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Right place, right time: the Cambridge advantage

The Cambridge MFin City Speakers series offers a unique chance to rub shoulders with some of the leading names in the world of global finance.

The City of London and the University of Cambridge

Head of UK M&A at Morgan Stanley? Check. Head of Private Equity at 3i? Check. Global Chief Investment Officer at State Street Global Advisors? Check. The Cambridge City Speaker series brings together some of the brightest names in finance – to talk one-on-one, over dinner, to the programme’s students.

It may sound a bit intimidating, but for the students involved it is a unique, sometimes career-making opportunity. Not only do they get to meet and learn from such influential leaders, they also get to use this excellent networking opportunity to keep them in their contacts list as an ongoing source of help and advice.

“It’s a fantastic series,” says Prateek Trehun, an investor at 3i who completed his MFin three years ago. “Firstly the talks I attended were more of an open forum – it was a very relaxed, informal learning space. Then the dinners were a wonderful chance to have a proper chat over two, three, four hours and make an invaluable contact.”

Recent weekly speakers include CEOs, MDs and Partners, from a variety of the world’s leading finance organisations such as HSBC, Citibank, the Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank, Deutsche Bank, Blackrock, Schroders, Big Society Capital and many, many more.

The messages they bring contain the essentials for a successful career in finance. They talk of the need to adapt, learn fast and constantly re-skill; the opportunities that uncertainty provides; the “disruptive force of innovation”; and the importance of securing a legal and informational edge – “being there first”.

But it’s at the dinners that the students get their unique networking opportunity. “Students choose which of the dinners they want to attend – typically with a speaker most relevant to their own sector,” says Marwa Hammam, who graduated from the programme and is now its executive director. “10 students attend each one, so everyone has ample opportunity to join the conversation.”

Hammam’s dinner table networking as a student helped her secure a job as a credit portfolio banker with Citigroup. “There is so much goodwill and willingness to help,” she says. “When I was on the programme I went to the dinner with Citi’s Chief Risk Officer for EMEA. Commenting on the hiring process, Hammam said “It was a standard application/interview process but the networking with such an influential member of the senior management team at Citi definitely got me a foot in the door. Not to mention how impressed my new colleagues were that I had met the CRO in person!”

Former student Richard Duff says the speakers bring a “real-world application” to the learning experience. “It’s a brilliant opportunity to learn from those at the very top – some of the speakers’ seats are the most powerful in the financial world. The dinners would be business-focused – they’d tell us what they look for when recruiting, or how we could stand out – but it was very relaxed. They were often extremely interested in us as individuals and where we were going.”

And that source of high-level advice continues long after the course ends. “During the dinner the speaker and I realised we had a very similar profile – albeit she was 20 years further into her career,” says Trehun. “She became a mentor to me over the next couple of years – I would email or phone her if I needed advice and she was always more than happy to help. When I went for my job at 3i there were nine different interview stages so I emailed a couple of the speakers who gave me very sound, practical advice – you should ask this, or you should read this article ahead of your interview. It’s great to have someone who understands your space.”

Duff got his present job as principal at Fox River Partners in California following a series of introductions and connections that were related to the Cambridge programme. “It didn’t get me the job but it opened the door,” he says. “I also got help later on from another speaker I’d met who gave me fantastic advice on marketing myself. You learn from everyone there. It was invaluable meeting them and learning from all the speakers. And of course you meet and learn from so many of your other students with their different experiences.”

Hammam also added that “City speakers bring a perfect complement to the financial theory. These are highly professional, highly senior people who can shed light on how to develop your skill sets, keep you informed on market trends – but above all they are unique ways to network. Networking is not just about who you know. It’s about who knows you – and the City Speakers series give our students a perfect opportunity to network and forge relationships with some of the most influential people in the sector.”