Experimental feature

Listen to this article

Experimental feature

Chris Daniels was out on the town when Bob Diamond, then head of Barclays Capital and currently chief executive of Barclays, rang his home in Barcelona to persuade him to take up a summer internship.

It was 1999 and Daniels was almost halfway through his two-year MBA course at Iese, the business school based in the Catalonian city. “The human resources department [at Barcap] had obviously deployed Bob Diamond on the waverers,” he says, “but my Romanian housemate answered the call, and of course he had no idea who he was. He said: ‘Chris is out in a pub so it may be a couple of days before he phones you back.’”

Not the most auspicious start to Daniels’ banking career perhaps, but after five years in the army and with a strong desire to do something “useful, that had a sense of purpose”, he never intended to enter the industry. He had hoped, instead, that his business qualification would lead to a job as head of operations or strategy at a non-governmental organisation such as the UN or the International Red Cross. “When I was at Iese, the big thing was investment banking and I went through the first year thinking it was a kind of crème de la crème job,” he says. “It was hard to get into and it was perceived as glamorous, so I thought: ‘I’ll just do a 10-week internship and then I will have gotten it out of my system and at least I would be experienced in it.’”

But it did not work out that way, and Barcap played a clever hand in reeling in Daniels, paying him for each module of its training programme he completed during his second year. By the time he had signed up to join the investment bank, he was back in the black after going tens of thousands of pounds into debt to fund his MBA – even with a scholarship that halved the fees. The financial help was not the reason he joined Barcap, he stresses, “but it kind of nudged [the decision] along”.

In a non-financial sense, however, payback for the time and effort invested in the course has taken much longer. Daniels was attracted to the trading floor environment. “It was dynamic, fast moving, entrepreneurial; you were allowed to be your own boss,” he says.

After 10 weeks at Barcap, he was tasked with setting up an equity derivatives business from scratch, as managers realised he was a bit older than other new entrants and, as an MBA, had more breadth. “Equity derivatives was less about derivatives and more about tax, accounting and financing issues,” he says. “I was not an expert in any of those things but [because I had done the MBA] I could speak the language and grab in the expertise.”

Daniels found he was using a little of what he had absorbed at Iese, but not enough. The derivatives knowledge he had picked up was very theoretical, so he had to relearn on the job; on the other hand, he says, it was good to have the theoretical base, and his focus would also have been much narrower if he had gone straight into investment banking after receiving his maths degree from Oxford.

It was much the same story in subsequent investment banking assignments – typically he would spend two years developing a business that was either not performing or was starting up, first at Barcap and latterly at Lloyds TSB. “On reflection, I was frustrated that I was only ever using 25 or 30 per cent of my skill set and knowledge. You are compensated by being paid really handsomely – certainly in those days, maybe it’s less now. But, fundamentally, you are paid to do deals,” he says.

Then in February 2007, Lloyds TSB announced it would be a tier-one sponsor of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. Daniels was running European derivative sales for the bank, but sensed an opportunity. He rang the head of marketing, said he wanted to work on the Olympics project, and reminded his colleague that he had spent six weeks at the Sydney Games in 2000, volunteering as athlete services manager for the modern pentathlon. Also, while at Barcap, he had attended the 2004 Athens games with the London 2012 bid committee.

Daniels was told it was a year too early for him to come on board, but his interest was welcomed.

When he left the bank later that year to join HBOS, he assumed that would be the end of the matter. However, by September 2008, he was back in the fold after Lloyds TSB absorbed HBOS in the fallout from the global credit crisis and became Lloyds Banking Group .

On July 27 2009, exactly three years before the start of London 2012, Daniels was offered his current job. As “head of London 2012 ­activation – wholesale” his role is to find ways to bring value to the bank’s corporate activities from its Games sponsorship.

It has been a dream job, and a big challenge. Daniels had to define the scope of the new role himself, looking at business development, customer and employee engagement, and working out how to use London 2012 to instil pride in the bank. All of this took place at a time of upheaval as two banks were combined and jobs were being lost to deliver the synergies and savings that investors expected.

Daniels says the sponsorship has “created new networks and new ideas, and really allowed us to demonstrate our support for the UK economy and small businesses, which has been great”.

This multifaceted role has at long last allowed him, at the age of 42, to use his full range of skills, he says.

“I regularly deal with HR, marketing, the finance guys, the business development people – you name it, I’m dealing with everybody. So now I am fully utilising my MBA, drawing a lot on what I learnt at business school.”

He stresses, however, that he is also leveraging what he learnt in previous roles building businesses in banking, and drawing, too, on his military days in terms of leadership management – he has six direct reports but dotted lines mean the team can rise to 13.

After leaving Oxford and deciding that the university milk round and some of the jobs a maths graduate would be offered on it – such as actuary or accountant – were “the most deathly dull thing you could possibly imagine”, Daniels chose to become a paratrooper, attracted more by ideology than the chance to jump out of an aircraft.

“The ethos of the paratrooper is, you land on the ground and you can’t jump up again, so you just have to get on and sort things out,” he explains.

Five years later, after seeing action in Northern ­Ireland, the prospect of eight years in army desk jobs did not appeal. Daniels was aware that his civilian friends were working as management consultants or investment bankers in London, and having a whale of a time. “I thought, if I am going to work at a desk, it will be one of my choosing, in a place I want and where I can organise my time.”

That prompted the decision to do an MBA, but Daniels felt it would have to be a full-time, two-year course because he was facing a “massive” learning curve. The one-year MBA at Insead, for example, was just too quick and seemed to be “designed for management consultants”. He looked at two top US schools but found that, despite their strong brand names, they were US-centric rather than global. He plumped for Iese for a variety of reasons, including a desire to experience a different culture, but the clincher was the lack of a dominant nationality in the cohort.

“In a class of 70, the maximum [number of people] of a certain nationality was six, so you had this very cross-cultural experience,” he says. And, of course, “why wouldn’t you spend two years in Barcelona if you had the opportunity?”

Looking back, Daniels says: “It’s almost as if my career to date has all come together in one role and I wonder whether the effective use of an MBA possibly comes much later in a person’s career.” Which is something, perhaps, for prospective students to bear in mind – you may get a quick return financially, but other benefits can take longer to come through.

So what next for Daniels after London 2012? “I’m going to sleep for three months, that’s the first thing,” he jokes. “I’ve told my poor wife and children: ‘You’re not going to see me this year, I’m just going to be flat-out busy.”

Get alerts on MBA when a new story is published

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019. All rights reserved.

Follow the topics in this article