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7 Questions for Frédéric Rochat: “If you want to get a good idea of job opportunities, you need to talk with people.”

 

Frédéric Rochat has been a Managing Partner at Lombard Odier since 2012. Born and raised in Geneva, Rochat studied banking and finance at the HSG (University of St. Gallen). When he graduated, Rochat knew he wanted to work in London, UK. After an internship with the Reuters Group, Rochat joined the investment banking division of Goldman Sachs. Working as an investment banker after his studies allowed him to experience the pivotal moments in the life of many companies at a young age. During his time at Goldman Sachs, he spent two years in New York advising US industrial companies in the Midwest. After 11 years at Goldman Sachs, he joined Lombard Odier as Managing Director in London. After a year, he was promoted to Managing Partner and moved back to Geneva, where he lives with his wife and their three children.

1. Did you always know what you wanted to do professionally when you were a student, or did your career goals change over time?

I was never someone who had a fixed career path in mind, and I was never stressed about it. I cannot say that I was one of those who dreamed of becoming a banker from the age of four. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a medical doctor. After a change of heart, I went to the HSG to study banking and finance. Once I graduated, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but then I just started somewhere. You can give yourself the flexibility to make decisions as they come.

When thinking about career choices, I always tried to be curious and open-minded. That meant talking to a lot of people: I met with all my parents’ friends who had interesting jobs, whether they were doctors, lawyers, or entrepreneurs. I also talked to friends of mine who had already graduated and had jobs. I think it is difficult for a student to understand the inner workings of a company or a field. You can go to a website, but it’s all a bit sanitized. If you want to get a good idea of job opportunities, you need to talk to people. And my experience is that people are often keen to talk about their work, so if you ask questions, you get a lot of information.

2. What do you like best about your job and what skills you learned at university do you use the most?

The thing that I like the most about my job is the opportunity to act as an entrepreneur. Together with my partners at Lombard Odier, we can steer the future of our business, with all the opportunities and responsibilities that it entails. Being an entrepreneur is exciting, but it always comes with a responsibility to our clients and our people to do what is right for them.

I am particularly grateful to the HSG for two skills I learned during my studies that I still use every day. First, the HSG taught me how to work hard, including how to organize myself. As a French speaker, being thrown into the HSG takes you out of your comfort zone. You’re forced to work hard, learn fast, and organize yourself quickly because if you don’t, you’re out. The second thing I am thankful for is that studying has taught me how to think in a structured way. Because again, if you couldn’t solve a problem in a structured way, you were out. The ability to work hard and think in a structured way still helps me every day.

3. What was your biggest success or your biggest failure that you learned the most from during your career?

That’s a very good question. I’ve come to realize that in a leadership position in a company, it’s not the quality of the strategy that matters, it’s how well you can get the team on board with it, and the quality of the execution. The plan can be phenomenal, but if you are not able to explain why this plan is so important and how people can contribute to it, then your great plan will never be implemented. You need to create a sense of ownership and buy-in from the team for the plan to be implemented. I think that is the difference between leadership and management. The real leadership skill is about fostering energy and creating commitment from everyone. In the earlier years of my career, this was a mistake of mine, thinking that a plan would be realized automatically. With hindsight, there are instances where I certainly did not invest sufficient time and energy in getting people to endorse the plan.

4. Globally, women face underrepresentation in top academic and private sector roles, along with an average income and wealth inequality compared to men. What career advice would you give women?

In modern, liberal societies, the rise of women’s representation across all layers of society has progressed over the past generation, and that is very good news. Yet we also know that further work is needed, especially in the corporate field.

I genuinely feel that many corporates have now recognized the importance of creating the right conditions internally to support women in the development of their careers – from recruiting to training, career coaching, promoting, or creating sufficient flexibility with regards to part-time working at different moments of someone’s career.

For women, the best advice I would always give is to never hesitate to engage with their employer about their career development, in an open and constructive way. The best careers are the ones that are discussed and developed jointly between the leadership and the employee of a company. It will allow the employee to get maximum guidance and direction on a set of opportunities at hand. And for the company, these discussions are extremely helpful to help it better understand many of the day-to-day challenges faced by many women at work.

