In this three-part series, I want to tell my readers more about me. Follow my journey from a tiny little village in Germany to Frankfurt, London, and Athens.
1966 – 1991
The first 25 years of my life were firmly rooted in Germany. I was born on November 5th, 1966 in Siegen and grew up in Altenseelbach, a typical small German village. Its name loosely translates into “rivulet of the old souls”. I have three older brothers, and I grew up in a very rural way: I would walk to and back from kindergarten on my own, play with friends in the forest, ride the bicycle in the streets etc. Forty years ago no one living in a small village was worried about crimes, drugs, and all the other bad things that they have to worry about today.
I visited the local primary school, and my first change in life came about, when I moved on to high school, which was located at the next larger village. I had to take the bus and this somehow made me feel so much more independent. After finishing high school, I did a three-year apprenticeship as a commercial clerk, at my father’s company, and went on to do a two- year course at a technical college in Siegen. By then I knew that I wanted to become involved in trading the financial markets at a bank. The plan was to get a business degree at university first, as this was the usual requirement for anyone seeking work at a larger bank. Upon completing my military service, I had 6 months of spare time before university was due to begin. I started sending out letters to banks located in the financial district of Frankfurt, asking to consider me for an internship.
Commerzbank in Frankfurt took me on; they had just launched their new derivative trading department. I was very excited, as I had traded derivatives successfully for the former two years with my small savings. Reality quickly caught up with my enthusiasm though: For the first three months I worked as a filing assistant to the Secretary – not really what I dreamed of at all! To make matters worse, the bank had hired all these flash people straight from university. They had a solid degree, but no practical insights into the financial markets. I was still trading my private account and would check on live quotes on the markets whenever I could, often interrupting the traders in their work. This apparently caught the attention of the Department Head, and he offered me full-time employment. The human resource department had to bend their strict rules, as I did not fulfil the requirement of a higher education degree. I offered to work for less than half of the salary they were paying to my soon-to-be co-workers, and they accepted.
This was the first break in my professional career. Here I was, a kid from a tiny village, with only limited qualifications, working as a financial trader in the third largest German bank. I made sure to put this chance to good use. I would work my normal working hours; usually the office emptied about 6 pm. The Department Head, to whom I owed the job, got very active trading the US markets in the evenings. I happily joined him every working day until 10.30 pm, and I learned more during that time than during my regular working day.
This early work experience ingrained the following beliefs in me, which I still carry with me:
- Many things can become possible when one strongly focuses on a goal.
- Don’t be shy to try out every possible angle, and at the same time, adjust your expectations to reality. If I had insisted on receiving the same salary as my co-workers, I would have never gotten my break.
- Be happy to start small and use this as a foundation to build up something bigger later on. In order to play, you need to be in the game first.
- Do not expect fair treatment, just because you believe in your capabilities.