Because I’ve been fortunate, I want to do in this article when you are at university when you are in further education, how do you get ready and prepare yourself to be put in a position to be lucky?
I mean, it’s all very well talking about the skills, and I will talk about those that employers look for. The more modern skills we’re looking for, how to make yourself more employable, but even broader than that, I’ve been very lucky.
I don’t just want to say to you, hey, if you sit in these exams, you can get a job in private equity, which is my background, in hedge funds, which is my background, asset management, finance, or law. How do you put yourself in a position to overachieve?
Putting Yourself In A Position To Over Achieve
I trained as a barrister originally. That’s fine, but we all want to overachieve; we want to work X and get 10X results. I’m in business now; I certainly want 10X results.
That’s got to be the way; the return on investment cannot be one for one ever. It has to be 10X. So how do we put ourselves in a position to be as lucky? And some of those pictures, well, I consider them my good fortune. You may not; you may think, well, not really bothered. That doesn’t matter. It’s really what we tell ourselves which will really matter in our lives.
And I say lucky because that’s not exactly the home I grew up in, but it was like that up in Armley in Leeds. So the luck didn’t come from a silver spoon. It didn’t come from some very highly networked family.
It did not come from connections. It did not come from a family that had been in law or finance for generations, none of those things. So if we take as read that we can overachieve, I’m going to use that term for what I’ve done. And you may say, no, no, Alpesh; you are being, what do they call it on TikTok? Something humble, falsely humble. No, no, no. It has been, I’ve always tried to overachieve.
As I said, I want to put in the effort, and I want to get ten times the results. And I certainly don’t want the opposite, which is to underachieve. So how might we go about that? And I say this just to give you a little bit of background; I’ll talk about my government work in a second. When I was at university, I never thought that I would be representing my country. I’d never intended to, but those opportunities came about.
So we want to know, well, wait a minute, how do we get in a position where there are more doors open to us to choose from? And if we’ve got more choices, we’ve got more opportunities to succeed.
We’ve got more opportunities to overachieve or make our lives more productive and fulfilling because we’ve got more doors, obviously. And for me, as I say, when you see the pictures there that had opened up the things which are important to me. They might not be important to you, but what was important to me was working with my government, working abroad because I wanted to do that. So I got to see different facets.
So I cover what’s known as a deal maker for the UK government, and that’s what it believes it or not.
What that role entails is I look for outstanding technologies from around the world backed by exceptional entrepreneurs, intending to land their global headquarters in the United Kingdom, doing the deals to land their headquarters in the UK. And these are scale-ups; these are not the big giant companies, but the scale-up companies. And we want the ones who are solving some of the biggest problems in the world. And I guess again; it might sound, I don’t do humility. I don’t do fake humility, so this is not me saying yeah; it is lots of hard work.
That is what it is, where it says what I do in the bottom right-hand corner. It does feel like that. You see the Instagram version in the other boxes and what’s in my own imagination, but yeah, of course, there’s lots of hard work, and don’t be fooled. And you all know-how in the social media age that the image you might see is very different from what goes on; however, it’s fulfilling. And so, how do we make sure we get those doors opened?
What are the skills that we need? Especially at this young age, which you all are. You certainly don’t want to be trying to get it right. Ten years from now, 20 years from now, okay? So those are the things I’ll cover.
One other thing that I’m going to mention, and I want you to keep in mind with all of this, is that in your later years, not in your twenties, but in your thirties and forties, you’ll be concerned more about purpose and fulfillment in life. Although it said millennials and generation, I forget which gen we’re all in now, gen Z and millennials are. I say us; I’m clearly not in either of those. They’re more concerned about purpose. And I would say think about that sooner.
It used to be the case that you just became an accountant, became a lawyer, or a doctor. You just did the job, paid the bills, put food on the table, had your holiday a year, and that was it, okay? People aren’t satisfied with that. So plan for purpose sooner, and I’ll show you that now. I happen to be chairman of this organization, which helps widows and orphans.
