me as I’d already decided to stay on to do A-Levels, so I spent age 16-18 playing at the dizzy heights that is Leyton Orient instead. When I was offered to join the coveted (I hope the sarcasm comes through) Youth Training Scheme (YTS) where you get the pleasure of cleaning the boots and plying your trade at the bottom of the ladder I politely declined.
With decent A-level results in Business Studies, Politics and English Lit (and General Studies which were made to do) I combined both academics and sports by going to Loughborough University in 1998 to study Business, Economic and Finance.
Half The World Away
I enjoyed my time at Loughborough and am still in touch with many friends I made there. It levelled me off as a person and naturally set me up for a career in finance. I was always interested in business and economics, and whilst maths never came easy to me, I worked hard and ended up completing modules at uni way beyond my intermediate GCSE maths!
In my final year at uni like many I tried to balance coming out with a good degree and enjoying the unique time in your life. I just about made it on both but decided against going down the typical graduate role within a bank as I wanted to explore the world a little first.
You Gotta Roll with It: UBS Part 1
So, after I graduated, I spent the summer working in the US at a little spot in North Caroline called the Outer Banks. It was an amazing summer, speaking like Hugh Grant and working at a posh ‘Hamptons’ type resort by day and flipping burgers by night.
After a few months in the US I got the travel bug and decided to work for a bit to save some more money.
In something that will become a reoccurring theme I pestered my cousin who worked at UBS and who was often working in the US, whether there were any contacts he could give me. I figured since I had a visa and a relevant degree and I once did a few weeks work experience at UBS, I would be perfect! Plus, a chance to work overseas whilst earning some decent dollar sounded like a good plan.
I got the number for the Head of the Stock Loan Desk, Dennis Falcone, a classic old school Italian American who spent a few mins on the phone asking me if I could learn quickly and was I prepared to do a lot of the boring tasks for the traders. Of course, I was, it was a trading desk in New York after all.
I left my dorm room at the Big Apple Hostel and walked up the Avenue of the Americas to number 1285 and started my UBS career, part 1.
I literally had no idea what to expect but it was just as Dennis told me. I was the general dogsbody, doing all the tasks no one wanted to do but in truth I loved it. I learned quickly and somehow within a few months was refinancing some of the lending books by swapping in cheaper loans. In other words, increasing the margin for the desk.
Education Time I: stock loan or securities lending is a brilliant but odd part of the financial ecosystem. It’s an OTC market that is primarily there to help facilitate clients like Hedge Funds who sell short shares they do not own (odd right!) so in order to settle the trade they need to borrow the stock in the meantime. That’s where the stock loan desk comes in, lending to the client and charging a fee to do so. Simples, everything after all is a margin business of some sort.
New York was amazing but my visa only had 4 months left to run so when that came to an end I came back to London briefly, ready to hit the travelling road again but with a fresh perspective on the world of investment banking and a lot of contacts at UBS in London. I had a rough plan, travel for as long as I could until the money ran out, come home and hassle everyone in London I had connected with during my time in NYC.
Some might say…UBS Part 2
Through a combination of luck and persistence after treading the usual backpacker route of Asia, Oz and New Zealand I came back home and managed to tap up the equivalent of Dennis in London, Laurence Marshall who somewhat similar to Dennis, asked me a series of question I was sure I’d heard before. Plus, he was a massive football fan too, well sort of – he was a West Ham fan!
And so, UBS Part 2 begun, again on the stock loan desk in London working in what would be considered trade support now but had no such title at the time, except it was clear you were not one of the traders.
I was taken on for an initial 3-month period, a sort of trial and to cover dividend season. A time when there is a lot of activity in this area since those clients holding borrowed positions over dividend periods want to return them otherwise they get hit with having to make good the dividend to whoever they originally borrowed them from.
Education time II – Imagine Tony lends his Apple shares to me, I then sell them on ‘short’ to James. When the company announces a healthy dividend that goes to James who now owns the shares. But hang on, weren’t they Tony’s shares? And didn’t he only temporarily lend them to me? So, I would need to make Tony good for the missed dividend. Aka pay up or give back the shares before the dividend record date.
Also, after only two weeks into the role, the only other person supporting the traders went off on his two week annual leave. Deep end, thrown in.
I survived and as we hear often in our Achieving Success talks, I asked lots of questions! I asked so many questions before the person I worked with left for holiday and then to everyone and anyone on the desk who would listen. But an important distinction, I asked good questions, ones I had thought about and tried to solve for first. It might sound like a small point, but no one likes a truly stupid question, but a question where you’ve tried to understand and are asking for the right reason, i.e. to better understand your role.
The proof of this was to come at the end of my 3 months. I didn’t really enjoy my time on the desk, I felt I wasn’t doing anything different to when I was in the US and there seemed no obvious progression.
