When Javier Hernandez-Cotton, BComm 17, watched the PBS Frontline documentary Inside the Meltdown, about the 2008 global financial crisis, he was fascinated.
“It was the first time an academic subject ever caught my interest,” he says.
“People running these large corporations were some of the smartest in the world and even they couldn’t foresee the problems. I wanted to understand why.”
Hernandez-Cotton committed to a career in finance and, needing a way into the industry, discovered the Kenneth Woods Portfolio Management Program (KWPMP).
“It seemed like a good place to learn from peers, faculty, a client committee and guest speakers,” he says.
As a Department of Finance student at the John Molson School of Business, Hernandez-Cotton read everything he could find on capital markets before being accepted into the KWPMP as a prospective Calvin Potter Fellow.
‘Happy to meet like-minded people’
Hernandez-Cotton went on to excel in the program and made enduring connections with students and professors. In gratitude, he has funded an annual scholarship for new cohorts of student research associates and fund managers, along with his former classmates Kevin Henley, BComm 17, Charles Morison, BComm 17, and Ayssar Nasrallah-Fernandez, BComm 17.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without their influence,” Hernandez-Cotton says.
“I was happy to meet like-minded people with the same interests and the same hunger to succeed. We set a pretty aggressive mandate when we took over the portfolio. The previous approach was much more about picking stocks that seemed undervalued. Our approach was more about picking names we thought were industry champions and that investors were going to flock to in the long run.”
Hernandez-Cotton also took advantage of extracurricular opportunities offered at Concordia. Active in case competitions, he travelled to international tournaments in Singapore and Serbia.
“Case competitions ended up being valuable beyond belief,” he says. “I learned how to become a better presenter and work with a team under tight deadlines. The competition program helped me create frameworks to think through business problems, a technique I still use today.”
Hernandez-Cotton took part in the CEO for a Day program, giving him the opportunity to shadow then Investissement Québec President and CEO Pierre Gabriel Côté.
“It’s a great way to not just learn from them one-on-one about the business, but how they think about problems differently than mid-level or junior-level employees,” he says.
As a member of the KWPMP, Hernandez-Cotton enjoyed internships at Novacap, UBS and PSP Investments.
“My end goal was always to get the optimal job for my interests,” he says.
The company for him was the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB), which has a global mandate in excess of $400 billion.
‘I have a road map in my head’
Less than three years after graduating, Hernandez-Cotton was offered a permanent associate position for CPPIB’s European Credit office in London, U.K. He invests in corporate and structured debt with a specialty in acquisitions, restructurings and stressed situations.
“London is incredible in the credit space. All the big hedge funds are here, all the private equity funds are here, and there’s tons of action continuously coming out of the markets.”
In March 2020, Hernandez-Cotton experienced first-hand the financial phenomenon that had initially enthralled him — a market collapse.
“Watching senior people react was extremely interesting. The first thing they did was dig into the portfolio to see which positions were most at risk. We had a lot of capital to deploy, so there were many investment opportunities for us.”
Hernandez-Cotton says he takes tremendous satisfaction in supporting the pensions of millions of Canadians.
“I’m really enjoying the role I’m in now. CPPIB is a great company to work for. The team I’m working with is very rich with intellectuals who know the market, who know the deals and have a lot to teach.”
In the long term, Hernandez-Cotton hopes to indulge his entrepreneurial interests and help build a company from the inside.
“I’ve got to be flexible, but I have a road map in my head and know where I want to end up in 10 to 15 years from now.
“I’d like to bet on myself a little bit more at some point in my career.”