The reason I mentioned that is this. And again, it’s not to say, oh, look, here’s me virtually signaling. It’s because I knew from my twenties when I used to speak to fellow lawyers when I was practicing initially as a barrister, the ones who were a few years ahead had become so jaded by their profession. They thought this was all I ever wanted to do. And then they got the fast car, the mortgage, the house, and all the things they thought they wanted, movies, handbags, or whatever else it was, and it wasn’t enough. And it wasn’t one person; it was virtually all of them. None of it was worth the late hours, the long hours. The ones that I found where it was worth it, whatever they were doing, was when they felt they had a purpose. And that purpose didn’t have to come from their work. Ideally, it should, but it might come from other things.
So I knew from my early twenties when I was at university I better have something beyond just finance and thank God because finance is the most useless profession in the world. When it’s not destroying the world, it’s just shuffling paper anyway. So I knew I wanted to have other things. I’d say I don’t know what your things all, but do, apply your mind to some of it. So on this journey, what are the skills soft and hard you’ll want? How do you get yourself in a position to be lucky, and doors open up for you and overachieve? Let me give you a bit of context. For me, and it’s really important to know yourself and what ticks for you rather than trying to be somebody else. For me, I didn’t want to do a paper route. Okay? But I didn’t have any money, and neither did my family. So I had to find some other way.
How I Got Into Investing
So for me, I got into investing. I borrowed £100 from an aunt, and I invested in stocks during the privatization. Now you can’t mimic that; you got to find what’s going to work for you, what makes you really passionate. And you know the Japanese, I’m sure you all know, and I can’t remember the phrase, but they have a term where you can mix what you enjoy and what earns money and has a bigger purpose in life. If you can get to the center of that Venn diagram of those three circles and get where they intersect, that’s it; you’re made for life. And I was lucky because I found that it doesn’t take a flash of lightning; it will take time to work that out. And a lot of introspection and a lot of knowing yourself, but find out those areas which work.
And you won’t necessarily get it in your twenties. It’ll take time, but at least if your brain constantly thinks about it. For me, I knew certain things were incredibly important. I have a business coach, and I was talking to him this morning, and the same things are still important to me. Not necessarily for you, for me, control. I don’t want somebody else telling me what to do. I hate it. I’m pretty rubbish. As an employee, I would be rubbish. I wanted to be self-employed. I wanted freedom. Okay? I wanted the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. And so your life and this talk take you in those directions. You go towards things that are more like that and avoid making decisions that take you away from the most important things to you. So you need to know yourself and work out what is very important to you. That’s how I got into writing books.
Again, it started at a very early age planning for that, thinking about that, because I knew that was self-employment. That was freedom. I’ve written 18; they’re over my shoulder. And some became international bestsellers, even though I was told at school I had a problem with my English and then at university. They were probably right, but I improved upon it. So there is that the old story you’ve heard about determination and if a problem’s pointed out to you, look at a way of solving it. And I’ll come to those skills you’ll need, those softer skills for overachievement in a second, as I said, but knowing that I wanted that self-employment, I wanted that freedom, that’s what led me to be a barrister.
Now for you, it’ll be something else. If you don’t follow those things, there will be a gap between what your mind, conscience, soul, dare I say it, want and what you do. You might say, Alpesh, that sounds like an entitled, spoiled privileged person. I’ve already told you I had no silver spoon; I didn’t have any of those things. So it wasn’t just that I woke up one morning and said, yes, I think I’ll lead a life of leisure and just do what I want, wake up when I want. No, I went towards professions that fit and suited my personality, skills, qualities that I knew I had, and the things that I would enjoy, always thinking about those concentric circles. What would I enjoy? What would pay? And what might lead to a bigger purpose? And it was a million little steps along the way which took me there.
