Gideon Ozik

Head of Hedge Fund Solutions, SGAM AI, Israeli, 34

Could you tell us about your professional and academic background?

After graduating from the Technion—Israel Institute of Technology, I was selected as the year’s recipient of the Milford and Leona Bohm Scholarship to do an MBA at the Olin Business School (Washington University in St. Louis). During the first year of the programme, I became strongly attracted to finance and did my summer internship with NISA Investment Advisors, a quantitative fixed income and derivatives boutique. I worked for NISA throughout the second year of the MBA and after graduation joined as a derivative trader to develop investment solutions for large institutional clients including liability hedging, correlation trading, and derivative and commodity overlay programmes. In 2006, I switched to SGAM AI to work as Hedge Fund Manager in the Portable Alpha team. At that time, we had about $150 million in assets under management. Our focus was twofold: first, we introduced option overlay strategies to manage the negative convexity embedded in hedge funds strategies so as to deliver "pure" alpha to investors. Then, we developed a flexible solution approach, customising subsets of our core strategy to each client’s objectives and constraints. In less than two years assets under management grew to over $1 billion. As a result, SGAM AI management decided to apply the solution approach on a wider scale and offered me the opportunity to lead these efforts. As the head of the Solutions group, I am responsible for building up the capabilities and the knowledge to design and manage sophisticated client-driven mandates. We work closely with internal and external hedge funds, corporates, family offices and pension funds on strategies which rely on a wide range of research, financial engineering, structuring and portfolio management expertise developed at Société Générale. We formulate client-specific investment strategies and offer comprehensive solutions accordingly.

How does the EDHEC PhD in Finance fit in?

The first motivation is personal: ever since I was an undergraduate student, I have been torn between the thirst for academic pursuits and the call of a career in the industry. To assuage my need for research, I always tried to work on new tools and methodologies and maintained a dialogue with the academic world. While at NISA, I prepared the CFA designation and coauthored a paper on the use of derivatives in portfolio management which was eventually published in the Financial Analysts Journal.2 After moving to Europe, I presented at various conference, co-led a workshop on portable alpha strategies at the EDHEC Asset Management Days in Geneva and contributed to various graduate programmes, most recently teaching a course in investment management at HEC Paris. Naturally, by postponing doctoral work, I was making the cost of going back to school higher and higher. The second motivation is professional: our work relies heavily on innovation and quantitative techniques; as a research degree with a strong quantitative bent, the EDHEC PhD in Finance helps me make our projects better. The knowledge and new techniques I acquire in the programme I can immediately put to use to improve our processes. Further down the road, holding a PhD will be a very positive thing for my career: beyond the doctor of philosophy title, there’s the knowledge and the access to the academic community for continuous learning.

Why choose EDHEC Business School?

I found out about EDHEC Business School when I moved to Europe, where the EDHEC Risk and Asset Management Research Centre enjoys huge visibility within the industry. When EDHEC introduced its PhD in Finance, I felt it was the right thing at the right time for me. I had investigated doctoral programmes and the alternative was to either interrupt my career or tamper with quality; then EDHEC came up with this new programme. The EDHEC PhD in Finance is the only programme out there that is both rigorous from an academic standpoint and formatted to allow the participation of practitioners. It gives access to some of the best faculty and researchers in the world as well as to a pool of highly relevant research. And the name is a prestigious one to associate with, something which carries weight when you have to decide to commit so much time and effort to a pursuit.

What did you expect and how does the experience compare to your expectations?

I had taken PhD courses while doing my MBA, so I had a decent idea of how a doctoral programme should work. Quite frankly, it was hard to project the PhD courses I remembered onto a professional environment and I had apprehensions. My apprehensions were completely dispelled after the first week of class. The key thing is that the faculty does not give discounts for us being practitioners; professors do not compromise the academic level. This means that the programme is very challenging since we have to juggle between our responsibilities as professionals and the demands of a three-year PhD programme. While the programme imposes the same high academic standards you find in the best schools worldwide, what executive track participants bring collectively to the classroom gives it a totally different flavour. Compared to traditional PhD candidates, we are more mature and have richer practical experience which probably gives us better intuitions of the nature of problems and strong ideas about relevant research topics. I expect the research the EDHEC PhD candidates will generate to be very different and lead to many innovations; I would not be surprised if the output far surpassed that of the traditional programmes as well as the faculty’s expectations. Meanwhile, coming down to Nice for the block weeks is very refreshing: escaping from the stress of day-today business, I am able to step back and reflect—it’s almost better than holidays as I am away from work but have my brain work full days. The material, the faculty, and the group make these residential periods stimulating and inspiring—and the weather’s beautiful.

Do you already have an idea of what you will be working on?

Since I am facing practical but also theoretical problems on a day-to-day basis, possible projects are aplenty. My intention is to investigate alternative investments and liquidity risk. Leveraging my experience, faculty expertise, and the research centre’s focus, I think I could make a meaningful contribution. I already started discussing a number of ideas with Professor René Garcia and we have a number of hypotheses we intend to test shortly.

What is your view of the class?

The class forms an incredible pool of talented and experienced people. Some of my peers are already at the top in their field and many others have the shine of future leaders. The diversity in the classroom is also astounding: here is a group of men and women from all continents, with academic backgrounds ranging from math/physics to political science, and a wealth of professional experiences in investment banking, asset management, wealth management, and consulting. Interacting with people from such different backgrounds is very enriching, leads to creative ideas and can result in joint research projects. Through interaction, this collection of gifted individuals becomes a powerful learning community: the sum is much bigger than the parts.

Who would you recommend the programme to?

The programme is for people who combine three characteristics: (i) a high academic level to deal with the programme’s demanding curriculum, (ii) strong intellectual curiosity and creativity to come up with original ideas and meaningful research, (iii) readiness to make a huge sacrifice for three years. These are tough requirements, but if you can satisfy them, the experience is amazing and the benefits down the road should be life-changing.