Graduate Perspectives is a series of blogposts about the John Molson School of Business graduate programs experience from the perspective of current students and alumni.
This week, we take another look at John Molson’s MBA in Investment Management offered by the Goodman Institute from the perspective of Michael Ayres, Vice President & Investment Counsellor at CIBC. Michael looks back on how John Molson helped him get to where he is today.
Part 1: Finding the program
About a year after finishing my Bachelor of Commerce degree at Royal Roads University out west, I was reading an article in a prominent Canadian magazine about someone who had just finished the level three exam of the CFA program and the discussion around how challenging it was. I had already done the Canadian Securities Course and was trying to get into the financial industry as the credit crisis in 2007/08 was beginning. Given that all the major firms were letting go of staff as the crisis took its toll, I knew I needed to tackle the CFA program to put me in the highest echelon of qualified industry applicants.
The next day, I was at a coffee shop and happened to read an MBA program review of major business schools in Canada, where I saw the John Molson School of Business MBA in Investment Management with complete CFA integration. I was intrigued by the fact the program was integrating the CFA charter to an MBA program so, when I got home, I looked up the program online and immediately booked an information seminar in Toronto.
After the information session, I started the application process, booked my GMAT exam and started making plans to move to Toronto from London, finding a place to live downtown near the classrooms on Bay Street. I had spent time managing a small retail business before then and had also spent a number of years in the Canadian Armed Forces. I took the view that the program should value the unique perspective I was able to offer from a non-finance background, especially given how much leadership training goes on in the military and its match to the more traditional MBA focused courses. I gathered from the information session that the school very much wants to see a wide range of views represented in the classroom and not only people already in the industry, so I made this the theme of my application and ultimately got accepted into the program for Fall 2008.
Part 2: During the program
I gained an incredible group of friends and colleagues throughout the program. Our cohort was fabulous at challenging each other, debating and discussing new ideas given what was happening in the industry at the time. I was also able to build a network of intelligent and successful peers to draw on when challenged with investment strategy, difficult client situations or workplace dilemmas. We participated in portfolio management challenges together against students from other schools, went to industry seminars and luncheons together, and often went out to a pub or restaurant after class where we had lively debates late into the night. It was like a second family and we are all still very close today.
The extensive coverage of the CFA material was incredible. It made it so that a student can understand the philosophy, language, application and use of the material instead of just trying to pass the exams. The program lets you hit the ground running in nearly every sub-specialized field within the industry. On the other hand, I found the MBA component to be a great asset because it gives you a very particular perspective on the industry, including what issues and challenges are tackled at the executive level rather than as a technical practitioner.
Combining both these channels allowed me to gain a deeper and more diverse perspective on how firms, stakeholders and practitioners interact in relation to their goals, incentives and key drivers. All this means that, when working, one is able to seamlessly integrate on teams and committees, as well as taking on leadership roles. Learning through real-world case studies helped me to internalize what it would be like having to solve real-life challenges by drawing on all the teachings.
I was blown away by the extensive experience of the professors, both from a research and applied perspective. They come from such a diverse range of theoretical and industry backgrounds that they were able to keep us always thinking outside the box while making sure we became experts on the content.
I also made a deliberate effort to reach out to those alumni who made themselves available to the students. The alumni network was very open and supportive, providing a tremendous amount of guidance on Bay Street culture, career paths and what is needed to go down different routes successfully. They gave me a lot of insight and saved me from having to make mistakes on my own since they shared some of the lessons learned in their careers. It made me feel a lot more confident that I had a place in the industry.
Part 3: After the program
As a portfolio manager for institutional and high-net-worth families in Southwestern Ontario, the technical skillset that I developed within the program has helped me to stand out from the competition and, ultimately, was the reason I was originally hired. I have developed a unique service model that goes above and beyond the industry standard. My high level of performance is directly attributable to the lessons learned both technically through the quantitative investment management tools and processes, as well as through the leadership lens of the MBA management curriculum. All this has given me the confidence and capability to stay ahead of much of my peer group and to continue to innovate within a changing industry to serve my clients better.
I would like to take a final opportunity to provide one point of advice for new entrants to the portfolio management field. Where possible, take the opportunity to learn how to understand and quantify a broader range of risks. This program has already integrated Environmental, Social and Governance analysis into the investment management process, but the future of the industry revolves around pushing our understanding of where risks lie in a portfolio. The better you understand and factor in a broader mix of risks to your decision making, the more effective you will be at managing assets and ultimately serving your clients.