I kept up that interest in finance, even though I qualified as a barrister, which then opened up the opportunity to write books on investing, which opened up the doors. We’ll come to opening up doors again, as I said in a second, but opened up the doors to TV programs, newspaper columns. But I’ll give you the specifics because generally, talking about somebody’s CV, people always wonder how they did that? How do you replicate that? Not in how did you do it? Because I can’t replicate that, can’t get a time machine and copy you, how might I do it in a more generic term for whatever I want to do, whatever it might be? You might want to be a Formula 1 racer for all I know or get in that professionally.
What are the meta-skills as it were for that? And that’s what I’d like to touch upon now. Now for me, I knew money would be important because, trust me, when you don’t have it, you know how important it is. And I knew that self-employment, as I said in that room, took me in those directions of investing, writing, being a barrister, or being self-employed. I learned about investing, you might not want to, and that’s fine, but I suggest everybody should know that because that’s your retirement, that’s your pension.
The ability to say that to people, to have that freedom that is not just empowering, not just soul enhancing, but it will be critical to what you will define as success. Getting money and making it work for you requires knowledge of investments; whether you are in law, dentistry, or accounting doesn’t matter. If your money doesn’t work hard for you through investments that you make on the side, you’ll have less of it. And you’ll be trapped in being on that rat race or wave cycle forever. So I’m a big proponent of people learning how to invest, and I’ll come to that in a second. So let me talk about the other two bits, the job skills, the actual bits you want to know.
What is it that employers like me… I have an asset management company, which I set up in 2004, got a private equity arm, and we’ve got a hedge fund arm. Now, what is it that we might look for? How can we be employed?
One of my earliest employees was somebody who left university with an English literature degree at 21. She came to work for me for two years, and she now manages about $10 billion for Polar Capital. How do you go from 21 doing that, English literature and an opera singer on the side, she was, to then managing 10 billion as an asset manager? So what were the skills we found in people like her? Another one we had is Susan Monahan, who’s now the Global Head of Communications at Wells Fargo. She was my secretary. What were we looking for in these people knowing they better be good enough to leave us for a $10 billion asset management job, Wells Fargo, or elsewhere?
All the others have gone. They’ve gone from being my assistants to being lawyers, running family offices, etc. Okay? So what were those other skills we were looking for? And those skills are not just what we’re looking for. They’re the things I know other employers are looking for as well. And they’re the things you can prepare for now, okay? The other point I want to make is this. I didn’t know my life would turn out this way, and I think it’s all right now. And I think your generation is happier now to know their life doesn’t have to be a conveyor belt that by this age you will join a firm. And then, by this specific age, you’ll be a partner, and by a certain other age, you let life and those opportunities come to you.
And some of you’ll be happy. Pick. Some of you will want that; you’ll want the bare belt, nothing wrong with that. Others will want the excitement of not knowing. I don’t know what’s going to happen. When I thought I would be a lawyer, I certainly didn’t think I’d be advising the Prime Minister. I didn’t think I’d have my own TV show.
Critical Factors and Top Tips
So what were those critical factors? These are my top tips for overachievement and the soft skills that I think you should pick up and focus on at university. Number one for overachievement, I’m afraid, it’s public speaking. Before you think, that’s easy for you to say, Alpesh, Mr. Trained barrister, TV presenter. I was the shyest boy at school, okay? There was nobody shyer than I was. I don’t think I spoke to girls until I was about 17. Yeah, until I was about 17. Way too shy.
I’m still an introvert. All of this is just an act. Thankfully I was taught theater at school, so I knew I could act. Luckily I also look like George Clooney, so it’s easier for me to behave like him and act. I think it’s all on audio mute because that would’ve just got a complete round of applause, that last one. But honestly, public speaking. You get noticed and asked to do things when you are on stage. People assume you are a leader; people assume you’re an expert. You overachieve, and you can fill those boots up, or you may already be an expert and a leader. Well, how awful would it be if you were those things that you never got noticed? So you better get on stage. And if you are not those things, but you aspire to be, and you’ve got ambition, you better get on stage.
