András Bohák: “The key to a finance job is good analytical skills”

Authors: Bas van de Mortel & Daniël Asselbergs
December 8, 2020

András Bohák, Executive Director at MSCI, gives us a pretty good insight into how he ended up at one of the world’s best known finance companies. Although he did not want to give away the secrets behind the companies’ growth (“I would rather pass this question”), he did however give us valuable career tips and eye-openers about management. Some of our readers know him as a generous lender in pre corona party times as well. 

The Hungarian finance researcher studied industrial engineering and management at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The main focus of his studies was on management, but it had a very broad set of additional courses in engineering. Students were trained to become a mid level manager. However, he soon realized that he needed something else as well. He decided to do a major in Computer Science too. During his last year of his majors he became the president of the student union for 2 years, “a fulltime job”. At the same time, he started his first year as a PhD-student in Finance. He never defended his PhD though. He got a “too good of an offer from MSCI''. Although it is still on his list to finish it later, he says: “I can tell you guys, I don’t know anyone who actually did this”. 

Enthusiastically he tells us about his study time and his path towards his job at MSCI during our Teams-call on Wednesday evening. Most of our questions about his studies were already answered before asking them. Hearing his introduction, “I am assuming that you were quite an ‘ambitious student’, would that description be right?” András Bohák answered with : “Yeah I think so. And I was also quite good, definitely top of my class in both of the majors, with distinctions and everything. Also a very good GPA.” He promptly followed up this question with some key insight. He stated that learning how to learn is really important. Some of the knowledge that you learn in university won’t be of any use to use in your career, and the important material of your 5 year study could also be learned in a fraction of that time. Developing the skills necessary for quick understanding of complex material is what is most important. The ability of understanding complicated subjects and consequently being able to explain it to others in a constructive and understandable way helps a lot in your daily professional life. 

During the end of his PhD trajectory he joined MSCI as an associate. We asked him about his reasons and why he specifically chose MSCI. “I had a friend who worked there, and he already introduced me to the guy who became my future  boss. This took place at an event for quants. We met there, we talked, he saw that I was really good, so he asked me to do some interviews and gave me an offer. So, I did not particularly look for…I was really in the last year of my PhD, my plan was to stay one more year and do my PhD but then I got this offer. “ András Bohák mentioned that he also got an offer from Morgan Stanley, a well known investment bank. MSCI’s offer, however, was better, both in terms of the job and financially. 

“So, my first impression was really like, wow, if this is work, then it is really not that bad.” András Bohák joined this relatively new team in 2012. The MSCI office in Budapest opened its doors two years before that, the research department was only one year old. The research team consisted of around 20 people, which is quite large. There was a great atmosphere in the office, which can partly be attributed to a lot of company events. “We went for a weekend of hiking, we went for a weekend of canyoning on the Danube. All these kinds of activities. So, it was really a good team. And it still is.”

“One advice that I can give you: if you manage to find a good company, it usually pays off to stay for a longer time. That’s definitely one way to get promoted and to get better and better.” András Bohák described that he experienced climbing the corporate ladder as follows. If you are within a team of 5, make sure that the managers see that you are the right fit for the open position. So being the best in your work group is really important. Opportunities to prove yourself will arise at some point, provided that you do your job well. Taking advantage of these opportunities is the most important thing. Managing people is however totally different. Reading books about managing is quite wise, so that you capitalize and perform well during these opportunities. 

A good manager, according to András Bohák, lets their employees present their own good ideas to high level executives. Employees will be satisfied since they are able to take credit for their own accomplishments. Next to that, it shows higher management that you are capable of creating good employees, which will in turn reflect good on you. Too often managers take the ideas of their employees and present them like they were their own. This is not very wise.

András Bohák currently manages a team of 10 experts. Together they develop models that are a part of the product that is being sold to clients. He found that many of his most successful colleagues in the research department are physicists. His team consists of physicists, mathematicians and some other people like himself, who are neither, but somehow went into finance. “If you want to end up in this quantitative finance part, what you need to know the most is how to do good quality, rigorous research.” The most important thing for MSCI is that someone knows this deeply, by heart. Much more important than any particular knowledge of finance. “We hire a lot of people who don’t know what a bond is or don’t know what equity is. We teach them that here, that is not a problem.”

To the question if students should know physics and maths instead of economics and finance he quickly answered : “I would not say that. We also hire quite some people who come from a finance background, maybe I exaggerated a bit too much, it’s just usually easier to learn finance stuff for someone who already knows how to build a model than the other way around. This said, if there is someone with a finance background who also knows how to build a model, then of course we prefer that.” 

We ended our interview with Andras by looking back at the moment when we visited MSCI in Budapest, during the study tour in 2019. Except for the company visit, we also encountered him and his colleagues in the city center of Budapest, where he turned out to be enjoying the nightlife as well. How do they fill in this gap now? “Six months ago my son was born, so I would anyway not be part of the party for a while. My wife would not allow me to go out”, he said with a laugh. “What we do now is having ‘Teams calls’ and drinking beer and playing board games online. That is what is left of the party”.  

Bas van de Mortel and Daniël Asselbergs would like to thank András Bohák for taking the time to do an interview with us.

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