From an Engineer to a Banker
Vincent wasn’t kidding when he said he was a good student – he came into the interview with 2 pages of notes, filled with reminiscent stories from Imperial, and inspiring messages to enlighten the group and our readers. Vincent is no stranger to a lot of us, he is a Managing Director at BlackRock, the world’s largest asset management firm, a co-opted member of the ICAAHK committee, a mentor to many Imperial students and young graduates, and organiser of the monthly “Imperialists in Central” luncheon (well, at least before COVID-19 hit).
As the writers talked to Vincent, it was very hard to imagine the path of his journey of transforming from an engineer to a financier when he said he is more an introvert. Find out how he turned himself into an extroverted introvert, and his story is the quintessence of Imperial – knowledge and innovation, dedication and perseverance.
At the time when you were at Imperial, what were your dreams?
Ever since I was a secondary school boy, I wanted to be an engineer as I had passionate interest in mathematics and physics, hence mechanical engineering became my first choice when applying for universities.
I aspired to work in the utility or aircraft industry and subjects such as mechanics, stress analysis, thermodynamics, and fluid mechanics were my most favourites at the college. The lectures given by some of the leading, renowned professors in these fields really equipped me with in-depth knowledge and inspired me a great deal. Just before Christmas in my final year of studies, I received an offer from the Hong Kong Electric as a Graduate Trainee – my dream came true even before I graduated!
It is worth mentioning that many Imperial students had a diverse range of interests, not be limited to technical subjects. For instance, I often saw students reading Financial Times and discussing stock ideas in the Mech Eng Library! It turned out by the end of the final year, two-third of my cohort ended up going into investment banking, chartered accountancy, or corporates. This fact tells us one thing – Imperial graduates are welcome by organisations of all kinds, and knowledge and skills acquired at the College are highly transferrable.
Are there any interesting stories which happened at Imperial you would like to share with us?
My classmates mostly disappeared after lectures for labs and libraries (which is probably still the case today). This is not to say that I did not have fun times at the College. I had many fond memories, including winning the table tennis championship in Week’s Hall, and getting into the semi-finals of the College’s snooker tournament, which I faced a fellow Physics student, the then champion of the London Borough! I was knocked out, but I managed to snatch a frame in the best of 5 game and hit my highest break of 51, a record which I am still very proud of.
What was the most difficult decision that you have made?
The most difficult decision that I have ever made was to switch my career from engineering to finance. Two years after graduation, I was an assistant engineer at the Hong Kong Aircraft Engineering Co. (HAECO), a stable and much-envied job. Meanwhile, I developed my interest in finance and stock investing and appreciated the ample opportunities the sector could bring.
At that time, I felt that being an engineer would better suit my personality whilst being an investment banker requires an extroverted personality. It would, therefore, be of huge challenge, if I were to make a career change. Despite all the opposing voices around me, I decided to take a leap of faith and to jump out of my comfort zone.
In order to better prepare myself for the finance industry, I decided to pursue an MBA at the Imperial College Business School. It took me a while to adapt to the different nature (compared to engineering) of a business degree and I really pushed myself to actively participate in group discussions and presentations. It wasn’t easy but with dedication and perseverance, my confidence grew over time. The one-year programme gave me some necessary knowledge of finance and more importantly equipped me with some essential vocational skills.
What is your best advice for current engineering students at Imperial who are looking to explore their career in a non-engineering field?
We could be studying for a particular subject but working in a completely different field. Apart from common sense, the education at Imperial equips students with systematic thinking and a logical mind, which are applicable to any job or career. Students’ employability can be increased substantially with this package of skills. Employers across all sectors look for the same traits in candidates – their preparedness, drive for excellence and passion for work.
Making a career change is never straightforward nor easy, with the first step likely to be the most difficult one. One must understand the challenges ahead and be ready for them. Also, all the dots in life connect. When I was in investment banking, my boss was always proud of having me as an engineer in the team. Coupled with my fluency in Mandarin, I was always involved in client engagements and deals involving engineering companies across Europe, the United Kingdom and China. Therefore, do not limit yourself and never underestimate or rule out the relevance of the knowledge or experience acquired from Imperial to the world.
What are your plans for the future?
I am probably at the final stage of my “corporate” career life, and I have thought about the following areas that I would like to engage in my “second” career phase:
Climate Change: Whatever initiatives to heal the sick earth.
Mentoring: I am a father of two young children. I feel that many young students still live in their parents’ spectacles and are unable to see the world in a wider perspective. I hope to encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, and to inspire them to reveal and discover their full potential, at the same time getting a better understanding of the perspectives of the millennial generation and helping me to become a better version of myself.
Teaching for underprivileged children: I believe that every child should be treated fairly at the beginning of his/her life. In Hong Kong, there is enormous income disparity among households and underprivileged children have little resources in developing their potential.
As for a fun fact, I am a big fan for Liverpool F.C., a football club I support since 7. I am keen to return to my annual visit to Anfield to watch my squad play, chant our club songs, and feel the electric atmosphere of the fans in the stadium, as soon as international travels return to pre-COVID status.
Can you tell us about a deal that you are most proud of?
I am proud of every capital raising deal that I made. When I was younger, I had a misconception that finance is a world of cash game. Now, however, finance is about mobilising capital from surplus units (e.g. investors, depositors) to deficit units (e.g. governments, corporates, projects) so that our economies can grow and all stakeholders can benefit from it, and I (still) have a great sense of achievement every time I completed a capital raising deal. In the finance industry, we have an old saying that “You are only as good as your last deal”, which constantly propels me forward.
Back in 2007, I helped set up the ICAAHK Endowment Fund, as a celebration of the Imperial’s Centenary celebration. Over the last 14 years, the Endowment Fund has funded over 40 Hong Kong-based scholars. I am excited to be involved again in the ICAAHK Entrance Scholarship selection panel last year, which is another occasion to allow me to meet and learn from the outstanding junior alumni.
Connect with Vincent on LinkedIn: https://hk.linkedin.com/in/vincent-so-3476888a