A travelled Melbournite settling back into his childhood city, our new Director of Fixed Income, Chris Thomas knows the way to the team’s heart is through our stomachs! Who knew we had an esteemed past restaurant owner in our midst, now looking after our clients? A smorgasbord of talent, Chris discusses his passions for psychology, sport and reading, adding some great culinary and literary recommendations into the mix!
Chris, I noticed you took a break from finance and owned a restaurant a few years ago. Can you tell us about the path that led you to FIIG?
Well, most of my career was really running trading desks. But initially having done a maths degree, I started working in a small brokerage firm in Melbourne and was a quantitative analysist. But after a few years, I got a job as a trainee on the desk. I have a love of markets. I actually also worked with our MD, Jim Stening at NAB in the 90s! Since then, I have worked in a number of places including Sydney, London and New York.
Trading always appealed to me because of my numerate side and I like the risk. I like the school yard environment of the dealing floor where everyone knows everyone’s secrets – what argument someone’s just had with their husband or wife, where people get their haircut…
London is where my career really took off. I first worked at UBS there and by the late 90s I started trading a lot of inflation linked securities. After that I ran the RBS global inflation business in London. A highlight was when we won the global inflation house of the year there in 2006. Then I went to Merrill Lynch where I ran the fixed income team.
That leads us to 2012-2013 where I took a break from finance and during that time, ran my own restaurant. Then, after a few years of passion and hard slog, decided I missed the excitement of fixed income which brought me to FIIG!
Were you always an avid cook, where did you get the culinary background to open a restaurant?
My mum and my grandmother were my primary influences. When I was a really little kid I had an interest in learning how to bake things and cook. I was also inspired by being able eat really interesting food and live in really interesting parts of the world as part of my job. I ran a business for a while in Japan and have been there about 30 times so I have an affinity with Japanese food. The culmination of these experiences meant I expanded my cooking repertoire.
Around the time of my career break – friends were saying the food I was cooking was restaurant quality. I thought either they just really liked being cooked for or that it might be true. Pushed by this, I actually did auditions in Sydney for MasterChef. I got to the sharp end of the MasterChef process but in the end, I couldn’t actually do it. Instead, I bought a failed tapas bar and ran that for three years. It got straight into the Good Food Guide.
So essentially, I taught myself. Cooking is something I really loved and still do love, but from an organisational perspective, running a very busy restaurant can be a big challenge. But, I think I’ve conquered it.
Most importantly, cooking is the ultimate share activity and everyone wins, everyone eats and that usually makes everybody happy.
Do you have a signature dish then?
Actually, the Sydney Morning Herald gave a Review which talks about one of my dishes, miso crusted Patagonian tooth fish on wasabi mash with pickles! I adapted it from another recipe and made the rest myself. I also did a lot of slow cooked beef ribs, Chinese style. Twelve hour pork belly, dukkha crusted calamari – those were some others. We used to make our own gelato and different desserts. It is definitely labour intensive.
But, I am always looking for new challenges; in fact I’m cooking paella for the floor tomorrow.
Really, that’s incentive to come to the Melbourne Office (laughs). What are your top three restaurants in Australia? I’m sure you would have some good recommendations!
I would have to say, Nobu at the Casino down here. Then, Icebergs in Sydney for the view. Then I’d say a tie between the Bridge Room or Quay in Sydney.
Can you tell me about your family, do your kids cook?
Yeah I’ve taught my kids how to cook. I’ve got four kids. They’re mostly overseas or interstate; one is boarding, one is having a gap year, one lives with his mum in QLD. My girlfriend and I live in Middle Park now after moving back to Melbourne. I’ve also got a fantastic border collie.
So what are your passions outside of cooking?
I do a lot of gym and running. Like all Melbourne boys, I love AFL. I’m a very avid reader. Actually, I recently started doing a grad diploma in Psychology at Melbourne Uni. It’s going to take a long time to do part time but I’ve had a long standing interest in reading Psychology. I think being more active and doing stuff, it isn’t a distraction. I think the more you do other things, rather than get into the drudgery of doing 12 hour days and not thinking about anything else, the better you perform at work. You get more done.
What are you currently reading?
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I always read fiction and non fiction in tandem. I last read the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson, they are huge thousand page fiction novels. In terms of non fiction before that was a book about a philosophy called Kintsugi.
What is your biggest motivation getting up each day?
I think keeping broad interests helps.
At the moment my biggest thing (and I really do wake up quite motivated because I’m at the very initial stages just having started here) is just getting to meet the customers. One focus is bringing about a real team approach to the customer offering down here. Meeting our customers is great and finding tailored solutions for them is what we’re about.
So this customer focus, is that driving your professional goals over the next year?
Definitely. We’re all about getting everyone in a position where we have a full team approach across all of our customers and their requirements. We want to make sure the bonds and things that are in peoples portfolios are the ones they really want – suitable investments. We want them to have the right mix of assets. And one focus, where Liz Moran, our Director of Client Education & Research, is a huge help, is to really deepen and broaden the customer appetite and familiarity with the bond market.
Education is really the broader piece growing the whole pie.
Now time for a couple of very important questions - if you could have a superpower what would it be?
(Laughs) Well, that would have to be flying because of the traffic. It would be a challenge though because I’m scared of heights.
And if you could be a TV character who would it be and why?
I would like to be Homer Simpson. My secret goal is to have an imprint of my body on the sofa!