Wanna get ahead? Punch the boss

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More than two decades ago, Travis Tucker and David Gatti crossed hockey sticks as teammates on the University of Massachusetts ice hockey team. After college, the two took jobs at Smith Barney as financial advisers and stayed with the firm after it merged with Morgan Stanley.

Last week, Tucker took his entire wealth management team from Morgan Stanley to work for Gatti’s new investment advisory. Hockey drew them together as young men, and provided the foundation for them to follow each other in their careers. “You form a lot of trust playing hockey,” says Gatti. “It’s a great analogy for the wealth management business.”

Camaraderie with your boss

Having a hobby in common with your boss, whether it is hockey, golf or, say sparring in the boxing ring, is a great way to network and maintain career momentum. In a relationship-driven sector like financial services, sharing similar pastimes can be particularly important.

“Finding things in common with your boss is a great way to grow a professional relationship, strengthen trust and develop camaraderie with a leader that can assist in advancing your career,” says Adam Connor, managing partner of the Career Advisory Group in Hoboken, New Jersey. “If a financial professional is interested in strengthening rapport with a supervisor, they should find commonalities with work activities and personal hobbies.”

Bonding with your boss

For Elle Kaplan, chief executive of Lexion Capital Management in New York, it was the love of good food. She developed a closer relationship with her former boss at a Wall Street firm because they both liked to eat. “I love fine foods and my last boss did, too,” says Kaplan, who declined to reveal names. “We spoke about food, novel restaurants, great lists to follow when traveling and amazing dishes we had eaten.”

While she never actually shared a meal with her former supervisor, the food talk gave them neutral ground to bond. “It even tuned into a place where I felt comfortable giving her advice,” says Kaplan.

Hitting the links

Hobbies don’t just help you bond with the boss; they can give your external relationships a boost, too. This brings us to playing golf – the ubiquitous way in which financial professionals network and drum up new businesses. "I can't tell you the number of times that brokers have tried to get me on the golf course,” says London-based Colin McLean, managing director and chief investment officer of SVM Asset Management.

“It provides the opportunity to have someone's undivided attention for four hours, so it's obviously great for getting to know someone and expanding your network, and therefore it can definitely benefit your career.”

Conner, the career coach, recalls one institutional trader who wasn’t getting any premium clients until he took up the game. “He noticed that his colleagues all had one thing in common: They all played golf with the boss and the boss was giving them access to the best clients.

“So he started going to the driving ranges and hitting the links,” says Conner. “Today he’s head of institutional trading for one of the top investment banks.”

Chess, but with blood

Golf has long been the hobby of choice, of course, but more physical sports like boxing have grown in popularity. Alan Lacey, founder of The Real Fight Club and the man credited with bringing white-collar boxing to the UK, explains: “Boxing is like chess, but with blood. It's very strategic, complex and cerebral, which makes it attractive to people working in the City.

“Most people use it for fitness training rather than actual bouts, but it's also an unconventional way of networking, particularly with sparring partners – you do feel a common bond with someone once you've smacked each other in the face on a regular basis.”

Don’t fake it

Taking up your boss’s hobby just to get close to him or her won’t work if you’re faking it. “Almost always the lack of sincerity will be detectable, which will do more harm than good,” says Kaplan in New York.

Paul Heng, founder of NeXT Corporate Coaching Services in Singapore, agrees: “Find something you have a real interest in, rather than try to score brownie points. Having a hobby that you do not have a genuine enthusiasm for can be rather painful – it won’t help your sense of self esteem.”

Achieving personal goals

For some, the career benefits that flow from leisure pursuits aren’t relationship based – they are about achieving personal goals. Daniel Koh, a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre in Singapore, says financial professionals typically choose pastimes that help them stay them stimulated, thus complementing the fast-paced sector they work in.

Vivek Sharma, a VP at an investment bank in Hong Kong whose passion is photography, says success behind his lens echoes success behind his desk because both depend on learning from mistakes and making continuous improvements. “I push myself hard, start looking for pictures others cannot take, master the tools I have, and learn to use the new tools.”

From relaxing yoga to high-adrenalin skydiving, many hobbies provide stress relief, says Mohan Kumar, an assistant vice president at Credit Suisse in Hong Kong. “In a world where you can be online and available 24/7, they give balance and perspective,” says Mark Sparrow, managing director, Asia Pacific, NP Group. “This may ultimately make you feel more energised and focused, which will often lead to higher productivity.”

Leveraging a hobby into more responsibility

Some hobbies, however, bring more practical benefits. Andrew Dougherty, managing director and head of alternative and institutional solutions at BNP Paribas in New York, used his pilot’s licence to take on dual-office responsibilities – he now flies himself between the Big Apple and an office in Pennsylvania.

Flying, he says, is easier than driving or taking the train. “This wasn’t the primary reason for me earning my license, but the hobby helps out in my work, and of course I enjoy doing it,” he adds.

Additional reporting by Paul Clarke in London.

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