Rehan Syed

Head of Portfolio Management, ABN AMRO Private Bank, Dubai, American, 41

Could you give us a brief job description and tell us about your academic background?

I work as the Head of Portfolio Management for the ABN AMRO Private Bank Dubai serving high-networth families and small institutions in the Middle-East, North Africa and the greater Indian subcontinent (MENAI). My primary achievement since joining in 2006 was to initiate a new disciplined portfolio management programme for MENAI which provides the company with a high-value-added and clientcentric revenue model that is particularly suited to current market conditions. Today, with support from two junior staff in Dubai and regional headquarters in Singapore, I manage a rapidly growing base of multimanager absolute return portfolios in line with the bank's research and tactical asset allocation models. I have an undergraduate degree in Mathematics and Computer Science (from OWU) and an MBA (from UC Berkeley.)

Why are you pursuing the PhD in Finance?

My motivation is three-fold: (i) to deepen my skill set within my current job function, (ii) to get acquainted with the state-of-the art in investment management and be in a position to apply it to improve the way we work, (iii) to enhance my career by positioning closer to the cutting-edge of knowledge and practices.

Why not go for a master's degree?

First off, I and all other PhD students already have a Master's degree, so this goes well beyond. With the PhD, you really get an edge by learning about the latest research in the field—years before it filters down into textbooks—and contributing to it with professors and peers. The research skills you develop can be used throughout your professional life to allow you to stay abreast of future financial innovations and possibly play a part in these.

Why choose EDHEC Business School?

First, I do not see EDHEC as a business school rather than as a finance school due to its excellence in asset management—this is the perfect fit with what I want to do. Second, the unique structure of the programme allows executives to participate and concentrate on issues which are of high relevance to business when other PhD programmes are about training people for academic jobs. Third, EDHEC has assembled an admirable faculty roll of top-tier experts who are equally respected by academia and industry—it's very motivating to learn from and work with top-notch and credible people. I had been looking for such a programme for four years and was delighted to learn about it.

Were you apprehensive about the programme before it began?

Well, a small part of me wondered whether this would truly be an international programme or whether French would be the unofficial language in which things would happen on the side. This proved unfounded: participants literally come from all over the world and hold passports from 16 different countries; English is not only the language of instruction but also that used in informal talks. There was also the age factor—since I am 41, I apprehended being swarmed by young graduates; the fact that there are many participants in my age group was very comforting (overall, the age range is 23-52 with the 20%-80% percentile being 30-41 – the average executive track participant is 39.)

What did you like about the first residential week?

The two things that struck me most were the quality of delivery and the technology. Professors were very well-prepared and delivered great classes; they laid out very clear syllabi and provided participants with quality course packages and lecture notes. The videorecording and Internet-playback technology is hugely beneficial; it is a relief to know that everything is available and that I have the opportunity to go back and replay sections of the class which I may not have fully comprehended. This technology really levels the playing-field for people with diverse backgrounds.

What did you think of the research workshop?

In terms of job relevance, it could not have been any better since the research presented was clearly linked to the issues I work on—risk and correlation—and was highly applicable. I did not expect to bring back so much to the office from a single workshop. I was also impressed by the depth of the researcher's knowledge and by his ability to convey it to participants and address their questions on the spot. The workshop gave me something to aim for: I want to be confident enough to give this kind of presentation by programme end.

What is your view of the class?

Participants in the PhD in Finance are a diverse group of highly skilled and motivated people who have come here for true learning. While the geographic diversity of the class is great, what truly makes a difference is that these people have elected to be in a learning environment and have the right motivation, self-improvement, as opposed to things like adding another credential to their résumés.

Who would you recommend the programme to?

I would recommend the programme to any experienced asset management officer aspiring to higher intellectual levels and career development, and to anybody who wants to function on the state-of-the-art boundary, which is way beyond where professional designations take you. Come to think of it, I would recommend the programme to any serious finance practitioner.