Mohan Subbiah

Chief Executive Officer, HL Asset Management, Singapore, British, 42

Could you tell us about your background - academically and professionally?

I have been a fund manager for over twenty years. I began my career as a long-only trainee fund manager at Hill Samuel Investment Management, now part of Lloyds Banking Group. I spent most of my career in London, with a period in the 1990s working for Abu Dhabi Investment Authority. I have been in equity long-short fund management for about 10 years now. I have been a hedge fund manager with BGI and prior to joining the Hong Leong Group to be the Chief Executive Officer for their hedge fund business, I was head of the Strategic Quantitative Investment Division, i.e. a proprietary trading desk, at UBS in London. Throughout the entire 20 years, I have always been a quantitative fund manager and therefore, very research and systems orientated. Although I am now the CEO, I am very much involved in developing the strategies with our researchers. My first degree was a Bachelors of Science in Mathematics and Computer Science I earned at the University of Birmingham, followed by an MBA from London Business School (LBS).

So it seems that you are doing well and I assume you are also a CFA charter holder…

Yes, I became a CFA charter holder many years ago. And in fact, I have been involved with the CFA Institute’s Council of Examiners as an exam question writer since 2001.

Why would you need a PhD?

A lot of the people that I have worked with or that I have employed had PhDs and rigorous academic training. I have always had those people around me and have learnt a lot from them without actually ever going through such training myself. When I was younger and more junior, learning through osmosis was acceptable. Now, I am the CEO and I believe in leading by example, I feel that if the people who report to me have all this rigorous training, it is not appropriate that I should not have it.

Another reason for me wanting to do a PHD is the difficulties experienced in the financial world over the last three or four years. We do not know where the industry will be going from here, but it has certainly been shrinking for the last few years. I have done reasonably well in this industry for many years but the time will come one day where I have to start thinking about doing something else and this something else may be in academia. I am not necessarily suggesting going full-time in traditional academia – I would be a late starter – but maybe doing something that would bridge theory and practice, perhaps building on my work with the CFA Institute over the many years or something along those lines, where the intellectual background developed through the programme may give me a head start.

The final reason, and perhaps the most motivating, is that the course is, quite simply, extremely interesting. Learning new material and getting exposure to very clever people brings out the best in us. The course provides a structured environment to continually learn and improve, both as an individual and professionally for the benefit of our clients.

Why this particular programme of all the options?

I am still reasonably successful and continuing in my current career. Taking three full years out from the workplace would be very difficult, both from a financial perspective and from a career progression perspective, so the idea of a part-time programme makes sense. The format of the EDHEC-Risk Institute PhD in Finance clearly stands out head and shoulders above everything else available in part time format. As a matter of fact, I had been searching for such a course for years but had never found a reputable institution until EDHEC appeared in my research. Another factor was that I was familiar with some of the core faculty members: as it happens, Pierre Mella-Barral and Raman Uppal, now at EDHEC, taught me at LBS. While I had heard of EDHEC for many years, I did not know that much about the institution to be honest. To have Pierre and Raman in the core faculty added a lot of credibility as far as I am concerned since they had stature at LBS and I had gained a lot from the MBA programme there. I knew they could not have moved to EDHEC if there were no other good people there. Given these two are leaders in their field, I made a guess that other EDHEC faculty would also be leaders in their respective fields, since joining the course I am pleased to find that my instinct was correct.

What has been your experience so far in the programme?

My experience is certainly positive even after just the first couple of weeks. Although I have been in the industry for twenty years, there were some elements of the first courses that I was familiar with as a practitioner but had not related to the underlying academic theory. I can draw on some of these to improve communication with our clients explaining not necessarily just what we do and the high level rationale, but why we do from first principles if necessary.

I look forward to the electives as I trust they will not only increase my knowledge, but also be very relevant to potentially what I can use professionally for our clients’ benefit. Learning new material and being able to apply that in the ‘real world’ is obviously something I am excited about.

Do you know what you want to work on?

Not precisely. I expect to have a clearer view by the end of the year. Seeing new material will trigger new ideas. My background is in equity and asset allocation, so I imagine something along those lines although I am also attracted to the continuous time series courses. One interesting aspect is that I have a lot of data and I am used to doing empirical work so I can actually turn some of my academic work into actual products.

What is your recommendation to people who may be contemplating the programme?

The number one thing is to ensure that one can allocate sufficient time to the programme, because there is really a lot of work to be done independently, and outside of the block weeks. That said, I would like to underline that they are many positive things that one can take away from this course, right from the first week, which one can apply at work.