At Lombard Odier, in our wealth management business, we now have several teams that are led and sometimes majority-staffed by women. We are very proud of these teams, and I can tell you that they are extremely successful!

5. What do you think the future holds for Switzerland as a business location?

In a world where we are inundated with information, people sometimes lose sight of the big picture. I would say that we are entering an interesting phase in geopolitics where we are moving from a unipolar world to a multipolar world. At the same time, we are increasingly seeing a contrast between liberal social democracies on the one hand and the rise of autocracies on the other. People don’t realize that it’s not just democracies versus autocracies, it’s about personal freedoms. I think some countries are moving toward more autocracy and less personal freedom, which allows other countries to do the exact opposite. Switzerland has a great opportunity to defend its model of a democratic country with deeply rooted democratic political institutions and the protection of personal freedoms. A liberal country that trades freely with its neighbours and focuses on high-value industries is probably the Switzerland that can best defend its place in the world. Historically, Switzerland has benefited from a high degree of political, economic, and monetary stability. If we want to maintain this success, we must continue to defend these differentiating factors. We shouldn’t allow them to erode.

6. Does our economic system need to change so that the greatest challenge of our generation – climate change – can be contained and mitigated?

This is a topic that is very dear to us at Lombard Odier. We are convinced that the climate transition is an absolute necessity and that we need to get the world to net zero by 2050. We are quite optimistic that it can happen. Given today’s geopolitics, countries may not agree on much, yet there seems to be a growing consensus among states about the necessity to seriously embrace climate change. Even the US and China seem to be on the same page on this, which is very encouraging.

Another reason for our optimism is that the climate transition is not just a concept, we believe it has already begun. We expect to see major revolutions in agriculture and food systems, as well as in energy production, distribution, and materials. The future economy will be circular, focused on reducing, reusing, and recycling.

Finally, we believe that an element that has historically been absent from the normal capitalist model will need to be included: the pricing of externalities to the natural world. As we look at a company with its profits and losses, a balance sheet, and a cash flow, we will increasingly look at the emissions that are created before, during, and after the use of a product. And those emissions will have to be priced. Pricing emissions will be a powerful incentive to invest in alternative production methods that emit less. We believe that governments have an important role to play in this. Pure taxation or heavy regulation will not create the right incentives for companies to invest. Instead, there should be incentives to unleash new private capital investment in the climate transition.

The climate transition will be similar in its magnitude to the industrial revolution of the 19th century, but it will happen much faster, at the pace of the digital revolution. We think that many companies will disappear. But we also think that companies that are fast enough to recognize the magnitude of these changes will be the leaders of tomorrow.

7. As a former student, what advice would you give to current students who are looking for their ideal job?

My advice to current students looking for their ideal job is multifaceted. First, it’s important to think about what you like doing. In today’s fast-paced digital world, you have to work hard if you want to be successful in any position in any field – there are no miracles. Working hard if it’s your passion is not a problem, it’s working hard in an uninteresting field that will be a pain for you. You can find your passion by reading a lot, asking questions, meeting people, and getting advice from mentors, professors, and older friends. On your own, just with the internet, it can be challenging to develop a passion. Developing a career path is a lot about meeting people – at or outside of work.

Also, I think it is useful for a person’s career to spend time abroad. It doesn’t mean that you don’t want to come back at some point, but I think you can only really appreciate your home country if you’ve made the effort to go away. We should never forget that Switzerland is not an adequate representation of the rest of the world. If you want to understand the world out there, you have to live out there.

My last message to students who are thinking about their careers is that I don’t think you can plan everything 30 years in advance. It is always good to be interested in different fields because it keeps your mind open. You have to find the right balance between investing enough time in your current job to make sure you are progressing, but also staying open to new opportunities as they arise. Changing jobs every two years can be exciting, but I would question whether you can exploit the full potential of a job. Investing enough time to master a profession before exploring other opportunities can be rewarding in the long run.

In the end, it is about finding a field where you feel you will be stimulated and can have fun!

Meret Staub
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