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Charterholders share lessons learned from “nonlinear” career paths.


Key Points

  • “Your career path doesn’t have to be linear or meet the typical definition of finance. You can think more broadly.”
  • “Risk–return optimization might be a good approach to managing money, but regret minimization is a better strategy for living a life.”
  • “It’s normal for preferences to change; don’t ignore them—explore them.”
  • Negative experiences in the short term can help in the long term with “the challenge to understand about the vast diversity of possible career choices and figuring out personal strengths, suitability, preferences, and my long-term career direction.”

Introduction

Career paths often have surprising twists and turns, and finding the best fit for your personal interests and abilities may involve accidental discoveries. Although no one plans to learn lessons from the school of hard knocks, many experienced professionals have found that difficult situations ultimately helped lead them in the right direction.

 

Learning by example also helps. The CFA® charterholders who shared their stories for this article faced different circumstances, but their stories also have common themes. Each on reached a point when unforeseen complications interfered with a career plan.  To find their way forward, most of them discovered the value of introspection, which eventually led to more satisfying careers.

Blindsided for the Better

Through experience, Allen Bond, CFA, has learned that you can’t always anticipate the inevitable surprises in your career but you can steer in a better and happier direction.

Bond, a CFA charterholder since 2002, worked for nearly four years as a fixed-income trader at a private investment advisory firm in Portland, Oregon. He then accepted a position as a high-yield bond analyst at a neighboring large asset management company. In 2005, the company was involved in a corporate consolidation that disbanded Bond’s team and extinguished his very enjoyable job. Nonetheless, he doesn’t view this event as adversity that was largely outside of his control. With the benefit of hindsight, he recognized the signs of those changes, although he couldn’t have predicted the outcome at the time.

Bond views the experience as a positive development. “It’s a good reminder to always take a proactive role in your career,” he says. “It was a bit of a blessing in disguise in that it forced me to take a more proactive role and decide what I wanted in life.”

“Trust your instincts and your gut,” he adds.

Bond continues to keep in touch with virtually everyone on his team at his former firm. Those early career connections and the strong network he has built since have been key to finding and making the most of his subsequent career opportunities.

Bond went on to spend a year as a corporate bond analyst at a large bank holding company that subsequently folded. Then, through a former team member, he learned of a job opportunity at Jensen Investment Management, a privately held investment management firm in Portland.

Although his early career focus was on fixed income, the opening at Jensen was for a research analyst on the equity side. Bond decided that he could apply the fundamental research skills he had learned from high-yield bonds to equity research. “There was a learning curve,” he says, “but I successfully applied those same skills.”

Bond remains at the firm today and has moved up the ranks to become a managing director and portfolio manager. He recommends that investment management professionals “build a solid foundation early on in their careers and seek out diverse opportunities to learn.” Career opportunities often come down to networking with the right people and simultaneously discovering opportunities. “Often, you know the right people but you don’t know of opportunities, or you have the opportunity but you don’t know the right people,” Bond says.

"Regret Minimization"

Sometimes, choosing to forgo an enticing career opportunity turns out to be disappointing but not entirely disruptive. The lesson learned by one globetrotting CFA charterholder is that it’s not what you sacrificed or could have done but what you’ve made of the career path you’ve elected and what you’ve truly gained.

 

Ajit Tripathi, CFA, now a partner at blockchain venture product studio ConsenSys in London, began his career working for eight years as a software engineer in Piscataway, New Jersey. His personal career journey took him to Bangalore, India, where he worked as the head of regulatory compliance technology for a prestigious investment bank and delivered the firm’s first large strategic tech project in India.

 

The transition into the finance industry was undertaken for its “intellectual challenge,” Tripathi says. “I was looking for interesting problems, and the complexity of the bank’s business—as well as the quality of people there—was compelling. I saw an opportunity.”

 

He then shifted to Tokyo to head up the bank’s market risk technology unit, which was seeking someone with exceptional delivery skills and a mathematical bent to run the team. Looking back, he sees the experience as “simply terrific.”

