My career in finance found another rung on the ladder once I moved to Frankfurt. Here’s what it’s like
Bankers and recruiters looking for the silver lining among the ongoing Brexit saga have undoubtedly heard rumors of a financial haven thriving despite the uncertainty: Frankfurt.
Morgan Stanley was one of the first banks to relocate employees and even divisional sub-groups to the city after choosing Frankfurt for its post-Brexit EU hub. One of those transferred groups is Institutional Securities Group Product Operations (ISGPO), headed up in the EU by Colin Baird.
In Frankfurt, he has been tasked to spearhead the build-out of the ISGPO group pre- and post-Brexit. The group partners closely with sales & trading and the bank’s clients to process daily activities such as securities transactions, to develop and implement new products and services, and to drive efficiency and reduce risk across these processes. For Baird, amongst other things, he has developed an Operations group which will ensure clients receive the same level of service on securities trades as they receive in the UK.
“In Frankfurt, it is a completely new entity; a new concept,” he says. “We have had to hire new people and build a new operating model from scratch. The Operations group has doubled in size with one in every two to three people a different nationality within the ISGPO group. Now people are gelling together and learning from each other's backgrounds and personalities. It’s brilliant to learn from each other.”
Follow the feeling
Baird moved to Frankfurt in January 2019 after working for Morgan Stanley in Glasgow for 10 years. He joined the firm after graduation and moved through the ranks with notable progression until, he admits, it was becoming difficult to find the stretch roles that would ambitiously allow him opportunities to continue climbing the corporate ladder. Just as he had begun internal conversations for a role in other growing international offices, such as Baltimore in the US, he was asked if he was interested to move into Brexit planning and preparation.
“I had a really good feeling about Frankfurt. As a city it’s cosmopolitan, culturally diverse and very energetic. At the same time Frankfurt has held onto its German authenticity making it a really vibrant place to live,” says Baird. “Relocating here sounded interesting and I’d never done anything like that before.”
Ten months ago, when Baird first arrived, the Frankfurt office was far less international -- German was the dominant language and most workers were nationals. Today, as headcount swells with different nationalities, the main office language is English. The new multiculturalism in meetings has paved the way for an even more inclusive environment, embracing of change.
The enhanced internationalism has also translated into a greater collaborative effort involving colleagues across different time zones. As Baird notes, if an issue if not resolved in the Frankfurt time zone you can pass it to another team around the clock. Morgan Stanley’s global footprint and diverse workforce is a huge advantage in problem-solving and diversity of thought, he adds.
On family life, Baird is a working parent who, with his family, made the decision not to interrupt his young son from his schooling and life in Glasgow. They talk on FaceTime every night. More striking is the support gained from Morgan Stanley on how best to navigate this situation, particularly as flights between Frankfurt and Glasgow are infrequent. When he can fly home, he typically takes a Friday afternoon flight from Frankfurt to spend the weekend with his son. On Monday he works from the Glasgow office, then flies back to Germany in the evening to be in the Frankfurt office for Tuesday morning.
“The company has supported me since I said I wanted to move,” says Baird. “They have been brilliant in allowing me to leverage the Glasgow office -- effectively remote working. This is something that didn't exist when I first joined the company but today there is far more flexibility and agility in the work place. This is something Morgan Stanley is good at supporting.”
Blueprint of opportunity
Thanks to Brexit preparations, Morgan Stanley’s Frankfurt office is one of the fastest growing. “Being here creates opportunity,” says Baird. “I love Scotland and always will, but I wanted to remove myself from my comfort zone, throw myself into the deep end, and see how I would cope.
“You have to be committed and to want it. You can learn a lot about yourself. Things you sometimes take for granted. It taught me that if you are not prepared to challenge yourself it is easy to fall into a daily routine that becomes a weekly routine, a monthly routine and then you wonder… that you’ve sort of done the same thing over and over again.”
On the kinds of people he would hire, he says there isn’t one.
“You want to avoid creating a blueprint of an ideal candidate. If you do that, you’ll eventually build a workforce as an image of yourself,” he says. “Every single person who joins this firm, regardless of where they are from, has something to offer. Companies that do well, are the ones that figure that out.”
“Promote people to be themselves,” he adds. “Firms will only be successful if people feel free and inspired.”
As Brexit appears closer on the horizon and more London-based bankers consult with their managers about a move to the continent, Baird says, far from diminishing it, his city-hopping experience has given him new purpose in applying Morgan Stanley’s four core values: do the right thing, put clients first, lead with exceptional ideas and give back.