Advice 1: On carving out your career path: you can spend a whole lifetime getting to know a single industry well and figuring out how everything fits together. There are millions of ways to carve out a career in many given fields and you might not be aware of these ways when you are just starting out. When meeting other people, who aren’t necessarily in your industry, be curious and listen to what those people do. The more people you meet and the more questions you ask, the more different perspectives you will get on your career path. Engaging with other people will help you to think about your career differently, help you feel less constricted if you are unhappy, and may lead you to discover opportunities that you were previously not aware of. Some of these connections may also turn into relationships and may lead to job opportunities further down the road. Being genuinely curious about others and empathetic are two qualities of people who are often very successful. Matt also advises that there really is no mistake that you can make in terms of career choices, as every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow.
Advice 2: On qualities of successful individuals: Matt defines successful people as happy people and, in his experience, the two often go hand in hand. The most impressive people Matt has come across in his career are individuals who are great at dealing with unfamiliar problems and in particular, have excellent critical thinking skills. They are able to wield their judgement skilfully and recognise when to best to challenge others, when to solicit others’ opinions and when to go forward with a decision. They are able to convince others in their thinking process and to persuade them that their course of action is the correct one. Experiences that are often the toughest, such as moments of crisis or big change, often help to develop these skills faster.
Advice 3: On uncertainty and turbulent times: Matt was working in an economics consultancy and subsequently in equity research in Russia during the 90s including through the 1998 financial crisis. This was a very uncertain time in Matt’s career as many foreign financial firms were pulling out of the market. As a young analyst, it left him questioning what the best place for him was and ended up transitioning several times during this period. Matt comments that periods of uncertainty will test your ability to be adaptable and will test your motives for doing what you’re doing. If you find your job rewarding in a genuine way, whether it’s intellectually stimulating, you’re fascinated by your industry or you are a people person and meet many people in your job, your drive and dedication to your field are less likely to be damaged by a period of uncertainty. Having a genuine interest in your work will help you to deal with and perhaps even thrive in turbulent times. While you may experience setbacks, as long as you are adding to your experience, that is ok. You may gain exposure to something and add skills to your toolbox that will prove to be valuable further down the line, even if that is not immediately evident.
Advice 4: Learn to differentiate between someone’s title and their capabilities, and always say thank you: Matt’s piece of advice to himself when he was first starting out his career would be to understand that just because someone has a title or a certain platform, does not mean that they know everything and that they have an infallible skillset. As a junior person going into any particular industry, it is easy to get intimidated or to think that someone with a fancy title knows a lot or makes all of the right decisions. While this could certainly be true, it is not always the case. Matt also advises that you should always follow up with anyone who has done you a favour or helped you in any way and say thank you.
Details of experience: Matt completed his college education in the US, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from Carleton College and a Masters of Arts degree in Russian Studies from Georgetown University. Matt started his career in a consultancy that forecasted planned economies in the 90s. He was seconded to Moscow and soon transitioned to working in equity research. Since then, Matt stayed in Moscow until the late 90s and moved to London. He has held a number of equity research roles focused on the oil & gas sector in different geographies that almost always included Russia. Matt also held several management roles, for instance as the Co-Head of Equity Research at Alpha Bank in the 2000s. Most recently he was the Deputy Head of the Equity Research department at Barclays.
This post is written by Experience Share, based on their interview with Matt Thomas on 14/01/2021 and has been approved by Matt. The interview contains a lot of content including building a career around your passion, the importance of being empathetic and curious about others, working at a time of great uncertainty, the qualities of happy and successful people and much more. To listen to the full podcast and to hear much more about Matt’s experiences and his advice first hand, tune in on Spotify: link and on Apple Podcasts: link.