The Student Investment Fund is a student-run fund that allows students to manage a real £100,000 portfolio of assets, equipping them with essential skills for careers in investment. To help members develop their knowledge and skills, the Fund regularly invites guest speakers to share their experiences.
The most recent visitor to the Fund was Gregory Schibl, who volunteered his time to speak about his experience with trading and venture capital (VC) before and during his time at Imperial. Gregory currently studies MSc Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Management and previously studied History at NYU. Before working as an associate for a small venture capital firm, he worked as a Trader for Credit Agricole in New York City. In this interview we hear what prepared Gregory for a career in finance and how he shifted from trading to venture capital.
Hi Gregory, can you give us a better insight on your university experience and how that helped you transition into finance?
Yes, sure I can. One of my favourite things to study is history, so that’s where my academic path started. As a minor I decided to study business, politics and philosophy. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on US economic history, specifically the opium war and how that was influenced by free trade.
Your story is insightful because it tells us that to work in finance you don’t necessarily need an academic background in it. After your undergraduate studies you worked for a little in the buy-side of finance, which is great for our members to hear, because that's what they practice as equity analysts here at Imperial’s Student Investment Fund. Can you tell us about how you got there and what the application process was like?
It's important to say that, although my academic interest was always in history, my professional experience was mostly in business. I love looking at companies and how they get built, which is what brought me to an internship in trading on the inflation desk. I got my foot in the door this way knowing someone at the company but still had to go through the five-step interview process. They test you on your personality, your quantitative and the trading industry know-hows. The process is rigorous and if you don't have a network to ask questions about the process I wouldn’t have known where to start. If I’ve learned anything it’s that talking to someone who’s worked in the role before is invaluable.
What were your major takeaway takeaways working in the corporate world? What did it teach you about yourself personally and professionally and why you did you move on from this experience?
Working in the buy side of finance straight out of university was very valuable. I felt like I was still at school, as the programme was basically designed for young professionals to learn how banking works. As an intern you mostly shadow colleagues on the trading floor and they teach you how to do financial modelling and more very practical tools. They do this very well but also beat you over the head with it until you can do it efficiently and quickly. Trading is rigorous that way. I stayed for less than a year because I wanted to move back to London but I’m glad I did it.
What at university specifically prepared you to get your first job and work in finance?
The first thing is you need to check when the deadlines for jobs in finance are. They hire in September for the next year so be aware of this as a final year or master’s student. You can benefit from the graduate programme’s banks offer, which is a smaller funnel of the people you're competing with. It's important to get to take advantage of those. I know Imperial offers help to help you apply to these. For me it was that I really wanted to learn how to trade and learn what was happening in the financial markets. So what I did was talk to people who were in these jobs and just bombarded them with questions! They happened to be friends, which was great because I could ask them questions that seem basic and silly. For example, what resources do I need to read and what skills do I need to be good at. You can also approach it diligently by reading all the forums on the employer’s websites. But I’d rather speak to the people in the job and get their best insights.
It’s certainly important to put your name out to the people that potentially will be recruiting you. This is a helpful tip to our analysts. Can you talk us through your career shift and your current experience?
I wanted to go back to London and work in business development to learn how companies build and sell. I came across a friend who was raising his own investment fund and needed an intern. I felt confident in helping build their database on Excel and it turns out I never left. So now I’m an associate at this small venture capital firm, which is part of a family office. This means working with high-net-worth people to manage their money. They created an entity to manage and allocate it in different asset classes, everything from investing in stocks, debt and real estate to then more illiquid assets such as PE assets and funds, and venture capital. My friend was managing the venture aspects of that portfolio and needed help building it, building systems and protocols to make it work. I thought that was a great opportunity because I could learn from the ground up how venture capital works. In the deal flow process, you get to talk to founders and funds to essentially listen and ask questions. You can then test out the strategy you planned and invest accordingly. We are still learning what strategy works best for the fund.
It’s interesting that you went from a very big company to a small company. No career path is the right or wrong one and I found it nice to hear you chose based on what was right for you at that point in time; moving to London.
It’s also about how much risk you want to take. My current manager told me “it looks like he never really hustled for a salary before, right?” Working in venture capital you speak with founders that are really good at building a company and trying to raise money to live. This is very different from receiving a steady paycheck. There’s a very different risk appetite and this inspired me to choose a path that offers a little more risk. I was only 23 then so I thought I can just try the job out and do something that is fun. There is no correct path.
What's your favourite part of working for a smaller company?
You have a lot more responsibility. If you don't do the task, it doesn't get done. When you work for a large bank, you learn your specific tasks and get good at them. If you’re on a small team at a large organisation you will have to build a lot of trust and be very hungry for work. It’s a very structured environment.
You’re currently still helping the company out remotely whilst being a Master’s student at Imperial. How do you manage your time?
The company is based in the States, which means that I've been working remotely. What has helped me manage my time is to know myself. For example, until 11 in the morning I need to do tasks that are easy on the brain like reading, research or emails. I keep the hard work for later in the day. That’s been very different from working in trading, where you start your day very early and it wasn’t really for me. However, the buy-side of finance taught me soft skills like how to be rigorous, diligent and on time but also hard skills, such as how to value a business.
Our members are both fundamental and quantitative analysts and their stock pitches are coming up soon. Our fund looks at market neutral long-term strategies. Can you give us a tip or share something that caught your eye?
From a macro perspective I like to look at counter cyclicals and how the economy is linked with the capital markets. However, from a venture capital point of view we need to look at industries that will grow and will be much bigger than they are now. It’s about finding something that's small that as investors we think that can be very big, to bet on it early. I spend a lot of time reading about innovations in food tech. There's just exciting science that's going in that space and scientists don't get enough credit for it right now. Essentially, it’s about breakthroughs in biology and how this will change the way we eat and what we eat. Additionally, if we follow the nature of our growing population, we need to find a way to farm more sustainably. By necessity we’re going to have to find an alternative solution. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have very interesting value propositions. People like the product because it tastes good. Paying attention to the small breakthroughs in science are key.
How can you break into VC and what resources you suggest?
VC is a difficult industry to get into. It typically attracts people who are extremely good in a narrow field and they know how to cannibalise it. As specialists in their field, they can then learn how to become investors. Alternatively, you can be an investment generalist working in a large company, such as in the buy side of finance. I’m reading a book called ‘Factfulness’ and Obama’s latest memoir, as they both help me understand how to deal with people. Otherwise I read consumer reports to stay on top of trends.