So either way, you’re going to have to do it. My wife in the Department for International Trade is the Global Head of Venture Capital. So she deals with all the big sovereign wealth funds and brings billions into the United Kingdom. And I asked her, what’s the one thing you want your employees in the civil service? And the Department for International Trade, you’re dealing with all these sovereign wealth funds of Saudi, sovereign wealth funds. By the way, at this point, you probably think we should have had her, not him, but yeah, she’s got a fantastic Rolodex. And she said to me; you know what really annoys her? The number of her staff who say, “Oh, we don’t do social media. We don’t promote that. Oh no, no. Sorry. We don’t do that.” I know. I wouldn’t believe that the civil service wanted staff who could do social media.
The world’s moved on; I’m afraid they do. That oh no, I’m reticent. I just want to sit in the corner. No, I’m afraid an employer will think you better be really good at making tea then. You might better make the best tea in the world because if you can’t do the other soft skills, what have I got you for? Exam results won’t carry the day. I will put first-class degrees at the top of the pile. If you’ve got a Nobel prize, you go at the top of that pile, but shorter those things, you’ll need other things. And you might think, well, I don’t know where to start. Practice. There are Ted talks; learn humor, learn about storytelling. These are not things I don’t think are still taught at university. I still don’t believe these things are taught at university, and you can correct me if I’m wrong.
I think they’re extracurricular classes. There’s no excuse for it. I think it’s either Harvard or Yale or Chicago Booth. Anyway, on YouTube, they’ve got a complete set of lectures: film one hour, 24 minutes on public speaking, writing, and all of this, but there are others. It is important. I want to see that on the CV because I want an employee who doesn’t just get the Excel spreadsheet and the discount cash flows done. But if they can represent my firm and they’re good amongst a crowd, they hit the ground running. That ticks a lot of boxes, and in a competitive world where everybody seems to have the same degree, that’s going to help.
Learn brevity. Ironic, you might say, given this talk, but learn brevity—TikTok’s good for it. You might think, what the hell is he smoking? What’s he talking about? Other than the fact that Investors Chronicle and Business Insider have covered my TikTok. And you might say, wait a minute, he’s a grown man. He looks like he’s already in his seventies, and he’s talking about TikTok to us. Now he’s lost the plot. When I was doing my show on Bloomberg Television on investing, I got lucky enough to do that by writing a book on finance. When you write a book, TV companies want to interview you because you’ve written a book, and when they interview you, you might get lucky. And this was genuine luck, which you can’t replicate. The global had a TV, and Bloomberg happened to see that and said, would you like your own show?
Well, that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t done the soft skill of being able to write. Learn how to write and write well and get things published because they’ll get you noticed, whether it’s on LinkedIn or elsewhere. I know it takes time, I know it’s a pain, but do you want to put yourself in a position to be lucky or not? Get those things out there, and your employer will look at your LinkedIn articles to see, yeah, this is somebody who goes out there. They make an extra bit of effort. They’ve got thoughts, they’ve got views, they’ve got opinions. And I learned public speaking. That’s what TV presenting is. And as a result of that, we used to have a show called the Alpesh Patel. We used to have a segment called the Alpesh Patel minute, which I devised.
I devised it for two reasons. One is brand building. It was me looking at the camera for a minute. And secondly, ego. It was me looking at the camera for a minute, but the brand element of it is just TikTok. It’s talking briefly; get that information across in a minute.
The government asks every time we’re in our locked away meeting, they say, what would you say you are doing if the secretary of state was in the elevator with you? And the elevator pitch, you got 30 seconds to explain which companies you’ve brought to the UK, why they’re so good. That art of brevity and the ability to communicate quickly, you might think it’s just, oh, Alpesh, don’t be silly, TikTok’s just people dancing. It’s actually a perfect way to see can you capture people’s interests? It’s a good way to experiment and learn because guess what?
The feedback comes back to you straight away. You’ll see if you’re getting followers and likes. This is not an advert for TikTok, but the point is hopefully well made. If you can’t do that and you are in the elevator with your boss or whoever else, and you don’t have that ability, I’m afraid it counts against you. And it requires practice; it takes skill. But the number of times I’ve been in a position to be lucky because when I was in the right place at the right time, I had the ability to communicate something quickly. That’s how I became a visiting fellow at Oxford University. I was in a room full of people having to explain what I think the UK and your relationship should be. That communication skill had just so happened that the president of one of the colleges was in that audience and said, “You should stand for election as a fellow.”
