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Christian Gast is CEO of Systematic Investment Management Ltd (SIMAG), a joint venture of Credit Suisse Asset Management and the Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich). He was previously a member of the Executive Committee and Head of iShares and Index Investing at BlackRock Asset Management Switzerland Limited.
Christian Gast, what does success mean to you?
You’ve succeeded if you manage to bring an idea or project to fruition for the long term, regardless of how big or small your company is. It means constantly questioning the status quo, since this is the only way new ideas can arise. Then you have to implement your idea, which requires focus, determination and often a strong will to challenge established opinions and approaches. It always starts, however, with the seemingly obvious question: will this bring real benefits, either directly or indirectly, for clients? If I can answer a clear «yes» to this question, that’s my motivation, and all my effort will be worthwhile.
What was the best decision you took in your career?
It’s hard to judge whether it was the best «decision» in hindsight without knowing how things would have worked out for me otherwise, but the internships I did as a student with what was then Swiss Bank Corporation certainly shaped my whole career. The first was in Portfolio Management in Bern, the second in Financial Analysis in Basel.
What is it that motivates you?
The desire to be learning all the time so I can be optimally placed to develop new solutions with my team that genuinely add value for clients.
Who do you think of when you hear the word «successful»?
If we’re talking first and foremost about financial success, I immediately think – as many people probably do – of Elon Musk. He’s a visionary, albeit one who’s perhaps somewhat more focused on his vision than he is on leading by example. Another name that comes to mind is Thomas Middelhoff, a great example of how financial success can be fleeting – and not necessarily just because of the personal suffering he describes in his fascinating autobiography.
What drove you to do what you do today?
It all started with an interest in the stock exchange, and more specifically in individual stock investments, driven by the literally speculative hope that my own assessment of a stock’s «true» value is correct. This hope is often dashed by an abrupt reality check, but the fascination for the stock market tends to endure. As my interest in capital markets generally grew, I soon became keen to gain a deeper understanding of the investor side and thus how to construct a portfolio. That’s right at the heart of the central fiduciary task performed by every asset manager and everyone in charge of a discretionary mandate.
What importance do you attach to social media?
Probably less than the average user. I do use some professional networks a lot, but other than that I try to force myself to limit the importance of social media in my life. On the one hand, I prefer personal contact. On the other, I either feel increasingly patronised by some social media or simply think there are more sensible things I could be doing with my time.
What can you not do without?
I definitely can’t do without music. I prefer classical, but I enjoy listening to all genres. As Duke Ellington said, «There are simply two kinds of music, good music and the other kind.» I don’t like to go too long without being near a piano.
Who would you like to have lunch or dinner with?
Lots of names come to mind, sadly with little chance of it actually happening in most cases: Daniel Barenboim, Yuja Wang, Noam Chomsky, Hans Küng, Yanis Varoufakis, Ray Dalio, Ken Robinson and many more.
What book are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading two: Robert Shiller’s «Finance and the Good Society» and Erich Fromm’s «To Have or to Be?» With the first one, I’m afraid that I keep having to remind myself of something Bill Gates said: «I don’t let myself start a book that I am not going to finish.»