“Culture is everything. Having lived through the mergers and engaged with large banks, asset management boutiques and small startup firms in different countries, I can say: it’s not size that matters, it is culture. And leadership is a big part of culture. Leading by example is what really works.”
Can you tell us about your new job? What is the one thing that decided you to take it (apart from the money)?
I have recently joined Ness, Risan & Partners (NRP) as Senior Sales Manager. NRP is a privately-owned investment firm founded by Norwegian entrepreneurs, Christian Ness and Ragnvald Risan in 2000. Originally focused in shipping and real estate NRP has grown to be a leading provider of direct investments and manager of AIF funds within private equity cleantech, maritime and listed Nordic real estate. Most recently, they acquired a 30% stake in Origo Fonder, a Swedish small cap boutique.
In my early days at Alfred Berg, I worked with Peter Norhammar, a renowned Nordic real estate fund manager with over 20 years’ experience. We sat together on the investment floor at Nybrokajen 7. Peter contacted me in November last year and presented the opportunity to join the NRP group. Apart from the chance of working with Peter again, I was very impressed by NRP’s expansionary journey after having sold their Real Estate business to Swiss Life Asset Management in November 2021. I also met with Stefan Roos from Origo Fonder, also well-know for his L/S Small Cap strategy, and I found that we had very good chemistry.
I was considering different offers at that time but what made me decide for NRP is the conversations I had with founding partner Rangvald Risan. I was very impressed by his humbleness and charisma. It was clear to me that there was a long-term commitment to building a sales organisation, a good alignment of incentives and transparency from day 1.
What is your best memory from the job you are just leaving?
Before joining NRP, I was working at Ress Capital, an alternatives manager focusing on the life settlements market. I joined Ress in February 2020 just about the time when the pandemic broke out. I was the number 7 and first female employee. It was a challenge to sit alone at the office during the pandemic and try reaching out to investors internationally. Very few clients knew the asset class and there was a misconception about the ethical aspects of investing in life insurance secondary market. Despite the odds, the Ress Life Investments fund managed to reach the 300 million dollar hurdle in 2021 and is currently close to reaching 400 million in assets under management – proving its institutional quality. I’m proud to have been part of that journey.
The one person that inspired me most at Ress was Anton Pozine, the Head of Portfolio Management. Anton joined the firm as a graduate student in 2010 as the number 3 employee and has done an incredible journey becoming a key asset for the firm. What I like about Anton is its humbleness as well as his direct and sincere personality. He is not the kind of person who talks all the time but when he does, everyone listens. I got very good career advice from Anton, even if he is a few years younger than me…! but mostly I felt I could trust him. Originally Russian, Anton also adds diversity to the otherwise all-Swedish team.
One of the good memories at Ress is the Gala party at Wallmans salonger organized by the Swedish investment advisory firm Alpcot. My colleague Emily Tranberg and I joined the event together. It was a sitting dinner, but it quickly turned into a party with dancers on the tables, life performances and tombola prizes – something we were not ready for. We sat in our place and started talking to the guy in front of us with whom we were laughing all night long, to later find out he was the founder of Spiltan Fonder, a Swedish boutique asset management firm. The story ended when Emily received a signed copy of Spiltan’s founder latest booked delivered at the office!
Looking into perspective, Ress Capital was a short stop in my career but a good learning lesson in how smaller privately-owned firms work in practice.
Can you share a tip or a life hack that has helped you in your career? Who gave it to you? What was the outcome?
I have had a lot of luck in my career. In my early years after finishing my MBA studies, I happened to join Fortis Investments, a young asset management firm under the leadership of Richard Wohanka, a true leader who inspired every single person in the company. Richard put together a terrific management team who took FIM, as we called it, to the top rank of European asset managers in terms of sales and innovation.
Mergers came about. Fortis acquired ABN Amro and subsequently, BNP Paribas acquired the combined entity. This is when I learned the one big lesson, culture is everything. Having lived through the mergers and engaged with large banks, asset management boutiques and small startup firms in different countries, I can say: it’s not size that matters, it is culture. And leadership is a big part of culture. Leading by example is what really works. You need to look up to your colleagues and be inspired to be motivated and do a good job.
I moved to Sweden in 2008 and joined Alfred Berg, which was a subsidiary of Fortis Investments. I had the incredible privilege to work with Professor Haugen, who was a long-term investment advisor to Alfred Berg in Norway and previously Industrifinans together with Arild Orgland and Nardin Baker. Bob Haugen was the father of quant investing and renowned pioneer who introduced dynamic factor and low volatility investing in the early 1990s.
One day Bob, as we called him, told me: “Cristina now you are here, and you have this opportunity to learn, people around are very experienced and lift you lift you up, take advantage. But one day you are going to work with people who don’t inspire you and who might not support all the time or treat you always fairly because companies have politics and people have hidden agendas. And when that happens, I want you to think about me because I have 100% trust in you”. These words stuck in my mind forever and yes, circumstances changed, and I faced the obstacles. But all in all, I can say I had a tremendous luck in my career. Always thankful.