Matt Lanfear

Restructuring and Turnaround Advisor, British

Mark Siebert, Head of Specialised Finance, North America at National Australia Bank

 

Could you tell us about your background and your current job?

Mark Siebert (MS): I started my working life as a Petroleum Geophysicist in Adelaide, Australia. I moved into Finance in 1990 as a financial analyst with a New Zealand-owned investment bank which specialised in oil and gas finance. Then I moved to Melbourne to join the project finance team at National Australia Bank (NAB). I now run the North American Infrastructure Finance team for NAB based in New York. I have undergraduate degrees in Geophysics, Mathematics and Wine Science and a MSc of Applied Finance from Macquarie University, Australia.

Matt Lanfear (ML): After university, I trained as a Chartered Accountant with Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) in London. I then undertook an international secondment to Zürich, Switzerland, where I was a consultant for international corporate finance advisory mandates spanning mergers and acquisitions, valuation, private equity and restructuring. I remained in Switzerland and subsequently held Corporate Finance and M&A positions in two Swiss-based multinationals, and later senior management positions within banks. I have been an Independent Consultant for the past six years, and my activities are primarily focused on restructuring and corporate turnarounds, providing a combination of strategic and operational financial advice to firms. I have an undergraduate degree in Physics from the University of Reading, and the Global Executive MBA from IESE Business School.

Why did you feel that you needed to do a PhD at this stage of your career?

MS: I have always enjoyed the theory side of finance having studied Mathematics as an undergraduate degree and completed a postgraduate Masters in Finance. I felt the need to extend the theory side by undertaking the PhD, a more personal motivation rather than a career choice.

ML: I am passionate about self-development and committed to life-long learning. Every ten years following my undergraduate degree I have undertaken further formal education (whilst working), first with my MBA and then later the PhD. The PhD was not a requirement to progress in my “day-job”, rather it was a personal ambition. I hope also that the PhD, in conjunction with industry experience, opens the doors for future opportunities as adjunct finance faculty at a business school.

Why did you choose this particular programme?

MS: EDHEC was one of the few highly recognised institutions that offered an Executive track PhD in Finance designed for full-time working students.

ML: I came across the EDHEC PhD in Finance through an advert in the Economist magazine when the programme was first launched in 2008. I was curious about the programme – the academic content appeared diverse and cutting-edge. The modular format of the programme was essential to my decision to apply, since I did not wish to stop working to study full-time as is often the case with traditional PhD programmes. The reputation of the core and affiliate faculty, combined with the industry-standing of EDHEC-Risk Institute, provided assurance of the programme’s rigour.

What was your experience of the three-year programme and did you experience any “Aha!” moments during this period?

MS: The experience has been very positive. I have had the opportunity to make a host of new contacts from a diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, cultures and industries. The quality, experience and reputation of the permanent and visiting staff are big plus points. The “aha” moment is how highly people in the “market” respect the qualification and the dedication and work ethic required to complete the course.

ML: The programme is a phenomenal learning experience. The academic content is up-to-date and well-delivered both in person and also remotely via the online platform, and the quality of the participants outstanding. The programme starts with the core courses, which provide a common theoretical foundation in corporate finance, financial economics and empirical research methodology. I found the elective courses, in particular, extremely stimulating and the affiliate faculty – coming from leading academic institutions in the U.S., across Europe and elsewhere – outstanding. It is a programme requirement to undertake a minimum of five electives – in the end, I completed twelve, covering topics as diverse as: hedge funds and private equity, volatility modelling, behavioural finance, risk management of extreme risks, empirical option pricing, data science, predictive modelling and forecast evaluation, and high-frequency asset pricing, among others.

The quality and professional diversity of the participants is extremely high, with many people already holding advanced degrees, MBAs and professional qualifications, as well as impressive career progression. In addition to one’s own classmates, there is also the opportunity to meet other cohorts during the elective courses, further expanding the scope for networking.

The “aha” moments come when one sees a particular piece of financial theory applied in alternative contexts across the different elective courses. Seeing complex theory applied in different settings reinforces one’s understanding of it – and in some cases, something that was not fully absorbed when first encountered, becomes clear when seen later from a different perspective.

What was the main challenge in the programme?

ML: A significant time commitment is required to complete the programme. In the first year, time may be required to dust-off knowledge that has become rusty – particularly the mathematics required for the Continuous-Time Financial Economics course – and learning new skills such as coding in R or MATLAB. The doctoral dissertation itself requires a huge effort to develop and shape an original idea, and then persistence to bring the research to a successful conclusion. There is a huge volume of material to digest throughout the programme – literally hundreds of academic papers to read – so making use of the appropriate tools to streamline one’s workflow is essential. Ultimately, juggling one’s professional responsibilities and personal commitments with the doctoral studies is the main challenge. It is important to have an understanding and supportive partner / family-environment in order to succeed in this endeavour.

MS: When you sign up for the courses, you don’t actually realise the level of time commitment required of you; it is tremendous but it is very rewarding.