Three important things happened around this time:
- I’d just got together with my now wife Charlotte and as always whilst supporting me she explained why I should not throw away the opportunity.
- I was really honest and told my boss when he offered to renew my contract that it wasn’t for me.
- At the same time, I explained my frustrations at doing a job that was so manual and repetitive, but rather than moaning I offered up a bunch of suggestions on how you could do it differently. Go back and re-read both Tony & James’s bios and you’ll see they mention this trait also.
It’s not a natural thing but it is a habit and one that is easy for us all to adopt. Even now ask James or Tony how many emails a week they get from me saying “guys, I was thinking we should try…”. I’ve never had anyone put me down for suggesting ideas, even if they are quite often overlooked and/or dumb at times.
The result was a role in IT, working as a Business Analysis automating all the things I suggested. Be careful what you wish for eh! This suited me much better. It was all upside, whatever we could deliver was a step in the right direction, not only to reduce effort but to increase efficiency by removing human errors.
Over the course of the next 18 months we managed to automate most of the manual tasks, reduce errors and free up headcount.
It wasn’t easy, I had to quickly learn how to translate what I knew, what needed to be done and how that could be done technically. Of course, I was in good company and that’s where I first met Tony – wasn’t he the guy that got an ‘A1’ (top marks rarely if ever given out) in his last performance management appraisal?!
Tony was brilliant to me from day 1, even though we didn’t work on the same projects he unofficially mentored me in a way that only Tony can. Lunchtime beers and a random invite on a ‘Crawley Stag Do’ with his mates. More on that another time…
I learned a lot from Tony on how to conduct myself, many of the points he made in his bio shaped much of my career; attention to detail, do what you say you are going to do and learn from your mistakes, and from others.
Just like the arc of Tony’s career I too was interested in a return to a more business focused role. IT had equipped me with a new toolkit, but I felt it lacked the buzz of a business role. I didn’t know where to look but started to ask around, go for coffees with contacts I had made and explain where I was at.
Networking isn’t about reaching out to as many people as possible. It’s about connecting with people who you can learn from — and who might learn from you.
I went to a talk by the then Head of Prime Brokerage, the broader area that stock loan was part of. One interesting team within that was Account Management. I knew a little about this area from my time on the desk and it was a growing area, full of buzz in the bank servicing the mainly mystical Hedge Funds. Straight after the talk I emailed the Head and explained my background what I could offer and if there were any openings.
I’ve always been quite bold in pushing my career. The downside is totally limited, what’s the worse case? They ignore your email? Best case, they respond, put you in touch with one of the team leads, someone whom you’d made an effort with when working on the desk and boom you’re now a Hedge Fund Account Manager, handling multi-billion dollar client portfolios, focused on continuing to drive revenue and seek new collaborative opportunities (at least that’s what it says on my CV).
The Hedge Fund (HFs) world and the Prime Brokerage (PB) area at banks that had built up to support them were booming in 2005. I went to more restaurants and cocktail bars in the West End during this time than I can (actually) remember. Expenses were something to just remember to hand to the desk assistant the next day. This relatively small segment of clients contributed hugely to the Investment Bank’s bottom line.
As Charles Dickens so aptly put it — ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness.
He really could have been talking about the build-up to the financial crisis in 2008, of which both banks like UBS and Hedge Funds were equally in the mix together. I certainly experienced the highs and the lows as the area grew from 1 to 4 teams back to 2, many clients didn’t survive, UBS barely did!
Like any relationship management role this was all about putting your clients first. Essentially you were the go-to person for your clients for everything and anything apart from actually trading for them, although we even did this at times.
A classic jack of all trades master of none sort of role. It had obvious upsides but naturally a lot of challenge. Hedge Fund clients were brutal, even those who I’d cultivated relationships for years could turn over a dime, literally a dime!
But I learnt so much and started to understand the merits of always trying to do more, whether it’s for you, your boss or your team. In a big bank you’ve got to stand out and I found a niche that worked well for me – training. Many of our clients were keen to learn more about investment banking and financial markets.
Education Time III – HF’s can be very niche, typically operating in unique strategies and asset classes whereas banks (at least back then) tended to be multi-asset class. Hence, we had much to share.
This coupled with an in-house Financial Markets Education (FME) team led me to start organising training events for our clients, utilising the expertise of the FME team and being the link to our clients, often doing the introductions and sales overlay. Again, another idea of mine that my boss said yes to, not thinking much of it but it turned into a big win. On a quarterly basis getting lots of clients onsite, educating them not only on markets and products but crucially what we offered in PB. We saw a significant increase in revenue over that period as clients better understood the merits of trading and settling cross product with us.
