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«The future of asset management is data-driven.»

 

Frederick Widl
AXA Investment Managers (Switzerland)

Frederick Widl is Head of Real Assets at AXA Investment Managers (Switzerland) and a member of executive management. Under his leadership, AXA IM manages a real estate portfolio in Switzerland worth CHF 16 billion. AXA’s most recent projects include Steinbock, a multifunctional development in Chur; Hello Lenzburg, an apartment block with a modular wooden structure that won the NZZ Trend-Radar prize; and the visionary new Haus zum Falken by the architect Santiago Calatrava next to Zurich’s Stadelhofen station. Its construction will begin this year. Frederick joined AXA IM Real Assets Switzerland in 2011 as a project manager. He became Head of Transactions for Switzerland and Eastern Europe in 2013 and Country Head of Real Assets Switzerland in January 2019. Before moving to AXA, he worked as a developer with Strabag Real Estate in Vienna. Frederick studied architecture at TU Wien and real estate finance at the University of Cambridge. He lives with his family in Zurich.

 

Frederick Widl, what does success mean to you?

Visiting a finished building with my team is a great experience. From having the first idea and choosing a suitable project to developing and implementing the strategy and ultimately completing the build, we have to get to grips with a lot of complex interactions, phases and tasks. For me, success means mastering all of these steps together with the team and bringing a project to fruition.

What are your guiding/leadership principles?

Actions speak louder than words. I try to set an example for my team so they know what I expect. At the same time, a culture of open and honest feedback, transparency in all activities and direct communication is also very important to me. My door is always open, and I encourage my staff to come to me with bold and unconventional ideas.

What drove you to do what you do today?

Back when I was studying architecture, I realised that an architect doesn’t normally have enough information to develop a building that meets all stakeholders’ needs. For example, he might not know the demand and profitability situation on the market in question. I’m interested in handling every aspect of a building – planning, architecture, usability, materials, environmental factors and financial viability –, so I made the switch to the “owner” side.

What importance do you attach to social media?

Social media are the communication tool of the future, and I attach importance to them as such. Sites like LinkedIn are an increasingly useful source of information and provide a simple and fast means of communicating specific topics to various interest groups and communities. What’s more, these communities guarantee direct, immediate feedback.

What do you enjoy most in your job, what least?

What I enjoy most is developing visions and strategies for new projects and putting them into practice. At the moment, there isn’t anything I don’t enjoy. I look forward every morning to facing the day’s challenges with my team’s support.

Which problems should politicians and authorities urgently address?

Besides climate change and energy transition, pensions are one of the biggest problems. They need to be modernised and adapted to take account of rising life expectancy as well as new ways of living and working such as part-time work and extended sabbaticals. I also see the digital transformation and the shift in job profiles that comes with it as a challenge for Switzerland. Generally speaking, we need to preserve the qualities that have made Switzerland so prosperous and not overregulate our job market and private sector. We also need to maintain dependable relationships with neighbouring countries.

How do you achieve that crucial work/life balance?

A hectic job like mine doesn’t leave me with much free time. My family provides the balance.

What can you not do without?

I appreciate good food and time spent with friends immensely, and I hope that I’ll never have to do without either.

What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in asset management today?

I’d advise learning how to code. The digital transformation is in full swing, and the future of asset management will be heavily data-driven. Analysing data and coding the algorithms that aid decision-making will be extremely important jobs going forward. To manage a large investment portfolio like that of AXA IM Real Assets efficiently, it’s essential to make strategic use of a wide range of data, and this requires a high degree of automation.

What is your favourite travel destination in Switzerland or abroad?

Outside Switzerland, I love the French Atlantic coast south of Bordeaux. It’s an outstanding region for surfing and fine wines. I generally like being in the mountains a lot, hiking in the summer and skiing in the winter. Of course, Switzerland has plenty to offer in this regard. I’ve been to many different places in Switzerland, and I can’t wait to discover more.

What are you thankful for? 

My health and my family.

If you could choose any country, where would you like to live and why?

Zurich combines small-town charm with a broad scope of exciting career opportunities. It’s compact, so getting from A to B doesn’t take long, and the fact that it’s close to nature and the mountains, has a lake and is full of green spaces makes it ideal for me. Zurich offers the advantages of a big city without the drawbacks and, as such, is a dream of a place to live.

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