 

Tripathi left that bank to pursue his MBA. When he graduated with his sights set on conquering the banking industry, however, jobs were scarce. So he applied to consulting firms. One top strategy firm offered Tripathi a lucrative, fresh, and intellectually challenging strategy consultant job. But at age 34, with a wife and two young boys, he felt that the intensity, long hours, and the degree of travel required for the job were not what he desired. So Tripathi turned down the position. “I weighed what I would regret more, and I decided that I would have a few chances at building a career, but I wouldn’t have another shot at spending time with my beautiful wife and sweet little boys,” he recalls.

 

Instead, Tripathi moved on to work at another investment bank in London for four years as a director in market risk technology, where he delivered strategic data programs. He then moved to another prominent consulting firm as the director of fintech/digital banking and played a crucial role in building out the firm’s blockchain business. That experience helped Tripathi build a profile as an influencer and thinker and gain recognition for his skills, leading to his current position at ConsenSys.

 

Looking in the rearview mirror, Tripathi sees turning down that consulting job as a personally satisfying career sidestep. It was the right decision, even though pursuing banking technology was a much slower career track that proved far less financially and intellectually rewarding over the years. But his personal reward “was getting an amazing six years of not much travel, not many workdays longer than 12 hours, and a lot of quality time with my wife and my sons,” he says. “Risk–return optimization might be a good approach to managing money, but regret minimization is a better strategy for living a life.”

 

He suggests that other CFA Institute members plan ahead and obtain their MBA and/or CFA charter early on in their careers, rather than trying to do so later when they have a family. “It is important to recognize that career is only one of the variables in life,” he says. “Health and family are at least as important, if not more so. As we go through life, we make commitments that affect what other commitments we can or should make.”

"A Desire to Help"

Some career lessons quickly reveal themselves, but others are born from significantly deeper self-reflection. One CFA charterholder gradually came to terms with how her strengths and her strong desire to help others destined her for an alternate but parallel career path.

 

“I remember being a young working mom [with two children]. I don’t know how I juggled it all. But I realized that you don’t have to be a jack-of-all-trades,” says Barb Bauer, CFA, now a senior securities investigator at the Alberta Securities Commission in Calgary Canada. That moment was an early career insight. Another came this year, when she earned a promotion to the level of senior investigator after more than 11 years with her regulatory employer. As part of the process, she was to undertake a deep introspection to prove she was worthy of the promotion. Doing so sparked a nostalgic trip back through her career, which led to the realization as to why her earlier career choice makes perfect sense for her.

 

After graduating college with a bachelor’s degree in social work, Bauer began her financial career in early 2003 as a sales associate at a major Canadian securities firm. There she entered the CFA Program, earning her charter in 2007. In September 2006, Bauer was offered a position as a member of a newly formed task force on insider trading within the Alberta (Canada) Securities Commission’s Market Surveillance & Investigation capital markets division. She debated whether to accept the job and hop the fence into the world of securities regulation. When she left the private sector, someone told her she was ruining her career, but this advice turned out to be false.

 

“I have always had a desire to help, a public service element in my core, and I did initially pursue that,” Bauer says. “But I could tell that doing social work just wasn’t my calling.” She took financial courses and was exposed to regulations in Canada, the US, and Europe, and she realized that she loved everything about capital markets. When the province of Alberta started its new insider-trading group, Bauer jumped at the opportunity to serve as a generalist in an oversight role and really make a difference.

 

“Regulations were just stimulating to me, and I knew I had good social interaction skills and knew how to use the soft-touch approach,” she says, adding that one of her strengths is that she can assess situations with a 360-degree view. Bauer is also driven by her desire to explore. “Here I’ve been offered this amazing opportunity to put my innate passion for wanting to make a difference in the capital markets to work,” she says. In one of the latest projects with which Bauer is involved, multiple Canadian regulators are creating a new system for collecting and analyzing market data to help root out illegal activities, such as insider trading and market manipulation. Since July 2016, she has been the only female board member at CFA Society Calgary.

 

“I took a risk,” Bauer notes. “Your career path doesn’t have to be linear or meet the typical definition of finance. You can think more broadly.” She doesn’t know what lies ahead. “My career can come full circle, and my regulatory work doesn’t preclude me from working in the private sector in the future,” says Bauer. “My success comes from within.”