Now to me, that’s important might not be to you, fine. What I’m saying is whatever is important to you, they will come to you if you’ve got that ability to communicate, public speak, be brief, writing. Again, if you want to overachieve, write. Why? Because you’re leveraging more than one person, more than one person sees it. If you’re sitting in a room, you’re leveraging zero people. If you’re having a one-to-one conversation, you’re leveraging one person. If you write or are on media and communicate, you’re leveraging a 100, a thousand, or 10,000. How many things will come your way as a result of that?
Again, this might not mean anything to you. It means something to me, the London Stock Exchange chief executive, given that I’m in the investment business, means something to me, okay? Presented me with this, and it’s a plaque, and you probably can’t read it. Anyway, it might not mean anything to you. or my work on financial literacy; that means something to me? It might mean nothing to anyone else, but it means something to me. How did that come about? Because I write about it on LinkedIn, and we talk about it. And that opens up opportunities, that opens up networks. They say your networks determine your net worth, or you are the average of the five people you are closest to. You need to get those numbers up. How do you get those numbers up? If you’re talking, you’re on stage, leveraging communications, and more people see it.
Somebody starts noticing and saying that person’s out there; let’s move towards them. I’m afraid things like dress, posture, presence matter. I don’t know if you listen to Radio 4, but there was a whole piece based on charisma. People don’t know that it’s a serious science studied at universities and among psychologists and sociologists. It exists; it is something.
I’ll talk about it in a second, look at its components, and there’s a Harvard Business Review I’ll refer you to in a second. Look at its components and look to develop parts of it. I was asked to talk about how disparate teams within government can work together, and my talk was predominantly about charisma and how to get people to do things they might not want to do.
Well, that’s linked then to leadership; why do people obey? A lot of it’s to do with charisma; it’s not just because there’s a stick and a reward. If you can get that element done, you’ll get; further, you’ll get noticed in your job. These are soft skills which when I’ve got people we’re looking to hire, the more these boxes they tick rather than just I interned here, I interned there, I interned there, of course, I take all that as read. I’ve got this degree, and I’ve got this, that’s just taken as read, that is basic. If you haven’t got those bits, but if you’ve got some of the other bits that come out, that will count for more. I’m talking about overachievement; where somebody with my mediocre skills is overachieving, that’s what I want, and it’s what I want for you.
I’m not just talking about yeah, I’m this good, and I’m a six, and I got a six. Great, no, I’m saying I’m a six, and I got a 10. That’s what we’re talking about.
Do learn Excel and PowerPoint skills. Research skills, finding answers. Honestly, it’s a real pain if we’ve got to teach new employees anything like that. If I’ve got two members of staff and one comes to me and says, “Oh, Alpesh, there’s a problem with this.” And the other one says, “Mr. Patel, there’s a problem,” so that’s a good start, to begin with, if they do that, “There’s a problem, but I’ve got three solutions depending on the budget you have, and this is my recommendation.” Guess who gets ahead. Obviously. So that ability to research, find solutions, that attitude to think, come with solutions, put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, which they say is a mark of intelligence. So I want those.
Likeability, boy, is that underestimated. I’ll let you into a secret; it wasn’t my intellect, I don’t think, that got me into Oxford. It was likability. And you might say, “It’s not coming across now, Alpesh camera.” Trust me, back then far more likable. Likability, I’ve been told by business leaders, I’ve been told by employers that will forgive a lot of sins. When she’s hired people, my wife has said that between the two, one candidate is incredibly well qualified, the other one wanted it more, was more likable, more passionate; I think that person will do better in my team. And I’ve seen it time, and time, and time again because you’re not just an isolated hire; you are a hire who’s part of a team. If you’re not likable and we don’t think they’ll like you, I don’t care whether you topped your class in every subject. Okay? So that’s one.