After 6 years working with HFs and hassling the MD for the FME team I was eventually offered the chance to join them in 2011. A collective group of ex-traders, risk managers and PhDs. Since I was none of those I pitched myself as a ‘doer’. They knew I had good market experience, was used to managing clients and could teach a bit too. I created my own role, a hybrid of business development and junior trainer.
After 8 years I was back to the desk junior again and boy what a shock. The topics I knew the most about like Hedge Funds were the hardest to teach. I wanted to tell the classes everything I knew, every story like it was a badge of honour. I learnt the hard way! I’m sure you’ve heard of the 80/20 rule and this certainly applies to training too.
But it was a great ride, what I initially lacked in technical understanding I made up with practical knowledge and put my hand up for every opportunity to teach hence where I started this bio – no one liked doing the massive grad sessions, so I took them. After a while I was opening classes, then doing a few hours here and there and eventually unleashed onto 2 and 3 day classes, plus travelling to the US & Zurich often.
It was around this time that Tony asked me to run some training for his team in Wealth Management, yes even though we hadn’t worked together for more than 6 years we’d kept in touch and I would ask him for advice from time to time. This inevitably led to me to James who has also taken on managing Jersey and asked me to run some similar training out there.
And so, our little working trilogy was born. The End…Not quite.
Cast No Shadow
After 3.5 years in the FME team things started to go a bit south, we were a small team, 2 or 3 people in each region each teaching 100+ days a year.
The cost cutting machine struck and the majority of the team saw the writing on the wall and bailed out to set up their own external training firm, of course contracting back to UBS! In a short period, we went form a team of 7 to 3, one in each region. In the short term it gave me a lot more responsibility, but I’d lost the key resources to learn from so rather than sitting around cruising I swallowed my pride and went back to go forward.
I went back to Prime Brokerage for a year, back to 7am starts, hundreds of daily emails, fixing breaks and this time even angrier clients. But I had a fresh perspective and agreed to limit my portfolio of clients in exchange for running a client training program. I knew it was a stop gap, but it felt good to be moving again. The most obvious theme on my return was the rise in regulations and no matter what training I put together the discussion always led back to Dodd Frank this, MiFID that, FATCA etc etc. Light bulb movement! I figured Compliance training could be my new gig.
All the components were there; market experience, product knowledge and almost as important I’d been to all those boring Compliance training sessions myself for years.
You probably know how this goes by now…I pitched myself to the Compliance training team, they were small and had no openings, but I offered to help on some classes and generally get involved on the side as much as I could. It was tough and felt a bit like a role of the dice but sometimes your numbers come in and when one of the team moved on they recommended me to take their role. That was 2016 and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster since then
Some Might Say
I spent a year in that team, and it was a great fit for me. It was again a learning experience, much of what we did was mandatory unlike markets and products where attendees had chosen to be there, with Compliance & Regs its usually because they’d been told to be there! And let’s face it the stream of regulations post financial crisis was a conveyer belt of epic proportions.
I had to change my style but still rely on the same toolkit, take something complex and break it down into what you really need to know. This is exactly how I tackle every topic even now and goes some way to answering my second point I made at the start.
At this stage I was thinking back to my ex-FME buddies and how they’d set up on their own. It was alluring but I wasn’t quite ready and knew I needed a bit more first.
It was at this time I heard about a role at Nomura looking for someone to set up a Compliance training function. Like an option I’d expired out the money at UBS. I was stuck as a Director and whilst paid fairly felt I lacked the recognition of a rank. Crazy when I look back now that it mattered but it did. I often joke to my friends the only way I ever made MD was by setting up my own company!
After 14 years I finally left UBS.
Nomura was almost like starting my own firm but with the safety net of a big bank. I didn’t have it all my own way but had a lot of autonomy and built a training function from the ground up. I thought it would take a couple of years but about a year in I knew it would be my last corporate role for a while.
We now come to my final pitch. I explained to my boss that in 6 months my work would be about done and I was going to be restless and so time for me to go out on my own. I hoped to do a UBS and contract myself back in, but that idea was like I’d suggested stealing the crown jewels. So instead I did what any good entrepreneur would do, I declared my business to Compliance and promptly set about getting META up and running.
For 6 months whilst still at Nomura I worked every evening and weekend, my commute became my sales funnel and META was born.
And of course, like any great character arc Tony and James came back into my life. It was the early days of E&G and they were looking for someone to partner with to put training at the heart of their proposition.
The timing could not have been better, what with the initial E&G webinar schedule and a few other bits of work I simply couldn’t juggle both so I quit Nomura, convinced my wife who had supported every one of my mad ideas throughout the years that it would work and took the leap.
I’ll be forever grateful to Tony and James for believing in me and being part of the catalyst to the next step of my career. Our valves aligned from the off and developing talent is what we all do best.
I love being part of the E&G family and as for the future we will continue to build and develop our learning and development offering for both you all and our clients.