On a chilly Thursday evening, ESSA hosted our inaugural public lecture featuring guest speaker Mark Nicholson. The topic – Harvard, Hedge funds and the World Bank. The evening was fully booked out by over 200 people comprising of academics, interested members of the public and students from multiple universities including the University of Melbourne, Deakin and RMIT. While the location of the event was changed at the last minute, ushers from the Events team ensured that everyone made it to the evening without any delay.
A University of Melbourne Alumnus with extensive experience in the finance industry, Mark has spent much of his life learning and practising economics in the professional world. During the event he shared the story of his journey through the investment business, beginning with his time with the World Bank. With a newly minted MBA from Harvard, Mark’s time at the world bank saw him starting in various developing countries such as Madagascar due to his ‘fluent French’ as described on his CV. This was the first lesson he learned: Never put anything on your resume unless you have the skills to back it up. Whist he did enjoy his time as a field expert, eventually Mark said it was time for a change and moved into the fixed income investing department at the World Bank.
Here, Mark was able to put to use the economics he had studied in university into picking the best investments, which he described as arcane but extremely interesting for him. His interest and skills in picking investments eventually led him to join a hedge fund and become a professional asset manager. Here he made use of the quantitative side of his economics degree such as statistics to understand the more advanced modelling and trading strategies that was used to manage money properly. “It’s a very competitive business, if you’re not good at what you’re doing then you’re out,” said Mark.
After sharing his story the floor asked some thoughtful questions, all of which Mark had very informed answers for. For example, when asked whether the US debt crisis will return, he responded that it was going to be the biggest problem of our time, as the endless cycle of borrowing by the US government and then raising the debt ceiling will eventually create unsustainable inflation. This will erode the savings of the elderly which we all will be one day, and thus should be a priority for graduates like us today. Other questions ranged from the World Bank’s focus on development to the rise of ultra-high frequency trading as a hedge fund strategy, all of which Mark had insightful answers for.
All in all, the evening was an informative experience for all which was shared by most of the guests on the night. Brendan, a student from the university, commented that “It was really interesting to hear Mark speak about developments with a focus on the political economy, something that is missing in the curriculum.” We hope everyone enjoyed the evening and look forward to seeing you at ESSA’s next event!
For more pictures of the event go here.