And part of that likability is that ability for graciousness, civility, crediting others when credit’s due to others. Finance isn’t just sharp elbows and all the rest of it, those skills, manners that we think, well, what the hell’s that got to do with the workplace? There’s no place in my CV for that. No, those little bits when you’re doing the internships and whatnot are the things that will get noticed. I’ve seen it repeatedly, and they have helped me overachieve. It wasn’t polite out of some Machiavellian sense of getting ahead. Thankfully, it came more naturally to me, but I also knew it was important. Leadership, the soft skills of leadership start now. Start working on them, look at their research papers; Harvard Business Review does an excellent series on that. Start researching what the elements of it are, and they’re not often the elements you think.
As you work through life, I won’t go into this in much detail, but the Stoics will help you. I hope none of you have any problems ever in life. Sadly, it never works out that way. Look up the Stoics. Obviously, get a good degree. I don’t know if you’ve come across Ali Abdaal; he got top first in medicine at Cambridge. Now, it’s not an easy degree to get a first in, and it’s not an easy university, but he is well worth looking at. So those of you on the study side think the number of people who are bad at judgment. I was asked by a political party this past year if I would consider standing as an MP. So go through the prospective parliamentary candidate, and I said, “Well, what are you looking for?” And they said, ‘We need to be assured that you are the cleverest person in the room when you walk into a room.”
You might say, “Well, so different to other MPs then.” I said, “What do you mean the cleverest person in the room?” He goes, “I don’t mean you know the most. I don’t mean you got the highest IQ. I need to know.” He said because he was selecting people, “You have the best judgment in the room. When all the data and facts and information are laid out before you, you are confident out of everybody in that room; you can make the best judgment call.” And that’s telling, that’s what in employment I want in my staff as well. If they can do that, it makes life a lot easier. Therefore, look at the book Thinking about Thinking by Anthony Flew, the number of people with terrible judgment, who can’t even think straight, is worrying. As a barrister, your whole life is about thinking, rationalizing, judgment, so it was easier for us that our training took us that way.
The university’s whole point is to take you down that route, but watch out for that. Marry well; I won’t go into more detail. I’m happily married, I should say, with a lovely, lovely wife, but marry well. Not only me, but Warren Buffet and others will tell you it’s a key secret to success.
Please look up the art of persuasion; start early. When I was about 12 years old, I started on what makes people do stuff. And the reason I started back then was I was 12 when it was 1983, and you’re thinking Cold War, and I thought to myself, how the hell did the communists decide they want to blow up the whole world potentially? I blame them for everything. And I thought Karl Marx wrote a book that could see the end of the world? And what was it? How powerful are books, persuasion, and the written word?
Learn about decision making as I said, and judgment. Look up persuasion, look up these issues in your own time, okay? Look up how you get people convinced, the art of persuasion.
It’ll come across some of these things you’ll have heard of; these are important. They’re going to be crucial when you work in finance or whatever other professions you choose. The quicker you can get these things, or even when you’re communicating with people, the more likely you’re going to overachieve, the more likely you’re going to overachieve.
Learn about biases; many of you’ll be familiar with these things, but look into them in more detail so you don’t fall foul of them, and when others are falling foul of them, you can call it out; you are the one seen with better judgment. People with better judgment will get ahead; they will overachieve and rise to the top.
Those are soft skills that are incredibly, incredibly important. In a way, that’s what universities are trying to teach you when they’re trying to get you in those essays. They’re trying to make sure you are thinking clearly, and you don’t fall foul of these things. It’s just that it’s not sometimes overtly brought out; well, I’m bringing it out and doubly linking it to the world of employment. And these types of biases are stated as sunk costs, and all of these things will give you a leap ahead.
You don’t need an economics degree or a psychology one before you learn these things; these are incredibly important. In my field of finance, they’re essential in every other too. They’re necessary every time you communicate and get something across, and they’re also why universities existed in the first.