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Stuart Thomson

Current Job: 
Director at Aspect Advisory
Faculty: 
At the early stages of your career, the most important thing is how you build or add to your CV.

Previous jobs

  • Manager at True North Partners LLP, a European-based financial management consultancy, operating in Johannesburg.
  • Associate attorney at Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs.

How you obtained your current position

I wasn’t actually looking to move from the law firm I was at, but was approached by a couple of young expats that were doing management consultancy for the Big Four banks in SA. I immediately took an interest in the line of work as well as their business operating model and they made me offer to join. Since then, I've moved up to becoming a director of a well-established consultancy, recognised as a credible, highly skilled boutique South African-based financial services consultancy.

How your qualification relates to your work

That's a good question – given where I've ended up, my undergraduate degree (BCom PPE) is actually more useful than my postgraduate (LBB). The legal degree certainly gives me the edge when it comes to anything regulatory (and there is a lot of that now in the financial services), however the nuts and bolts of finance make up a bigger foundation for the bread-and-butter sort of work.

Skills that have contributed to your success

If a client is paying a lot of money for a consultant, they want to know that they are getting their money's worth – and for this, they need a good sense of comfort that they are paying for a safe-pair of hands that will get the job done. So the skill-set required for this would be a genuine and pro-active interest in the problem(s) that the client is faced with – i.e. take them on as your own. This helps a lot in immersing yourself in the content of the business, and is the best way to bring yourself up-to-speed so that you can speak confidently as a subject matter expert on the issues at hand. Of course, attributes such as diligence, hard work, and creative thinking go without saying.

Day-to-day activities

What's really neat about it is that one is continuously exposed to the leading minds in the business (CFOs, CROs, COOs and CEOs) which means you're continuously learning while on the job – but you also have to be on your feet all the time, and you can't drop any balls. At the top level of interaction, you can't afford a bad impression at all. The best part is the rotation through the different banks – one typically sends on average 3 months on a project at a bank, before moving on to the next project at a new bank. This gives you invaluable industry insight into how each of the big players actually conducts themselves in the market, and what their respective strengths and weakness are.  it's a very dynamic work environment.

Best & most challenging parts of your job

What's really neat about it is that one is continuously exposed to the leading minds in the business (CFOs, CROs, COOs and CEOs) which means you're continuously learning while on the job – but you also have to be on your feet all the time, and you can't drop any balls. At the top level of interaction, you can't afford a bad impression at all. The best part is the rotation through the different banks – one typically sends on average 3 months on a project at bank, before moving on to the next project at a new bank. This gives you invaluable industry insight into how each of the big players actually conduct themselves in the market, and what their respective strengths and weakness are – it's a very dynamic work environment.

Involvement at UCT

I was a big rower during my time at UCT and loved every minute of it. The friendships made in the rowing community are stronger than any other bonds I've made. I also got involved with the Law Students Council (Vice-Resident), Student Assessor on the UCT Disciplinary Tribunal, Reading for the Blind and a few other social initiatives.

How I made use of the Careers Service

All the interviews I had with the law firms was through the Careers Service, It's only now that I am heading up recruiting for the firm in SA that I can fully appreciate how far advanced UCT's Careers Service is compared to other universities that we visit. It really is a great unit and a huge advantage to the UCT students.

Advice to current students:

Getting a competitive edge while at UCT 

Do  vac work! Work experience is the single biggest competitive advantage that you could have over the competition. It will help you form a clear understanding of what the different types of working fields are really about,and it lets prospective employers know that you know (more or less) what it's like. Liaise closely with your Careers Service – they provide you with almost everything you could want (very few SA universities do this to the same degree). Of course, if you're looking for a career in finance – get your grades up. Competition is tough, and everyone is looking for the best.

About approaching your own career development journeys

There's no silver-bullet here, but the important thing to keep in mind is that the employment sector has changed. Gone are the days of life-long careers at big organisations. Everything changes, and your views and outlook need to be flexible enough to change too. You can (and should) still be a specialist in something, but keep your eye on the furthest point of the horizon and anticipate changes that are happening in the part of the world you've decided to specialise in, and try to position yourself to benefit from the change.

Advice for graduates entering the world of work 

At the early stages of your career, the most important thing is how you build or add to your CV. This means that you have to "do" impressive things, not work for an impressive company. It's relatively easy to get a job at a big brand-name company – it's more important what you'll be doing once you get there. I don't recommend plodding up the corporate ladder from the bottom, but rather getting exposure to exciting stuff, even if it's at a smaller company, where you'll learn more and ultimately fast-track your career through good experience and exposure.