Monday, 06:30: The phone alarm rings. He smacks the phone on the floor of his south-side Bucharest apartment. “Just 5 more minutes…” No, there´s no time. He has to shower, get dressed, and run to work. The traffic is going to be infernal today again. 45 minutes later, he runs to the crowed bus station to take his ride to work, which is located in the far north of the city.
09:00. He has already been sitting in his chair for 15 minutes, preparing and making sure he is not going to miss his first call.
09:01: The desk phone rings for the first time. With a very pleasant, happy voice, he answers: “Good morning, how can I help you?” Another unhappy customer is furiously questioning why did the mobile telephone company lock his mobile subscription. The customer hasn´t paid his subscription in three months.
35 minutes later, with the same pleasant voice, he still apologises to the same customer for the inconveniences, and promises to unlock the subscription as soon as the customer has paid the due amount. He says “thank you for the call” and hangs up. 10 seconds later, he takes the next call.
And so it goes on until 12:00 o´clock, when he takes his lunch break – which is mandatory for everyone, every day, and it must be no shorter, no longer than one hour.
18:00: After eight hours of repetitive “Good morning/ afternoon!”, “We apologise”, “Thank you so much for your phone call”, “We are looking forward to hearing from you soon” etc., and one hour of mandatory break – out of which he needed only 15 minutes -, he finally gives up the day and packs his bag. It´s time for school.
18:30: In the middle of the evening rush hour, he runs to university. There he attends the remaining of the classes with curiosity. He finally has the chance to hear something interesting: FINANCE. There he realises what his dream is, and what he wants to achieve in life.
At 22:00 he arrives back home, takes a shower, grabs a snack, and finally falls asleep around midnight. During the short night, he dreams of the next day: tomorrow he has to wake up at 06:30 and start all over again.
This is a short summary of Mihai´s life for at least 3 years. He was 20 when he got his first job. Until 23, he decided not to stop. But from 23 on, many things happened.
Four Years Later
Today is Mihai´s birthday. He is now a young man of 28. He lives now in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and currently works as an analyst in a development bank.
Mihai moved temporarily from Bucharest to the Netherlands three years ago, when his job, a management trainee, took him there for a 6-month assignment. He was so attracted by the ambitions of the Dutch, that at his return to Romania he decided to quit his job, and apply for a new master´s degree in finance. His second one. Another 6 months later, and off he was to the Netherlands – this time to the Duisenberg School of Finance.
He doesn’t describe his daily existence as being above average, even if he is now one of the few persons doing what he loves every day, and also earning money for it.
Tell me about your current job and what you like the most with it.
I work for and I am part of the Financial Institutions team of a development bank in Amsterdam, which focuses on investments in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. (Now he gets technical) I support the origination and structuring team in contracting new clients and at the same time I am responsible for account management. The interesting part though does not lie in how to structure a deal. In our markets we typically take the risks no one else takes, as they are perceived to be very high. And this is the nice part of my job. I feel like I am adding value, I am building something. To improve the living standards of people in the long run, you need a sustainable financial sector and a market economy that functions well.
How does your schedule look like now? Are you one of the bankers waking up at 05:00, and going to bed at 02:00? If there would be one thing that you could change with your job, what would that be?
I really like to sleep! (laughs) To answer your question, no – I don’t usually wake up at 05:00, nor go to sleep at 02:00. My schedule can be hectic in certain periods, but it is far from this right now. For the time being I wouldn’t change anything with my job. When routine will overpass excitement, I will change jobs (smiles). I don´t work with half measures.
What do you in your free time?
In my spare time I do family, friends & co., and I follow quite closely the financial markets. As one of my colleagues put it, I am a “global macroeconomics geek”. Besides this, from time to time, I get the chance to brainstorm with my friends about start-ups. The discussions would typically go from strategy to valuations and corporate governance. But this is on the professional side. I am also into house music. A good friend of mine from high-school, passionate with house music since I have known him, is living now in Berlin and working his way up the ranks these days. I think this passion of mine is in a great deal connected with him. You can imagine that I am visiting him as often as I have the opportunity to do so. (smiles)
How does politics influence what you see everyday through your work? What are your political views?
I don’t really have a political view. I would rather have an economic view. I am a free market believer. I would like to see politicians enforcing such an environment, and not intervene and distort it.
In general, I don’t believe in left or right. I believe in conflicts of interest, in asymmetric information, and to quote Dr. House, I believe that, literally – everybody lies. Whether you are in a boom or a bust period, you would see politicians changing their views quite radically, so that they assure themselves with a new mandate. Unfortunately, this is a short term winning approach at the expense of future generations. Having such an opportunistic behaviour will always enhance booms and busts. But this is not breaking news. We saw it before, and we will see it again.
“Doing what you love” – how did you manage to get here? What would your advice be to other young graduates looking to accomplish the same?
I used to write in my cover letters the following quote from David Frost, a famous journalist: “Don’t aim for success if you want it; just do what you love and believe in, and it will come naturally”. While this sounds like an excerpt from a motivational workshop, relying on this is just not enough. I would encourage young people to move from being abstract to more specific about the things they want in life: you have to anchor your expectations properly, know what you can and cannot do, and only then start chasing your dream. For example, don´t dream of becoming a doctor if you don´t like chemistry at school. Besides this, work hard, and think internationally. Your home doesn´t always give you the best opportunities and perspectives.
Getting back home. A question I am sure you get all the time: are you planning to go back to Romania? Why?
Would women count as a strong enough reason to return to Romania? (smiles) Leaving the joke aside, if you would have asked me this question 3 years ago, I would have found 300 reasons why I should not stay or return to Romania. Now, I can hardly find one. The idea of home will always be a strong enough reason for me to go back to Romania. I am a family guy. When the benefits of living abroad will be below the costs of living in a foreign country, I will pack and take the first flight home.
What would you change with Romania, if you would have the chance?
This is a difficult question. Romania is a transition country, where a lot of things have changed and a lot of things are still to be changed. If we are to compare apples with oranges, when compared with the Western world, Romania falls behind in any aspect that you could think of. From the number of highways to herd mentality, we are significantly behind the developed world. But why should we compare apples with oranges? This can only enhance the already existent frustrations. Given the history, to think that Romania can reach in the coming years a similar state of development with Western countries is puerile. However if we are to benchmark Romania against its real peers, like its fellow former communist countries, we would realise that our country is not doing that bad. We have made a lot of progress, and we will inevitably move in time in the right direction. We just need to be patient.
One thing I am sure I will change, or rather invest in more, is education. We should start looking beyond the observable chaos, and think about future generations. The more educated people will be, the better they will become in creating and choosing their leaders and make things happen.