About Success Builder
How do you find your place in life? How do you find something to do that both comes naturally to you and makes you happy? The answer is that you have to apply the knowledge you’ve gained from university and from life itself correctly. The Success Builder Project features HSE University graduates who have discovered themselves through an interesting business or an unexpected profession. The protagonists share their experiences and lessons learnt and talk about how they’ve made the most of the opportunities they were given.
This spring, ICEF graduate Oleg Bezumov joined the list of HSE alumna named in the Forbes 30 Under 30 rating for 2021, winning in the Finance and Investment category. Mr Bezumov is currently an executive director of the investment banking department of Goldman Sachs (London), where he was a key participant in the largest-ever $29 billion IPO of the Saudi Aramco oil company. Here, he tells Success Builder why life in London is good for personal development, how sports contribute to career success, how prestige is measured in the investment business, as well as about the benefits of networking and meeting David Beckham.
London is a major part of your life. Have you dreamed of this city since childhood?
I was born in the Arctic Circle, in the city of Naryan-Mar in the Arkhangelsk region. When I was three, my family moved to Samara, where I lived and finished preparatory high school. After graduating, I realized that I wanted to study economics and finance. I chose to attend the best university, HSE, and the most promising programme for my field, ICEF. I took an interest in finance thanks to courses at my preparatory school, at which time I also began learning how to trade stocks, which I found thrilling. Of course, I wanted to study at one of the most prestigious educational institutions in Russia, and to do so in English with the prospect of obtaining the best Russian and Western education at the same time.
London appeared later when I attended summer courses at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 2010. I already knew a lot about the city by then, and liked it so much that I wanted to study, work and, yes, live here.
The whole range of cultures is found in London and the concentration of interesting people here is off the charts
This was probably my main impression of the city, and it remains so to this day. Only afterwards did I realise that there is simply no better place to gain international experience in professional communication and to expand my horizons.
What does professional experience in the London world of finance actually give you?
The first thing it gives you is opportunities. Any serious specialist wants to be wherever the opportunities are greatest. London is a financial centre on a par with New York. Here, you can develop your professional potential to the utmost by participating in the best international transactions. Second, London is a nourishing and inspiring environment. This city challenges you to improve as a person: you look critically at your actions and glean the best from various traditions as expressed by the different peoples who live here.
London makes you feel like a citizen of the world when you learn to accept and correlate different points of view and listen to other people’s interests. From what I have seen, the people of Moscow and London do the same things differently, and the wider your international experience, the more you understand the world and yourself. In such an international environment, I have seen many interesting people with non-standard ideas that prompt you to find non-stereotypical ways of thinking. Here, such people are everywhere — in finance, business, law and science, and they create a culture of much-deserved success in their respective fields. This inspires you to do the same, to strive to develop the very best skills as well.
Our environment is an important part of life. In a previous interview, I said that for me, ICEF is, first of all, people — that is, students who are very motivated and want to achieve success where they can be the most useful and effective. All this, together with the outstanding teaching staff and the support of the ICEF administration, facilitates healthy competition and rapid growth. In London, the same type of environment is even more pronounced, and so you appreciate it even more.
You graduated from both programmes with honours. What enabled you to study so hard?
I graduated from high school with perfect grades and I thought I knew enough mathematics for ICEF. However, the requirements were high and I had to attain new heights and study a lot. For example, English was initially a big problem for me. I really only started studying it in the 11th grade.
For the first six months, I made audio recordings of all the lectures, then listened to them over and over back at the dormitory until I gradually got used to the English terminology
It was impossible to study economics and a foreign language as separate subjects because the entire ICEF curriculum is taught in English. At the beginning of my first year, the idea of graduating with honours seemed out of reach, but I kept working toward my goal.
Due to my strong academic performance at the end of the first year, I received the maximum discount on tuition fees. The competitive process kicked in: at the end of each quarter, the new student ratings are posted and, like an athlete, you try to outdo your best each time. I have always tried to be a good student, but the real impetus comes from the fact that at ICEF you see the fruits of your labour and your success does not go unnoticed. This helps students achieve excellent results.
Speaking of sports, you were an excellent football player at HSE. Do team sports help in school and life?
I have always wanted to be a multifaceted person, and sports is one of the areas where I was able to prove myself. It also enabled me to socialise with others. I had played football back in Samara and many of my ICEF classmates were also interested in it. We formed the ICEFootballers team and sparked interest in the sport among other students as well. Thanks in part to football, I developed a core group of friends during my college years. To this day, we stay in close communication and get together every time I come to Moscow.
