Nov 27, 2015
“ICEF gave me the best education in finance and economics I could get at a bachelor level in Russia”
In 2014 Leonid Mindyuk graduated from ICEF BSc programme and just in a year he became an MIT alumnus and received an offer from one of the leading American proprietary trading firms.

— Please, tell a bit about your background and how it affected your choice of university. How did you get interested in economics and finance? Why did you go to ICEF in the first place?

— I think that the beginning of understanding what you want to do in your life comes from the family. In my case, all my family members are mathematicians or engineers. And I think because of genetics, since my early childhood, I was very interested in mathematics and its applications in real life. During my early school years, I was always the best in all mathematics classes, participated in a number of math school competitions, attended MSU MechMath for children’s classes, etc. Closer to the 8th grade I started to look at schools where I could continue my education and to think seriously about my undergrad discipline. I wanted to study mathematics, but I knew that math as a major would not result in the most fruitful professions in Russia, where support for professors and scientists is very limited. That’s how I started to explore areas where I can apply my math skills, and at some point I became intrigued by economics.

I chose to continue the school education at the Anglo-Russian School (ARS), which gave an opportunity to study economics and mathematics at a very high level and to get the British college diploma. After studying a few years at the ARS, I wanted to go to study at British university; however, I was just 16 years old at the time of graduation, and my parents didn’t want me to live so far from home at this young age. So, I had to look for some options in Russia. The National Olympiad in economics (All-Russian Olympiad) allowed me to get admitted without additional exams at any economic university. Because I wanted to continue my education abroad after undergrad, I chose ICEF’s double degree programme.

— What were your expectations when you started studying at ICEF? Did the institute meet them in terms of quality of education, quality of teaching staff, curriculum etc.?

— I was extremely passionate about joining ICEF for several other reasons apart from English diploma. First of all, many smartest people from the Olympiad chose to study at ICEF in my year, and I was very excited about studying together with them. Plus, a number of alumni from the ARS had very good recommendations of ICEF in terms of professors and curriculum.

Many people told me that studying at ICEF is very challenging and competitive, but rewarding. That’s what I was expecting. I will say that for me it was not that difficult to study, because I had a very good preparation from the ARS in terms of mathematics and economics. Moreover, I was already used to having classes in English. But anyway I always felt competitive with my classmates. It was very motivating, but sometimes quite intense competition. I think that that this ICEF competitive spirit gave me the understanding that even when you are doing something very good, there is always still a room for further improvement. Now this is kind of the motto of my life. I always try to be the best at what I do without ever stopping trying to improve myself.

— That’s why you decided to continue your education in USA?

— Personally, I think that ICEF gave me a solid background and the best education in finance and economics I could get at a bachelor level in Russia. After ICEF, I chose to pursue a master of finance (MFin) at MIT. Frankly speaking, with an ICEF education it was much easier for me to study at the top master of finance programme than for some of my classmates even from much more internationally recognized schools. During my senior year at ICEF, we covered a lot of materials that most of my MFin classmates had never seen before, so studying itself at MFin was not that difficult for me. This meant that I had much more free time to explore MIT campus activities, take cross-registered classes at Harvard, network, etc.

— Studying at MIT, what (if any) challenges did you have to overcome, in terms of adjusting to a new social and academic culture and environment etc.?

— The programme was ranked as the top U.S. master of finance programme earlier this year, and I understand why the programme received this rank. Studying is extremely interesting and you can choose courses which best fit your interests and career goals. Because it is so interesting, many students try to take the maximum number of courses one can possibly manage. I was mostly taking courses on different asset classes and quantitative investment strategies, but I also participated in some entrepreneurship and leadership classes and activities. The faculty is composed of many individuals well-recognized in academia (e.g. J. Cox, R. Merton, A. Lo, S. Myers, S. Ross, S. Johnson) and practitioners (e.g. P. Mende, M. Kritzman).

What is very important to mention is that the Sloan School of Management (the business school to which MFin programme belongs to and the place where most of modern finance theory was invented) is truly a part of MIT. This is not typical for many b-schools, which are often separated from their parent university. However, MIT embraces the one-MIT and one-Sloan concept, which states that all departments within MIT, as well as all programmes at Sloan, cooperate and constantly interact. For example, I could attend any MIT classes I wanted or meet people from departments all across MIT at social and educational events. I took advantage of this opportunity by taking some programming and math classes on the main campus. As another example, I took the course Entrepreneurship without Borders, which mostly consisted of MBA, Executive MBA and Sloan Fellows students. My final project team was made up of myself and 3 Sloan Fellows (all mid-career executives at the CEO, CFO and other C-levels each with over 15 years of professional experience at top global companies). I learned a lot from them and they also learned from me thanks to this one-Sloan policy.

— I assume you didn't decide to move to USA overnight. I mean, moving from Moscow to Boston to Chicago in just over a year - this is quite a turnaround… So what was your career plan?

— During my studies at ICEF, I realized that I want to do quantitative finance and investing, because I was always passionate about markets and financial modeling. Currently, the USA is the best place to get a job in the area, so I chose to go to MIT as the programme allowed me to find a job in the USA afterwards. For hedge funds, asset management and trading most of the jobs here are in New York, Boston and Chicago. The city didn’t matter for me that much, so when I received a very interesting offer in Chicago, I decided why not to move to Chicago. So I moved to Chicago to work as an options market maker in one of the biggest proprietary trading firms. Now I work with the natural gas options group. Options, volatility modeling and commodities were my main academic and research interests in the past few years, so the job suited me very well. Overall, the work in proprietary trading is very competitive, fast-paced, exciting and challenging. Economically speaking, the work has a very high risk/high reward profile, so you need to be ready to take a lot of risk and know how to manage it correctly. I am grateful to ICEF and MIT for my solid academic foundation and for the skills I developed there. Those skills are very helpful in my current job, and I am sure will be helpful in my further career.

— Speaking of your further career, at what position and where do you envision yourself in 5-7 years?

— I still see myself working in financial markets at some point in the future. However, I am very flexible about what specifically I am going to do in terms of the asset classes or strategies. In a constantly changing market environment and such competitive industry as the finance industry is in the USA, you need to be always ready to explore new opportunities that arise. Moreover, I also have several entrepreneurship ideas and many interesting connections, so I will definitely work on something impactful soon. I will let you know about my further achievements in few years (laughs).

— Based on your own experience, what advice would you give to those who've been just enrolled in ICEF or intend to go to ICEF next year? What should they be prepared for?

— My brief advice for current students is to work very hard and communicate out of class with professors and alumni; however, the most important skill you need to develop at ICEF is time-management! This advice can sound quite silly, but optimizing your time by starting a daily planner is the great way to achieve your long term goals.

Many people are choosing between going to work just after undergrad or continuing further education. I will say if you want to get an unforgettable experience and the best knowledge in the field, pursue a master’s programme at a top university. There are still about 40 years left for you to work, so if you are ready for one or two more years of studying, go for it, but only at a top, well-recognized programme, where you can learn a lot both academically and personally as well as make very important connections in the field.

Oleg Seregin, for ICEF HSE