What’s your superpower? What’s your ‘edge’? Or, to put it another way, what’s the extra value you bring to the table, through a unique skill or passion? And do you remember how difficult it was to discover how that passion would help you make your way in the world?
Welcoming our first cohort of interns to Mako in July last year, I recall being vastly impressed by how willingly the three young men and three young women before me had chosen to engage with arguably the greatest challenge any of us face in our professional lives: discovering our driving passion and learning how that can be used to give us an advantage in a fiercely competitive world. We hope that our six-week programme had an impact on their lives and careers, whether or not their ultimate destiny lies within our business. Merely by engaging with it, they have set themselves on a pathway to opportunity.
At a breakfast meeting held on their first day, I asked our interns to describe their ‘superpower’ - an area in which they excel and which gives them an advantage in life. Mako depends entirely on the edge each team member brings to their role, whether that be a skill in coding with Python, or, in my case, an ability to understand people by listening deeply and interpreting their true meaning, which can sometimes be hidden by their words and actions.
It took me three or four years of working in pubs and restaurants after finishing an engineering degree to really figure out my edge; my superpower. It certainly wasn’t breaking up bar fights, which I was required to do often, and pulling pints is a pretty generic skill! My pathway took me into operations, and then into risk, from which I gained an opportunity with Mako, where I really began to figure out that people were the aspect of a business that I worked with best.
Perhaps not coincidentally, this is where my passion lies. I tasked our interns not only with experiencing several key aspects of Mako’s business, but also, more subtly, with starting to figure out their passion in life, because this is where their edge is also most likely to be found.
I enjoyed university, but didn’t enjoy the style of learning, with someone stood at the front of a classroom telling me to learn. I wasn’t a natural student. I’d much rather learn in an applied fashion. Our internship scheme provides countless opportunities for our undergraduates to do exactly that. The ability to acquire new skills, and fast, is essential to the nature of financial services, and to Mako as an options market maker, especially.
We encourage our interns to get stuck, get their hands dirty, and then to iterate and adapt. The pace of change in our industry does not easily afford time to study on the job; a business like ours can be left behind very, very quickly. One of the things we look for in new people is a willingness to engage, a willingness to learn and to apply that newly-acquired knowledge, and a willingness to adapt very quickly after that.
Our interns should discover that trading does not happen in a vacuum, isolated from world events; quite the reverse, in fact. Markets are infinitely sensitive and, in an era where the US President relies on social media as his chief method of communication, can change in a heartbeat (or a Tweet). The markets in which we trade are open 23.5 hours a day, five-and-a-half days a week. Our days are long, but rewarding; sometimes exhausting, but offering more than the occasional rush of adrenaline.
Launching our internship scheme last year is probably one of the most exciting things we’ve done as a business. It’s a reflection of how seriously we regard recruitment of the very best candidates. The reality is that “good enough” simply isn’t good enough for Mako. With software giants and social media platforms among our competitors for young developers, and the big banks hunting those we hope to recruit as traders, the battle for the most gifted 20 per cent of undergraduates has grown ever more intense, and starts earlier and earlier; often before they’ve finished their degree studies.
We still find incredibly talented people with our traditional hiring style, but it's an increasingly difficult job. By engaging with universities, we’ve gained access to a whole different group. Our internship scheme has been a big project with much to offer. We’ve spoken to young people who are super engaged, very bright and desperate to learn more. It was difficult to choose six undergraduates from more than 500 applications, but the successful candidates more than justified their selection.
It doesn’t matter if our interns are, like me, at Mako in 13 years time, or doing something else. What matters is that during their time with us they feel empowered and that we are helping them grow; that we are allowing them to reach their full potential, and not limiting them. Mako has always been able to say, ‘If there’s an authentic connection between what we do and who you are, we will help you to realise that full potential.’