At 19, I joined General Motors (GM) global pension group in New York as an intern. My interviewer, Head of the Global Fixed Income team at the time was really impressed by my honesty, eagerness, and willingness to learn even though I did not have a clue about the pensions sector. He decided to take the plunge and put his faith in me. Today I am Head of the London office at SECOR, a boutique advisory firm, and my interviewer- still my boss- is the Founding Partner and CIO of SECOR.
My work in GM, the things I did, and the life experiences I had in the company have moulded me for the rest of my life. As an intern, I did not shy away from doing any task. I was very proactive – did anything and volunteered for everything. From making copies and aggregating performance data (without excel sheets!), to organising company sports events and charity balls; I have done it all. Upon graduating from university, GM’s global pension group hired me as the first ever investment analyst who had neither an MBA degree nor work experience to match.
In my 14 years with the organisation, I managed billion dollar portfolios, took the role of investment analyst, and was the business advisory leader. During my role as an investment credit analyst, I began by covering global autos for an internal portfolio manager. I was thrown in at the deep end when the portfolio manager left the position. I had to take responsibility for one of the biggest multi-manager distressed and alternative high yield funds in 2002.
My boss is a former military man and always said, “chaos creates opportunities so always be ready to turn it in your favour”. When I joined the board of a former publicly traded company, and a couple of creditor’s committees in the year 2004, I got the hands-on experience of what he meant by it. I undertook a project to sell distressed businesses. Not only was the project intellectually stimulating, but I also got an excellent opportunity to learn about different cultures and international finance as we were attempting to sell a British-American textile brand to a Chinese manufacturer.
A significant highlight of my career was when GM wanted to open an office in London to help manage external client pension plans. I could not resist and jumped at the opportunity. Having spent 14 years in an investment-focused role, I moved to London to help GM build out the company’s pensions presence in London. Not long after, chaos struck. Following the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, GM filed for bankruptcy and decided to move away from everything to do with financial services to focus on the core operation of making cars.
A challenging time for everyone, but we took this as an opportunity (drawing strength from what my boss said about chaos). Having built a strong relationship and a tremendous amount of trust with our clients, in 2010 we took the chance to ‘spin-off’ from GM and started SECOR with our largest non-affiliated client. The experience was both exciting and scary, as we branched out into business for ourselves, with all the core team embracing their inner entrepreneur.
Big firms, like GM, provided me with a great foundation in pension management and engrained a strong fiduciary mindset; however, within SECOR I have had the opportunity and the ability to make an impact from day one. Today, as a business leader at this firm, we know that people are our greatest asset, and this has been demonstrated during the Covid-19 pandemic. We aim to provide the same opportunities we were afforded in our careers to our analysts and managers who will be the next generation of ‘SECORers’. As I sit today, reflecting upon my 24-year career to date, I am excited to see where this next generation will take our firm.
My advice to youngsters interested in joining this industry: Summer internships and part-time jobs provide an excellent opportunity for students to use their holidays to explore career opportunities. London is rife with possibilities. Take up autumn and winter internships when most other students are back at university.
This article was featured in Pensions Aspects magazine October edition.
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