Our team was interviewed before we began our studies at ICEF, and the first thing that motivated us was not a call to academic excellence, but the question: ‘We’ll win the university’s football championship, right?’ It was so simple and clear that it prompted us to come together and be the best. By the fourth year, the ICEF team won the HSE mini-football championship, and the new trophies only spurred us on to greater achievements. HSE University is unique in this regard because it allows students to develop different interests. During the season, we played games every weekend. We lived for them and looked forward to each one as if it were a holiday. ‘The weekend is almost here,’ we thought, ‘and we’ll be playing against someone soon!’
I continue to play football almost every weekend here in London. This has expanded my circle of acquaintances and brought me many new friends. Football has given me this group of interesting people with whom, in one way or another, you go through life together.
Why did you choose to attend Imperial College in London?
After attending summer school at LSE and interning at Rosatom, I realised that I wasn’t ready yet to fully immerse myself in the industry and that I really wanted to gain international experience. The best option was to enrol in a British master’s programme, after which I could get a job offer in London. I also wanted to learn something new, more highly specialised, and I could study my favourite math subjects in the programme I had chosen.
Imperial College offered the right balance of applied and quantitative subjects: advanced mathematics for financiers and, for the second semester, the opportunity to choose electives that were both new and necessary. Other master’s programmes seemed to be more theoretical, but since I had already received a broad foundation at ICEF, I was looking for a more applied focus.
How can a one-year master’s programme prepare you to enter the London labour market?
You just need to ‘sleep faster’, as my colleagues like to joke. Yes, it was tough. The master’s degree was my main goal and the key to the job market. During the first half of the year, when I could sail through subjects that I had mastered back at ICEF, I devoted that time to the job search. I sent out more than 100 résumés and landed my first job with Nutmeg Investment Management, which now manages several billion pounds of multi-asset ETFs in London. J.P. Morgan Bank recently bought out Nutmeg, and it’s nice to follow its success even years after I have left.
The job search is itself a full-time job. There’s no secret to it, other than ‘the more the better’, prepping for interviews and networking
You need to make a high-quality résumé and send out as many as you can, network and think about the impression you make on the professionals you meet. Some people manage to find a job in London at the start of the academic year, some at the end, and some don’t get any offers at all. It all depends on the intensity of your search and, to some extent, on luck — but sometimes, luck comes your way when you are truly ready for a new opportunity.
What were your expectations concerning work?
It was a revelation for me that the financial world is many-sided. When we studied in Moscow, we thought that as graduates of the finance programme, only two paths were open to us: consulting and banking. But when you come to London or New York, you realise that there are lots of different areas in finance where you can find a job. For me, the job search became a way of learning about the profession. I was open to everything and didn’t limit myself to a brand or a particular area such as research, banking, asset management, analytics or quant analysis. I found everything very interesting and I desperately wanted to work in finance in London. But I must admit that having a particular focus and a specific objective helps you find a suitable position much faster. After I determined the maximum number of possible paths I could take, I tried to identify five areas in which I could start working while also leaving the doors open for various career options. As a result, I first got into asset management, but I still switched over to banking later.
Was it easy to make that change?
It was more interesting than it was difficult because the two fields are completely different. I have been with Goldman Sachs for more than seven years now, and I moved here because the long-term asset management field lacked dynamism for me. To work with assets, you have to study the market and do analytics. A little action comes along once a month, in the form of balancing the ETF portfolio. I also had to do programming and make models for calculating historical profitability for use in an advertising campaign.
On every second wagon of the London underground, you’ll see a Nutmeg ad showing historical profitability figures calculated using my model
Although it required a ton of analytics, there was little activity overall. But when I switched to investment banking, it was just the opposite — it was all action. And even though I continued doing financial modelling and analytics, the new work involved a lot more social activity, and I really liked the new balance of these elements.
Which factors contributed to your career success at Goldman Sachs?
There is a standard career path in investment banking. You start as an analyst for a couple of years. For the next four years, you work as an associate. You then become an executive director or vice president, and in another six to eight years, you become the managing director of a department. Your career growth is predictable if you really do your job well. I started in a team covering emerging markets in the equity capital field. I worked with Russia and the CIS (with the Detsky Mir IPO and the Polyus re-IPO, for example), the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe and Africa. It was a unique experience working with analytics and transactions in Russian equity and it served as a strong foundation for my career in banking. I was even lucky enough to meet David Beckham, my childhood idol, when he came to our office one day as a speaker for UNICEF.
Every day of my job brought something new: I learned interesting things and absorbed every event like a sponge. My main motivation came from the fact that I saw the results of my work — satisfied clients and a gratified team — and took pride in them. I took part in high-profile transactions, the results of which sometimes make the news, appearing on the cover of the Financial Times and Bloomberg.
