Precision & Ambition
Charting a path from employment to ownership in finance
Courtesy of Jude Addo - Founder of JA Capital Partners & Co-Founder of Cornerstone Partners
Graduating from Ghana International School, my original career plan involved working within technology and as such, my listed major when I entered Bryant University was Computer Information Systems. I thought I was going to become an IT Project Manager or some sort of Business Analyst - someone that sits in between the hardcore tech industry and the business people on the frontlines. However, halfway through my course, I realised that I had a knack for Economics and that I was actually excelling more at that than I was at IT. So, instead of dropping my major, I added Economics and then transitioned to a double major.
I knew I enjoyed technology, but my sister, who was at Lehman Brothers at the time, had made a decent living doing M&A. I thought to myself, “why don’t I give this Investment Banking thing a try? And if I can do technology within investment banking, even better!” While studying abroad at University College London, I attended a careers fair that hosted a few investment banks including J.P. Morgan. After meeting their representative, I was encouraged to apply to their technology programme which I did. However, with the semester drawing to a close without any feedback on my application, I went back home to spend Christmas with my family in Ghana. Preparing to go back to the U.S. from Ghana, I get a call from J.P. Morgan with a request for an interview. Fortunately for me, they offered to pay for my flight back to the UK for two days to attend an interview for the internship before heading back to Smithfield, Rhode Island to continue with the spring semester at Bryant. I managed to smash the interview and received an internship offer working within J.P. Morgan’s investment banking division as part of their technology team.
After formally joining J.P. Morgan post-internship, I entered a completely new world. The internship helped acclimatise me to the daily work schedule, but understanding the organisation proved to be an incredibly steep curve. Understanding the organisation is almost as important as learning what your role is and what your deliverables are. The most important thing, especially when you start a job, is not to just deliver, but to understand what your deliverables mean to the wider organisation and where you fit within the corporate ecosystem. In doing so, you realise what value you’re providing and what exactly you need to do to exceed expectations. Especially in a large organisation, it’s very easy to get lost and not have your work speak for itself. Once you can establish exactly where you fit within the wider ecosystem and identify the pain points and bottlenecks within that framework, you can differentiate yourself by adding value in those spaces. From my perspective, understanding the organisation was the advantage I had in terms of my acceleration up the corporate ladder.
Inherently, I am an ambitious person who likes to overachieve. At the time I joined J.P. Morgan, I knew I wanted to progress quickly and be known within my field. I quickly came to the realisation that this objective wasn’t going to be possible. Why? Very simple. Within technology, you’ve got to have a passion for it. That love is what differentiates you in terms of overachieving and over-delivering. Although I was doing a more than decent job at the time, I realised very quickly that technology wasn’t my passion. I could identify people around me that were a lot more passionate than I was and thus, I needed to find a position where I was going to excel.
Knowing that I was good at finance and math with my economics background and a good speaker that could engage a client very well, I decided to transition out of technology into the front office. That helped me push boundaries, get noticed and achieve multiple promotions during my near five years with the company. Perhaps even more importantly, I grew incredibly during my time at J.P. Morgan because I didn’t just focus on the work I was doing but also on adding value to the wider organisation. For example, I became the co-chair of talent and development for J.P. Morgan’s Bold Network, essentially the black network within the firm. I was also charged with helping HR recruit top talent from Russell Group universities. That built character and a wealth of experience in terms of hiring good talent and added to my portfolio of skills that I could then leverage in my subsequent roles at Standard Chartered and beyond.
Two years before joining Standard Chartered, I had been approached for my first board director role with Metis X, then known as TradeRiser. I had been meeting my daily objectives, but I knew I wanted more. I wanted to help start-ups move from point A to point B in terms of raising institutional capital, and if I wanted to improve on my strategic acumen and advise at the C-suite level, I needed to have that sort of experience under my belt. Plus, working to exceed my deliverables at work while committing to external board obligations was essentially the life of any CEO. As CEO, you have to manage multiple bottom lines and competing priorities and demands, which is what being a board director has helped me prepare for. It has also shown me what being a true partner means. It involves understanding what the company’s vision is and holding leaders accountable to that vision while ensuring compliance with regulatory standards and internal policies.
