Star Lessons in Leadership with Pierre Mendelsohn *93, MAE

GradFUTURES *Star Lessons in Leadership series featuring Pierre Mendelsohn *93, CEO and Founder, ALPIMA Ltd, London

Pierre is the CEO and Founder, ALPIMA Ltd, London, an advisory firm specialized in quantitative investment strategies. An engineer at heart, Pierre founded ALPIMA in 2014 to give professional and institutional investors a new service focused on rule-bases investing and asset allocation. Since then, Pierre, along with his team, designed and built the ALPIMA platform around the concept of Object-Oriented Investing (TM).

Subsequently, he oversaw the implementation of the ALPIMA platform at prestigious institutional clients globally. Prior to founding ALPIMA, Pierre worked for two decades with leading investment banks in New York, London, and Hong Kong in global markets, focusing on quantitative investment strategies (QIS) and derivatives, in origination, structuring, sales, management and senior management roles. Along with his teams, he has launched numerous investment products and systematic strategies which, in total, collected tens of billions of dollars from institutional and HNW clients globally.

Pierre Mendelsohn's passion was clear from the start of his Star Lessons in Leadership talk on December 3, 2019. So was his commitment to thinking about the union of entrepreneurship and engineering, and the nature of the world of work today. In a wide-ranging, enthusiastic, engaging talk, peppered with quotes from the likes of Nassim Taleb, Teddy Roosevelt, Ernest Shackleton, Emmanuel Levinas, and Rudyard Kipling, Mendelsohn shared what he called "humble" lessons gleaned from his wide range of leadership experience. He urged a capacity crowd of graduate students to see that "applied science is a great training ground for entrepreneurs." 

"We live," he noted, "in an increasingly numerical, mathematical, scientific, digital world." And Mendelsohn learned to lead in this world by following his curiosity. As a child, he marveled at the nature of flight, and learned that to understand flight, he needed to understand fluids--and eventually this early curiosity led him to Princeton to study fluid mechanics.

At Princeton, his interest eventually turned to finance, a field which had strong parallels to his research. For too long, he noted, financial firms relied on outmoded technology. And it's no longer sustainable: "People know more about their Uber ride than they do their financial portfolio," he noted wryly. In his implementation of a strategy to address these issues, Mendelsohn and his team applied an engineering approach to help clients meet their particular challenges.

Mendelsohn urged graduate students to make connections across work, hobby, and play, what he called a work-life continuum: having a life that is less compartmentalized into work and not-work will "make your connections within and beyond your work much more natural and seamless." The patterns of thought that go through the mind of a pilot (Mendelsohn is a licensed pilot) are similar to those that go through the mind of a fund manager: these aspects of one's life can be brought together. 

Mendelsohn shared the following quote, which he said resonates with him: "Opportunities happen as you project to great goals. Most breakthroughs come from ideas that aren't initially identified as being related to the problem. Entrepreneurship is about drive, determination, and having an idea in your head that you just can't let go of." (Tim Draper, Draper Espirit)

Graduate students from a range of disciplines are poised, Mendelsohn urged, to think about ideas that many people--even those in business and finance--aren't especially comfortable with. And they are able to do the kinds of reading and research that firms like ALPIMA need to succeed. 

Princeton is an amazing place--graduate students should enjoy it and take advantage of it, Mendelsohn said, but they should also recognize that while the Princeton pedigree may help in some cases, it may hurt in others. In any event, the Princeton degree is never sufficient: "it is your insights, convictions, character--especially perseverance--that count. And they in turn will hopefully contribute to your reputation as a person."

Graduate students need to demonstrate a fluency with complexity and complex ideas. And they need so-called "soft skills": even if you have a great idea, Mendelsohn noted, it will take a whole host of skills to make that idea a success--particularly if you are a startup, and not part of a large organization. You will need a range of skills--and partners--to help you launch your idea successfully. 

Mendelsohn concluded with a riff on ethics, the value of risk, and the beauty of striking out on ventures born and sustained by ideas and passion.

Read more about Mendelsohn's extraordinary accomplishments in the Princeton Alumni Weekly announcement of his death in 2021.

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