Q&A: Chad Rakvin, Global Equity Index Director, Northern Trust

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Describe your career path.

I've been fortunate to have repeatedly landed positions that provided me with a wealth of experience and ample room to grow. My first job was with a small personal financial management team where I quickly understood the long-term value proposition of index investing. From there, I went to Dow Jones Indexes, working my way to become manager of quantitative analysis. There, I found a niche in quantitative analysis and developed an understanding of how facets of the financial industry work together, from publishing to product development to portfolio management - all on a global level. Perhaps most importantly, I developed a network of professional contacts and was able to demonstrate my specific skill set as I interacted with associates at other firms. For the past 11 years I've worked on the portfolio management side of indexing, but on a daily basis I use skills developed earlier in my career.

Describe your role at Northern Trust?

I'm responsible for the management of over $200 billion for clients around the world. Northern Trust is one of the five largest index managers globally, and our clients range from sovereign wealth funds in Asia to pension funds and wealthy families in the United States, as well as mutual funds. The fact that my responsibilities include APAC, EMEA and North America makes my role very unique. I manage a team of more than 20 portfolio managers and strategists around the world. This requires constant communication-whether it's about trading strategies, product development, or personnel and governance issues.

What is a typical day like for you?

My days are fast-paced, and I rely on technology. My Blackberry is always in hand, while three computer screens and the 'white noise' of CNBC are on all day. I'm checking global markets at least every 15 minutes. I'm also on the phone or in meetings eighty percent of the time. Because of my global responsibilities, my day starts with a focus on Asia and Europe. Then I move to the U.S., and in the evening, the focus is back to Asia. No day is ever the same, but a typical day starts with checking my email on the train at 6:30 a.m. When I arrive at the office, my first items are to review the book of business, performance of funds, global markets and news stories. At 8:00, I have a conference call with senior portfolio group heads from around the globe. From 9 a.m. to noon, I'm in a variety of internal meetings, ranging from investment strategy and product development to governance, risk management, technology and regulatory changes. In the midst of this activity, I take time to check on the 11:00 (Central time) close of European exchanges. My afternoon begins with a review of activity in all of our funds. I may have a client meeting, and we typically have a team meeting to discuss product positioning, brainstorm recent internal whitepapers, and prepare other strategic materials. Shortly after or during these meetings, my 'white noise' becomes more audible at 3:00 (CT) when the U.S. markets close. The rest of my afternoon will be a variety of items, depending on the agenda (i.e. preparing a speech and slideshow for client conferences). I resume my checking my Blackberry on the train ride home, and at 10:15 work through emails usually regarding the Asian markets - from my kitchen.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students or aspiring fund managers? (i.e. course to take, mindset to have, things to read, organizations to join?

There are many paths to becoming a portfolio manager. My advice to any aspiring undergraduates or fund managers is simple and based on two principles: First, don't underestimate the value of communication skills. Everyone lists this on their résumé, but few people actually have proactively developed their communication and interpersonal skills with specific courses or seminars. Technology is essential. Ten years ago it was a differentiator; today it is a requirement. You don't have to be a software developer, but you do have to be able to anticipate and communicate your needs to the developers. Typically, new graduates will not be hired as portfolio managers. In my experience, it takes a few years of experience to be considered. A majority of portfolio managers started their careers in an operational or support role. Those who can differentiate themselves - by demonstrating investment acumen, a strong work ethic or specialized technology and communication skills - have the best opportunity to become portfolio managers. Apart from that, the CFA program is the single best foundation for developing skills and making yourself marketable.

What skills are most important to be successful in fund management?

High mathematical aptitude and strong statistical/quantitative skills are a requirement for success in fund management. Throughout my career, I have supplemented those basics with an emphasis on integrating state-of-the-art technology platforms with product development, and always recognizing the value in a cohesive team. If you combine that with a passion for the market, you'll have you typical portfolio manager at Northern Trust!

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