From an engineering degree to fixed income, Thomas’ travels saw him around the world five times in four months. Now happily settled in Sydney, he enjoys spending quality time with his two children and wife. And although he switched sides, he confirms he still cooks like an Engineer.
Thomas, can you tell us a bit about yourself, how did you get into fixed income?
I actually did an engineering degree in France where you get two choices; either you go highly specialized or there are a few top end places where there's no specialty but you get to dip your toes in every side of engineering. So in the last six months of my degree, I did a notional specialization in logistics and transport and at the end of my degree I had to find six months’ work experience prior to graduation. At the time I thought, I want to try and see something outside France so I 'll go and do that for six months and I'll be back afterwards. The funny thing is, I never went back to France and actually have never worked there.
I found a position working for a big French conglomerate that was in environmental services and they had a transport department. I extended my stay there for 18 months which was an alternative to French military service, which I was called in for at the time. I basically came for six months to implement the ISO 9000 accreditation system there and ended up as something like an internal management consultant for that company. I ended up fixing three contracts which led me into the business development department. It was pretty full on at 25-26 years old.
So I was working on these contracts in partnership with our parent company and then rightly or wrongly I pointed out to my management a few flaws in the system and ended up moving from the operational commercial side of things to equity financing. Then one day the senior debt provider for a transaction was sitting opposite me, tapped me on the shoulder and said “Do you want to change sides?” That was my start in financial services.
You’ve worked for some large companies since then, such as S&P, how did you find working in an international environment?
Actually the crazy travel was one of the things that pushed me to where I am. In March 2017, I did a very stupid calculation that showed I’d been around the world five times in four months.
At one stage I was constantly commuting between London and Sydney. At the end of 2006, I was platinum with British Airways, Emirates and Singapore, it was just stupid! Shortly after, I upped and moved to Sydney to open an office in early 2007. Again it was supposed to be temporary, well that was the plan. But I ended up staying and eventually joined the rating agency S&P in Sydney. My team was spread between Sydney, Melbourne, Singapore, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Beijing, with clients all over Asia Pacific.
So, you would be the right person to ask about jet lag, do you have a cure?
Yes, force yourself to get out. Don’t stay anywhere near your hotel even if you struggle and usually that does the trick fantastically!
Thomas, can you tell us a bit about your family?
Yes, I have two kids aged six and nine. My wife is British, but her family is Mauritian, from Indian descent. She is fluent at French but actually I struggle with it now.
So what attracted you to FIIG?
I had literally three things on my list that are probably going to make you laugh. The first one is I wanted to work for an Australian company because I wanted to work in the same time zone as the head office—that was the result of working for three different US companies in Europe and Australia. Secondly, I prefer a smaller company. And third one is not too much travel! So with FIIG it was like – tick, tick, tick.
How would you describe your current role and what are you looking to achieve this year?
That’s a good question while we’re looking at our objectives for the upcoming financial year (laughs). I have recently taken over a team that is in a pretty good place. So for me, it is about refining and taking the team to the next stage. In particular, I want to see a lot more produced for external use. The format of production will be shifting to an even more professional look and feel.
You and your team have an important role in the awareness of the Australian bond market, how do you think it is perceived now?
Well it’s about tweaking and changing what we have been delivering previously. It’s also about listening to different conversations; it’s great to get into the sales guys’ heads. It’s also good for us to show we've got different ideas and we can show different angles. It’s about “Don't think about us as the grey haired guys in the corner that just produce reports nobody cares about." We actually have great expertise and knowledge in many sectors and we are keen to share that knowledge.
So how do you manage your work and spare time?
Spending quality time with my family is very important to me, and was clearly challenging in my previous role with all the travel. As I’m an early riser, I typically shift my day by coming to the office quite early so I can spend a couple of hours with the kids in the evening, which I think is a lot better quality time. One of my favourite hobbies that has been suffering since coming to Australia is skiing. I started when I was 3 and never looked back so I do miss the slopes in France.
So I heard you like cooking, is that true?
Yes, it's true. But I'm an engineer where it comes down to cooking. Everything has to be step by step. The kids also love cooking and so they can easily spend the whole Sunday preparing dinner. I just go with them to Woolies to buy the ingredients. It’s like “Here kids, knock yourself out!” The kids love cooking chilli con carne. Cooking with spices are in our genes.
So speaking of dinner, if you could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be?
I would invite Mahatma Ghandi. My wife, clearly has strong Indian roots and we have as a family some strong views around colonialism and how bad it has been. It would be really fascinating to talk to him - you have to be a very strong character to stick to your mantras.
Thomas, how do you define success?
I think it is probably defined for me by my experiences of being from continental Europe and having worked in Anglo-Saxon countries my whole career. I never worked in France. And what fascinates me is the difference between the different mentalities in countries I’ve worked. In some places, it can be really negative and competitive, compared to here. That’s why I think success is where everyone gets something positive out of it, a win-win. You’re only successful if everyone ultimately thinks they’ve gained something.
So do you think Australia has a real win-win mentality?
You know, we are this tiny country in the corner of the earth and the reality is we’re hitting way above where we should be as a country. I think it is that real can-do attitude. It's fascinating to see in financial services the number of Australians that are just working everywhere around the world. Here, it's like let's go and get stuff done. It’s very entrepreneurial.
If you could give your younger self one piece of advice what would it be?
What’s happened to me is I’ve realized, you may have some plans about what life is going to bring you but just take opportunities as they present themselves. Don't be scared to go and try different things. So probably I would say to a younger me, please don't overthink things. Don’t be scared of changing jobs, don't be scared of changing sector, take challenges as they present themselves - embrace them.
It's like, if I think about it, in literally March ‘98 I had a return ticket back to France for September ‘98 and I probably still have it somewhere. And, you know what, whatever happens, happens.