How did the programme impact your daily work?

MS: The programme has provided a platform to view challenging work projects in a different light. The theory side of the programme has helped in many aspects of the risk component of my work.

ML: A PhD develops rigour in one’s conceptual thinking and analysis of data. For me personally, the programme reflects my philosophy of constantly questioning, constantly learning so as to extend my limits, as well as create future opportunities.

Do you think there are benefits to having a majority of professionals in the class?

ML: A broad range of finance professionals are represented on the programme: hedge fund and asset managers, investment bankers, actuaries, consultants and entrepreneurs, among others. Most are mature students with significant and diverse experience, which makes for stimulating discussions both in and beyond class. Going through an intensive and shared experience with the PhD develops strong relationships with one’s classmates and broadens one’s professional network.

MS: Absolutely – it is one of the key attractive features of the programme.

You have just defended your theses, partly co-written; could you please introduce the topics and the results of your research work?

MS: My topic is titled “Is Climate Change Affecting the Stock Market?”. Our research is motivated by the need to better understand how the stock market reacts to major extreme weather events, both in the days leading up to the event, as well as the immediately succeeding period. This is particularly pertinent given that scientists are predicting an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change. Our research focuses on the inter-relationship between the three key factors which influence investment decisions, being returns, risk (volatility) and liquidity, and how they respond to the impact of an extreme weather event.

ML: My dissertation is titled “Extreme Weather Events and Financial Markets” and examines how North Atlantic hurricanes impact stock returns and idiosyncratic volatility across the broad range of industries that comprise the aggregate U.S. stock market. The research further investigates how the abnormal effects identified vary with the firm characteristics used to construct the factors used in standard asset pricing models.

You were the first candidates in the programme who co-authored part of their theses, and come from Australia and Switzerland; did you know each other when you joined the programme?

MS: No, we met for the first time on day one in Singapore, we happened to sit beside each other in the front row.

ML: It’s purely a coincidence that Mark and I ended up next to each other.

How did you decide to work together?

MS: I think that neither of us had an idea of what the thesis topic would be at the beginning. We did some of the assignments together and for some of them groups of three students were allowed, so we worked also with another student. We also had various conversations on extreme weather having an impact on financial markets and we chose to work together on this topic.

ML: It just seemed natural and worked very well. I believe it was more chemistry than complementarities. Of course, over time we identified areas of strength in each of us that we leveraged optimally.

When you identified your thesis topic, how were you organised? Did you decide to share the task?

MS: It is interesting because Matt is in Switzerland and at that time I was in Australia before going to Singapore. In fact, being in different time zones was a positive factor. When we finished a piece of work we will Skype so the other can take over and continue developing the work, and so back and forth almost every day. I particularly enjoyed the statistics, maths and coding, while Matt was very good on the research and shaping the idea, but we really shared the work load fairly.

ML: Being in different time zones meant that we were able to maximise our working day. We spoke to each other almost every day over the past two and a half years. Such a continuous exchange is very beneficial to maintaining momentum. When you are two, you can keep each other motivated through the inevitable roller-coaster of highs and lows of such a long-term project. Remote working extends also to the supervision – we did not need to physically be with our thesis advisor, Abraham Lioui, to benefit from his supervision; through regular Skype sessions we were able to have a very efficient interaction.

MS: I think that’s right. If you’re working with a fellow student, you can share your successes and your frustrations, bounce ideas off each other. You need a good relationship otherwise it is not going to work; for a co-authored thesis, you have to write four papers between the two of you and you constantly share the work.

ML: There are also many informal learning and networking opportunities. You learn not only from your classmates, but also those cohorts ahead of and behind you, whom you meet at the elective seminars. You build relationships when physically together during these weeks, which endure throughout the programme and beyond.

You have now completed your thesis? What is your next step?

ML: We’ve been working with Abraham on the publication versions of the papers. Before submitting the papers, we are reorganising the thesis chapters to streamline the main contributions, and we will then target leading journals for publication.

MS: When you get to the end of the journey, you look back on everything you’ve done and you try to bring it together in a more focused manner.

Do you intend to continue doing research or start teaching in the future?

ML: I spent the first 18 years of my career in professional services firms, large corporates and banks, and I have been an independent consultant for the last six years. My strategy for the next 20 years is to create a portfolio career comprising three pillars: consulting; entrepreneurial activities; and academia, as a fellow researcher or adjunct faculty. The combination of my particular industry experience and the EDHEC PhD in Finance would naturally lead me to teach topics such as corporate finance, valuation, and mergers & acquisitions to MBA students.

MS: I am coming to the end of my working career. I’ve been with the bank 23-24 years and in finance for about 30 years, so I am looking for new opportunities; I enjoy studying and research. There are opportunities within the bank that I currently work for to be the bank’s representative for a project on infrastructure within one of the Australian universities we have affiliation with. This is quite an interesting project that may involve me for the next 3 years. If there is an opportunity to become a fellow researcher I would of course welcome it.