After graduating in Oriental Studies (Japanese) from Oxford in the early 1980s, I started out as a trainee in the investment department of a UK insurance company; there were not many people around to start with and following a raft of resignations, I was given the opportunity to run a fund from an early age.
After just a few years I was offered an opportunity to go to Asia to join an investment bank. In all, I worked for over fifteen years on the sell-side in Tokyo, Hong Kong, London and San Francisco, including a spell running a Japanese equity business.
It is in Hong Kong that I caught the ‘China bug’, which eventually led me to go back to school to do a Master’s in Chinese Studies. While I was there, Oxford started a Master’s in financial economics which I completed subsequently. Without a strong academic background in finance and economics, there was a steep learning curve but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.
After that, in 2006, with partners I founded a hedge fund business in London, specialising in Asian equities. Despite a very difficult market environment we managed decent performance; in particular, we gave investors a double-digit positive return in 2008. We moved the business to Singapore last year in order to be closer to markets and to the Asian investor base. Currently, I am looking to start a new Asian market neutral equity fund.
I first thought of doing this following my last three year stint at Oxford, but I was aching to get back into the markets and had a great opportunity to do so.
At my age, it is not about career development or signalling; I literally want to learn more and advance my knowledge to the frontier. Rather than be a follower, I want to be in the vanguard. Self study is a possibility, but the exercise is much easier when you are among a group of smart and like-minded people. I also wanted to take my technical skills to a new level, but there too, it is difficult to do so without a frame of reference and outside help.
The programme is pretty much unique. First, it is deliberately tailored towards not only those who are working, but also people who are at a fairly advanced stage of their careers. The programme being offered both in Europe and Singapore was a significant plus for me and the ability to choose from a large portfolio of electives offered globally adds flexibility for everybody. Second, the quality and diversity of the core and affiliate faculty was extremely attractive – the wide range of faculty expertise is perfect for someone like me, whose chief problem is the large number of fields in which I am interested. I do not want to be involved in a monolithic project but instead explore different fields.
I expected academic rigour and high standards of teaching and am not at all disappointed. I have been in new programmes before and also expected that it would attract more risk takers, which is a good thing. This being the first time the programme is offered in Singapore, I was surprised and impressed by the number of electives on offer here – one might have assumed this would start as a secondary operation, but we are getting an offering as rich and diverse as in the European chapter of the programme.
The core courses cover very different aspects of finance theory and practice, though there are many links, of course, in particular, the use of continuous time techniques throughout. I came to the continuous time finance course with some trepidation as stochastic calculus has a fearsome reputation, but Jakša Cvitanic’’s explanation is very practical and clear, and material that was previously rather mysterious is now much more clear. Bob Kimmel’s course on asset pricing goes much deeper into the consumption-based theoretical approach than I have seen previously. René Garcia’s course on empirical methods is both theoretically rigorous and practical, in particular, it cleared up some issues surrounding hypothesis testing for me. The corporate finance courses were the most wide-ranging as we were lucky enough to have two excellent lecturers, I could name many points but I particularly enjoyed the material regarding default and how firms may get there, and how to deal with the situation through renegotiation. Of course these models can be applicable to countries as well!
I much enjoyed Florencio Lopez de Silanes’ presentation on the determinants of private equity returns. It is another good feature of the programme to have these monthly presentations that are extremely focused, present new material, and give students a taste of the research process. And it is a magnificent opportunity to have access to all past presentations via the online platform.
It is still early to tell. What I know already is that I am torn between doing something that relates directly to what I do on a day-to-day basis and doing something that would be completely unrelated to it. Maybe I will do one project of each.
I would say this is for a wide range of people, from professionals doing it for their own fulfilment to people, typically younger than I, who also seek career benefits associated with the knowledge and research and technical skills gained. It is also for people who are thinking of going into academe. The only caveat is that they have to be reasonably confident in their technical abilities.
No one should be afraid to apply; many have the capabilities and drive but may have reservations because they have been away from school. It is the role of the admissions committee to assess how candidates fit and suggest remedial actions where needed, so interested people should not self-censor or be shy and just go ahead.