I’m a portfolio manager with a long only investment fund. My parents are first generation immigrants to the UK. My father worked in a factory; my mother was a housewife. No one in my family went to university, nor did any of my friends growing up. Where I come from, you left school, and you got a job. People needed the money.
I had no idea about financial services jobs as a teenager. I was at a standard comprehensive school and banking to me meant retail banking. But when I was 17 one of my A level teachers encouraged me to attend a one-week economics summer school at Cambridge University organized by the Sutton Trust and my life changed.
The Sutton Trust’s mantra is that a child’s background should not dictate his or her future. After my Cambridge summer school, I applied to the university and won a place there to study economics. That completely raised my perception of what I was capable of. When I was applying to Cambridge, some of my friends at home thought I was being a bit over the top and that although I was bright, I was reaching too far. Once I got into Cambridge, my perception of that ceiling on my achievement disappeared.
When I graduated, I got a job in banking before moving to the buy-side. I’ve been in the financial services industry for nearly two decades now and – unusually perhaps – I’m still friends with a lot of people back home. Many of them never left our hometown. They didn’t go to university, they went to a local college and got a local job. I was lucky with a lot of the decisions that I made, but many of my friends didn’t take the leap of faith that’s necessary if you want to make a change.
I’ve made a conscious effort to stay in touch with my childhood friends. Because of them my understanding of the world is not warped by finance; I know what’s real. My City friends, for example, have no idea about the cost of living crisis, but when I go home and talk to nurses and taxi drivers I can see how hard things really are.
Has my background held me back? Not overtly – the financial services industry is a lot more diverse these days, but some things have definitely made a difference. For example, I’ve had less family pressure to succeed: once I was at Cambridge I felt like I’d already proven myself, until I saw the kind of pressure that students from successful families were under to keep on achieving. When I got a job, I had no one to talk to about interpersonal issues at work – I didn’t know how to handle people and to build a reputation. I was sorely conscious of my accent. And even now, I am aware of the tacit networks that exist of people who went to the same school and prep school. An Oxbridge education will get you in, but there are networks within those networks and entry is based on additional points of commonality. It’s referred to as “fit.”
When I go home now, I try to persuade my friends to encourage their children to achieve their potential. It can be a source of tension between us; they don’t always have high aspirations for their kids.
When I’m there, I never talk about how much I earn. I’ve helped some people out, but I never mentioned it. What I do say is that working in finance is a bit like being a footballer. A few footballers earn a huge amount of money. Most earn ok money. I am one of those doing ok.
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