From Lancaster to the top of the corporate ladder

Eric Sim giving a talk

17 March 2016

Eric Sim regards the money he spent on his Masters degree in Finance at Lancaster University to be one of the most lucrative investments he ever made - and not just in cash terms.

Even though the son of a Singaporean street food vendor had to work for two years to earn the money to pay the tuition fees, Lancaster’s up-to-the-minute courses landed Eric (Finance MSc 1997; Senior Advisor to UBS’s Asia Investment Bank) a job within a month of graduation, propelling him to his current position as one of the top financial experts in the Far East.

Eric’s 12 months at Lancaster’s rural campus not only gave the Singaporean the means to become the very wealthy man he now admits himself to be, but it was also there that he discovered a passion for teaching, made sense of Western culture and learned to drink alcohol in the quantities necessary for negotiating deals with Chinese clients. He also met his now wife, Yoshiko Tokuhara (MA English Literature, 1997) at a New Year’s Eve party in the Bowland College bar.

Says Eric: “Considering the cost of the degree and the rewarding job opportunities that I have enjoyed since graduation, my Lancaster Masters is one of the best financial decisions I ever made!”

His trajectory to the top of the Asian banking sector has been swift, direct and self-driven. He landed his first job in 1997 with the Standard Chartered Bank in Singapore immediately after graduation, on the strength of the courses he had taken at Lancaster in derivatives and risk management. This was at the height of the Asian financial crisis.

After four years with Standard Chartered, he spent the next eight with Citi in Global Markets Sales and Structuring and seized the opportunity to work in three Asian financial nerve centres - Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong. He witnessed China’s financial reform in 2005 and 2006 before relocating to Hong Kong to head the Structured Solutions business. In 2011, he joined UBS’s Investment Bank as Managing Director, running its Risk Solutions business for Asia.

His times in Shanghai are etched in his memory. “I was there witnessing financial reform. I had never worked in China before and never in Mandarin, even though I am Chinese Singaporean. There was an amazing opening up of the financial sector and I was out with clients from different parts of China, learning about the culture, but also learning about myself and what it is to be Chinese.”

He is a man driven by curiosity. Currently based with his wife and two children in Hong Kong, he has just taken a step back from his former role as Managing Director of UBS Asia Investment Bank, in favour of the less time-consuming role of Senior Advisor on clients, risk management and financing solutions. Although his work as a banker sees him boarding international flights most weeks, he can now focus more on developing his own interests.

He is trying to carve out time for more teaching. Since 2009 he has been a guest lecturer on Nanyang Technological University’s EMBA, teaching courses on derivatives and risk management, tapping into what he learned on these specific courses at Lancaster. He has also taught on Peking University’s MBA, at the People’s Bank of China and has plans for teaching ‘Key Life Skills in Banking and Finance’ at several more top universities in China later in 2016. Eric is also an influential blogger - in both English and Chinese - whose recent LinkedIn article on “What education we need in 2016” attracted 300,000 views.

His own path has been a versatile one. He originally gained an engineering degree from the National University of Singapore (financed by teaching younger students), but fascination with banking made him decide to do a Masters in Finance. He picked Lancaster because it had a good reputation, its fees were not too high and he was keen to go to Western Europe. It took two years working as an FX corporate dealer for the DBS Bank to raise the money.

For a city dweller, who had never been to the West, the open spaces at Lancaster were a novelty and he was captivated by his multinational fellow students, with whom he often exchanged ideas whilst honing his pool skills in the college bar.

He was excited about the contemporary relevance of the courses, which he attributes to the diligence of the lecturers in keeping abreast of the financial scene. The subject of derivatives sparked his particular interest - long before the financial crash. He had no idea at the time that the course would be so crucial to the development of his own career.

“I was very much influenced by the teaching,” he says. “It was more inspiring than anything I had been used to and the way they delivered it was very engaging. I decided that it was something that I could emulate.”

He thoroughly enjoyed his time in Lancaster, and acknowledged its role in his own career in the London talk he gave last year for Lancaster University Management School alumni on Climbing the Corporate Ladder.

Imparting life skills is dear to the heart of this indefatigable man, who says he never relaxes because he is always doing something he enjoys, including pursuing interests in street food and photography. The desire to impart some of his own life learnings is at the core of his recent career change.

He believes that young adults today are bombarded with so much information, particularly through social media, that they need help with time management, presentation skills and managing their online profile in order to make it work for them. At the moment he is designing and launching his own online life skills training programme called the Institute Of Life, which he hopes to offer to universities and other organisations which work with young people.

”This is a new phase for me, juggling the roles of full-time banker and a social role as an educator,” says Eric. “Because of my varied experience, I have a lot to share.”

You can follow Eric’s life skills blog on LinkedIn.