"Opportunity for Reinvention"

In your quest to build the perfect career, try to remain open to other long-held interests that can nudge you in an entirely new direction. That’s the advice of Sayer P. Martin, CFA, who believes that listening to your gut will point you in the direction your career positively craves to go.

 

Fresh out of university, Martin followed his dream of becoming a portfolio manager, earning his CFA charter in 2007. With an academic background in finance and entrepreneurship, he worked as an account manager, analyst/portfolio manager, research director, and vice president and co-founder at four different investment-related firms. Based in West Des Moines, Iowa, he also served for one year as the president of CFA Society Iowa.

 

But Martin felt the continuous pull of technology, something he had long regarded as a hobby not a profession. “I’ve been fortunate to wear many hats,” he says. “I realized that technology was more aligned with what I wanted to do.” In 2011, Martin founded Sagacious, a wealth management technology consulting practice. By early 2016, his firm was acquired by Orchestrate LLC, a software company that builds and provides workflow automation tools for companies using the popular Salesforce customer relationship service platform. Since then, Martin has served as Orchestrate’s chief operations officer and co-chief technology officer.

 

Looking back, he thinks he may have misread his early career goal and sees his transition to technology as a smart course correction What Martin learned is that “you say yes, and you try new things, especially early in your career. But you need to trust your gut and follow its guidance.”

 

He likens following one’s own instincts to an iceberg, whereby only a small portion may be fully visible, with a lot going on beneath the surface. “Technology is my first love but I was [also] happy managing money for people,” Martin says. In his opinion, being flexible is imperative. “With your career there is always an opportunity for reinvention,” he adds.

 

He suggests that other CFA charterholders undertake lots of introspection, learn and understand their unique capabilities and interests, and align those attributes with the right role. “It’s normal for preferences to change; don’t ignore them—explore them,” says Martin. “You don’t have to climb a ladder just because it’s there.”

"A Shock to My System"

Sometimes, the most valuable career lessons must be learned the hard way. For Rado Lipuš, CFA, it meant learning about the importance of cultural alignment (or misalignment) as you build your career.

 

Now founder and CEO of Neudata, a London-based firm that provides fund managers and quants with new and alternative data research, Lipuš may look like a classic success story, but he had to make one big mistake and then go through a process of trial and error to find the right direction.

 

Very early in his career, Lipuš transitioned from working at a well-established 700-person international organization in London to a 10-person fintech startup in its fourth year of operations. He quickly realized he’d made the wrong decision. “After two weeks, it became clear that this was a very bad move and I regretted it,” Lipuš says. “The cultural differences and unprofessional leadership style were a shock to my system, compounded by the fact that the role was initially home office–based and never transitioned into the promised London office–based role.”

 

Lipuš felt very isolated, and the job proved challenging because the diminutive company was competing against well-established, heavyweight organizations with dominant market positions. Even worse, once in this ill-fitting role, he found it hard to get out. “It was very difficult to quickly transition back into a more buy-side-focused role,” he says. “Employers and recruiters suddenly pigeonholed me into a different career path.”

 

It was a painful mistake, but in hindsight, Lipuš doesn’t regret it. “It was a naive mistake to move to join a firm lacking a good cultural fit and [with] poor leadership,” he says. “This career move taught me a lot about the values of a job role and about differing company cultures. It also taught me the particular pros and cons of small versus large and startup versus established organizations.”

 

Lipuš now believes joining the startup was “part of a bigger challenge, the challenge to understand about the vast diversity of possible career choices and figuring out personal strengths, suitability, preferences, and my long-term career direction,” he says. “That early bad decision evidenced my entrepreneurial ambitions and my willingness to take risks. It was a very valuable experience that prepared me in the long run to start my own business.”

 

And it also taught him how to not run a startup.

 

After leaving the startup, Lipuš built his career expertise working for a few other firms. As he progressed, he developed his goal to start and run his own business, which led to founding Neudata. Looking back on his experiences, he says, “Having experienced some great companies with many inspiring and positive experiences combined with a poorly run firm provided me a balanced exposure to challenges and opportunities in the market and, above all, became a great source of confidence, which one needs in abundance in starting up your own business.”

About the Author

Lori Pizzani

Lori Pizzani is an independent business and financial journalist based in Brewster, New York.