Why one of BlackRock's top strategists decided to quit

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Size matters in financial services, but when it comes to the next step in your career path, bigger isn’t always better. Sometimes the opportunity to break free of the constraints of a huge organization to take on more responsibility can pay off.

Take Christopher Woida, who originally trained as an industrial engineer and eventually gravitated toward asset management. Most recently an investment strategist, the head of smart beta product development and research and a founding member of the factor-based strategies group at BlackRock, he recently left the largest asset management firm in the world to join a fintech company with 256 employees – mainly scientists, software engineers and researchers.

In April, Woida joined Axioma, a provider of risk management, regulatory reporting and portfolio analytics products and services, as managing director of index solutions, heading up strategy, development and sales. He’s based in the company’s New York headquarters.

He says BlackRock was great, but that working there also had its limits. “The smart beta/factor team at BlackRock had only been a formal group for a couple of years, but we quickly ramped up and had a mature product set and catalog of funds, so my role was moving more into the maintenance of those investment products and working directly with different investors,” Woida tells us. “Large asset managers like to create a one-size-fits-all product that you can scale up with a lot of AUM, but for many investors, that’s not what they’re looking for.

“Axioma creates very interesting products for that market, which is currently a very small part of Axioma, so it’s a great opportunity, going from making a significant contribution on a team to where I will be creating the business plan and building the business,” he adds.

“I wanted to see what I could do at a fast-growing financial tech firm, where portfolio optimization and risk factor tech are the majority of the business, and help to grow its relatively new indexing unit.”

While enterprise risk management has long been Axioma’s bread-and-butter, it's been hiring to bolster its index business. This involves using portfolio-construction analytics to build systematic indices for index providers, investment banks, hedge funds and other asset management firms.

The decision-making calculus of choosing between a big firm and a smaller company

Before BlackRock, Woida worked as a structured fixed income salesman for Deutsche Bank Securities. He acknowledges that there are advantages of working at a big firm like BlackRock or DB.

“You’re generally going to have opportunities to meet experts from all different functions in investment and finance, opportunities to get training in a certain area and find resources to help you are generally available,” Woida said. “Anyone who is starting their career in finance, you have the ability to go somewhere like BlackRock or Deutsche Bank and absorb information and meet great people.

“The networking capabilities [at a big firm] will help you throughout your career,” he said. “Also, DB and BR are very large players in the universe of finance, so it’s usually pretty easy to get someone to return your calls, get meetings and do business.”

The cons of working at a big firm are the hurdles to being able to go in and build businesses and jump into new ideas, Woida said.

“That’s somewhat more constrained in those environments, because of existing products or conflicting initiatives that won’t allow you to do that,” he said. “There are constraints in trying to grow a new part of the business.

“Axioma offered an appealing role, having all these ingredients, putting my chef’s hat on and cooking up great indexing solutions.”

Photo credit: withgod/GettyImages

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