Working at this level requires responsibility, both to oneself and to the financial industry, because the outcome of a multibillion-dollar transaction can determine the fate of entire companies — and sometimes, a whole country’s national strategy stands behind it. You recognise the larger mission of the work you’re doing — that thanks to a specific transaction, a particular company or group of shareholders achieves its goals. That moves the industry and the economy as a whole forward and serves as an integral part of the financial world. I liked the particular features of different geographical regions, but I wanted to work strategically and deal directly with M&A. Three years later, I moved to the IBD department in the Natural Resources sector where I could work with the entire range of corporate transactions.
What makes the transactions in this division interesting?
Our team has an extensive range of tasks covering various sectors — oil, energy, renewable resources, mining and infrastructure. This is what made the transition to this team attractive for me. I focus on the energy sector, as well as the customary oil and gas field, and on renewable resources, where an industrial revolution is taking place.
In 10-20 years, we will consume and produce energy in a completely different way, and that transformation is happening now: renewable energy sources have become profitable, the use of electric cars is booming, large investments are being directed to hydrogen energy, etc. In the future, the energy system will become so automated and connected to various sources of energy that consumers of that energy will simultaneously be its producers at the very times when it is in demand.
For me, this phenomenon is very attractive because it provides excellent opportunities for communicating with the client and crystallising their goals with the help of corporate transactions. That is why I now try to position myself as a banker who covers both the traditional oil and gas sector and new, developing areas of renewable resources and infrastructure projects — and who has extensive experience conducting various types of corporate transactions.
How intense is your work? Investment banking seems to involve a great deal of psychological stress.
Investment banking work involves transactions and deadlines. Unlike consulting, you work with multiple transactions and projects simultaneously. The number of hours you work depends on the breadth of your project range and the deadlines. And yes, the workload in IB is enormous and so the industry is currently reviewing the corporate paradigm because there is an urgent need to find a certain work-life balance for employees.
Having a hobby is vital and allows you to regularly recharge your batteries, but working in IB makes it almost impossible to find time for yourself
I get a charge out of sports — football, tennis and downhill skiing and I once even took part in a cross-country skiing half-marathon in St. Moritz. I love to travel and have visited 30 countries. I also like music and compose electronic music tracks. I play guitar and piano and I read a lot — more than 25 books a year. Of course, I really like investments, but only within the context of my job.
What advice would you give to students who are planning to pursue finance work in London?
The main thing is to prepare your launch platform in advance. The London financial world is really very competitive. First-year students need to already start thinking about what types of internships to take and which summer schools to attend to build a decent portfolio. For example, if you complete an internship after your third year, you can get a job offer and graduate from the university, already knowing that you are an employee of a large company, thus bypassing the cost of a master’s degree.
The second important point is to keep the door open for various career paths, to try to develop a professional outlook, see what the market offers, where it is most interesting and the best fit for you. In 2-3 years, trends might change and a greater number of opportunities for professional development might open up in different areas. If you like investments, maybe you should pursue that path right from the start and just bypass banking. If you really want to get international experience, then the surest bet is to continue your studies abroad and get a feel for the labour market there. You can also take a job with an international company and rotate into postings that will give you experience in other countries.
I would advise today’s students to ‘stay hungry’, try new things and not be afraid of uncertainty, not be in a hurry and not worry about making mistakes because they provide an outstanding experience. If you don’t make mistakes, it means you didn’t set the bar high enough. The most important thing is to try to enjoy the process of getting there, as much as the results themselves.
Why do you think Forbes named you the 30 Under 30 winner in Finance? What achievements have you chalked up so far?
I think several factors played a role here. For example, there is my truly extensive range of transactions, including a total of more than $125 billion in more than seven years of work at Goldman Sachs, as well as various types of transactions in different markets and locations. It is the successful results of your transactions that give you prestige in the financial industry. My team’s highest-profile projects include the world largest IPO of $29 billion for Saudi Aramco. Of course, I take professional pride in the work that’s been done.
For me, success lies in the possibility for personal development, learning something new every day, growing as a team member in terms of responsibilities, skills and our monetary base. For me, the main criterion for success is that you expand your potential every day. Working at Goldman Sachs, I was pleased to find that the limit of my capacities has kept growing, even when I was sure that I had reached the ceiling.
The basic factors of success are the education and skills instilled by your family and university, as well as your hobbies. My family taught me that I could achieve a great deal with the help of knowledge and hard work, and HSE and ICEF taught me how to solve different types of tasks. It’s nice that my professional achievements were recognised by a well-known ranking, but in reality, those accomplishments belong not only to me but also to my family.