By the start of my role with Metis X, I had begun making a name for myself as a sort of Africa aficionado during a period when doing business in Africa was increasingly trending. I had become a speaker on the topic and taken up multiple projects internally at J.P. Morgan about financial markets within the African continent. One lady by the name of Anne Kohler, who had then moved to Standard Chartered, was very fond of the work I had done for her while we were both at J.P. Morgan. She recommended me for a Director role that had opened up at Standard Chartered, even though I was an Associate at the time. In the end, I didn’t make a decision to leave J.P. Morgan. I made a decision to join Standard Chartered.
In my view, you can’t learn the ins and outs of banking anywhere better than you can at J.P. Morgan. From retail banking to corporate banking, J.P. Morgan does everything and it does it incomparably well. However, it was not able to match the offer Standard Chartered made to me, which showed the level of commitment the latter had given to me. Secondly, Standard Chartered had an advantage for me that J.P. Morgan was not in the position to mirror. It was an emerging markets bank with a huge footprint in Africa, and I wanted to make my name and fame being an Africa-focused banker and investment manager. Taking nothing away from J.P. Morgan, every bank has its core markets, and Standard Chartered’s aligned with where I wanted to be at the time.
The nature of my job as Director was one with no direct reporting lines but rather dotted lines with people in different regions who were supporting me on my client accounts. Effectively, I was managing people in fourteen different countries across the Middle East, Asia and Africa. Being their leader meant that I was responsible for providing them with the tools and resources that they needed to meet their deliverables - an infinitely enriching mandate. It was an experience that first taught me how to manage cross-region and cross-mandate and to deliver excellent results in the process.
What makes me most proud, however, is that in every role that I have done, I have added to the role and delivered something that made that team better off than when I first joined. When I was in market risk, I onboarded reports that were still in use by the time of departure. In joining the commercial bank, I created new report mechanisms to improve profitability per client, which helped visibility across the client book. When I joined Standard Chartered in transaction banking, I built an entire proposal on ‘banking the last mile’ which included the less fortunate of the markets that Standard Chartered covered. That then dovetailed into the Sustainability Agenda which was a big focus of the Bank’s C-suite. Everywhere I went, I made sure that I delivered something that would outlast my tenure there, and that represents the importance and true meaning behind leaving a lasting legacy.
Before taking up the role at Standard Chartered, I had co-founded an investment club made up of six individuals that pooled funds together and invested in multiple asset classes. Today, that investment club is an angel syndicate that focuses on investing in black-owned and diverse-owned businesses in the U.K — Cornerstone Partners. Initially, the goal was to do something meaningful by changing the narrative about black people in the U.K. However, we found that we were doing well more so for ourselves than for the community on the scale that we had wanted. Knowing that there was a gap in funding black- and minority-owned businesses, we decided to channel our investment vehicle towards these organisations and away from financial markets. Since that shift in strategy and focus, we have experienced immense growth as an institution with 20 registered partners and about £1 million in investment this year.
The turning point to focus purely on entrepreneurship came when my father died. At that moment, I knew that I couldn't spend any more time doing something that didn’t give me fulfilment and didn’t allow me to be with my family at any given point in time. So, when I returned to the U.K. following my father’s burial, I handed in my resignation. Out of that came the birth of JA Capital Partners, a boutique multi-family office that services high net worth families and individuals mainly in emerging markets.
I remain grateful to God for how far He’s brought me in my life and career. Others have also had a meaningful impact during this journey, including my sister Nana Dufie Addo, Anne Kohler, India Gary-Martin, Rodney Appiah, Adejuwon Ogunsanya, and countless others to whom I owe an eternal debt of gratitude. Seeing myself as a business within an individual, I have had and continue to have multiple people that I can go to at any point in time for wisdom and guidance.
In conclusion, for anyone that is currently an employee but has dreams of owning their business, the first thing you need to do is absolutely ace your job because you are essentially being paid to learn. In addition to that, take a calculated risk on yourself and listen to that voice within you that tells you the time is right. Lastly, take the bumps on the road because rest assured, they will come - you just need to keep moving.
Jude Addo - Founder of JA Capital Partners & Co-Founder of Cornerstone Partners.