How Schroders' chief uses his business experience in the classroom December 2019
In the year since he took over the top job at Schroders, Chris Durack has been - unsurprisingly - busy. But that hasn't stopped the former head of distribution from taking on some additional responsibilities, teaching financial economics at the University of Sydney! He digs into the ways education has changed, how his experiences shape his instruction, and what he expects from the next generation.
- What are you teaching? Do you enjoy your time in the classroom?
In 2019, I have been teaching financial economics to masters students at University of Sydney. I spend three hours on a Tuesday evening in the classroom with more than a hundred students. With that many eyes on you, they don’t tend to miss much so it tends to keep you on your toes. But that’s also the fun of it, it’s challenging to bring sometimes difficult and esoteric material to life over a sustained period. Like most institutions, Uni has changed a lot since I was a student and the technology available to deliver content has come a long way. It provides a lot of flexibility for the students and for me.
How students now use information, what’s now available, social media, and the sheer volume of data and sources of information, I’ve been able to tap into as part of teaching this course. Addressing the formal literature but also using wider information sources to understand its place in industry is important for the students’ understanding but also hugely beneficial for my own ongoing development.
- How do you incorporate practical experience into your teaching and have it resonate with students?
I guess having worked in the industry now for many years, I have a more practical perspective on some of the theoretical models that are part of the foundations of economics and finance. Being able to bring to life how these theories find their place in practice seems to resonate well with the students. I think they can appreciate why it’s important to understand the foundations in the first place so that the practical implications can then be discussed and debated. For example, how institutions function in practice and work with their constraints adds a lot more colour when looking at the issues of portfolio selection and asset allocation. It’s also important to remind students that they are learning in an environment where current levels of interest rates and other market settings do not have strong precedent so discussing how industry is wrestling with novel problems is also a source of motivation.
- How do you approach education differently today than you would have in the past, when you yourself had less practical business experience.
I think having an exposure to teachers with different backgrounds can be really helpful. For example, a career academic is able to provide expert guidance and deep knowledge in key areas of theory and advise on research methods which are especially important at post graduate level. My point of difference is that because I work in the asset management industry, I also bring an applied perspective. A lot of students want to know how the ‘on the ground’ work experience differs from the more theoretical classroom environment. I like the idea that universities (including Sydney) value teaching in its own right and the skills that can bring out better outcomes not just in terms of understanding but ideas about what contribution the students’ might make as they start their own careers is a really positive development. I hope the focus on teaching quality continues to develop as a priority.
- Schroders is a company that thinks globally but acts locally. How do you engage students about that concept?
It’s true that a key part of Schroders’ success has been to engage locally with clients. Bringing the best of our capabilities in a way that is most relevant and valuable to clients is how we have built a sustainable business. I see similarities in how students can be taught. The key theories in finance and economics are the product of the best researchers and academics in the field, globally. How their insights are taught requires local engagement with what will work best for the students. The recognition of both the globally significant content and its delivery in a locally relevant way to me is the best of both worlds.
- If you had to do it all over again, would you have gone into education?
I would always have gone into business because I like working to achieve outcomes for clients. A focus on generating quality outcomes and operating in a competitive market are key motivations for me. And we need to make sure we keep developing and investing in our people, so helping to build stronger bridges with educational institutions is very much aligned with this way of thinking. I think collaboration between universities and industry can develop further to bring about positive outcomes for the students who want to know what life is like beyond their studies and our businesses who will continue to invest in their future.
- You returned to Australia after a good deal of time in Hong Kong. How has the transition gone?
For the majority of the last decade I have been a CEO, both at Schroders and before that at NSW State Super. That means I have had the privilege of leading a superannuation organisation as well an asset management business in Hong Kong and now Australia. I like to consider myself as a fairly adaptable person and I suppose I look for challenges that I can take on and hopefully add some value. I would say that both the return to Australia to run the Schroders business here as well as the ongoing teaching assignment at Sydney Uni have both been great challenges for me which I continue to enjoy.