“Ok guys, we are going to apply tonight.” Those were the words I said to convince myself and two friends to apply to Cass Business School one evening in March 2016.

These were words of hope. We were lost and all we wanted was a breakthrough. We were three confused students, with an obsession for the stock market but clueless about the financial world. At least I was! Like most people applying for an MSc degree, we were clueless as to where the degree would take us. If you are reading this, you might be asking yourself the same questions. All of us came from disadvantaged backgrounds, with little or no experience, but that did not stop us— it became a fuel for our unstoppable thirst for success.

I moved to Brixton in London when I was 13, long before the area was gentrified. At 15 my secondary school teacher told me that I would not go far in life and by 16 I wanted to drop out of college. As if it was not enough, I was also working ridiculous hours to help my mum at home as she was a single parent.  None of my friends knew what university was, and the ones who did didn’t bother applying.

Fast forward to eight years later and I was about to make the hardest decision of my life:  applying to a top business school with no money for the fees. I had passion, a willingness to learn and I saw Cass Business School as a catalyst to my success.

 

Michael Salvi and his cohort

I strongly believe that the environment and people you are surrounded with have a strong impact on your life. Many transformative events took place during my time at Cass, but meeting Professor Nick Motson (Associate Dean of the MSc Programmes) a year into my MSc was one of the most significant. As I walked in, his secretary offered me cake after telling me off for being late. The meeting was brief. I complained and explained my frustration about my current job situation, and how I was failing to see the use of my time at the Business School. Nick listened, like a wise man with a long white beard from a movie. Then he spoke, and I listened. Nick taught me about alternative investment and made me fall in love with the hedge fund industry. He described it with so much fascination, triggering my interest in the field I currently work in. During this meeting, I remember being surprised because for the first time, someone really believed in me. He wasn’t just speaking in platitudes, his words were firm and confident.

Nick’s words were the catalyst which I had looked for for so long: words of encouragement and wisdom, which I then went sharing to my friends, who similarly to me felt demotivated. I eventually completed the MSc with flying colours, winning the Beta Gamma award for excellence whilst completing the CFA Level One and working full-time. I borrowed to pay for the MSc, in fact we all did. During those two years, we were rejected, defeated, laughed at and told we could not make it, but my first conversation with him stood out above everything else. This conversation overpowered all negativity that had surrounded us before.  Nick’s favourite words were, “there is no free lunch in the financial markets”— and believe me, there really isn’t.

In the end, my friends and I all went to work our dream jobs. One pursued his love for deals and works in investment banking. Another chased his love of coding and became a quant at a hedge fund. Finally, as an enthusiast of equity analysis, the last friend became a research analyst at a leading asset management firm.

If you are looking for a breakthrough like I was when I applied back in 2016, my suggestion is to cast the doubt away and go for it. You won’t be able to connect the dots just yet, but rest assured that once you complete the degree it will all make sense. On completion of our degrees, my friends and I have now been able to connect the dots going backwards. With determination and perseverance, you can achieve what we’ve achieved too.

Michael Salvi graduates

Studying at Cass wasn’t just a means to an end. It provided me an overview and guided my career choice. Each of the modules that I studied helped me steer my ship in the right direction, all of which would not have happened if I didn’t have some amazing crew members as lecturers!

Here I am now, listening to one of my favourite songs, Craig David’s “Rise and Fall”, as I write this post on my flight back to London. I have learned many lessons, and there are many more to learn. The most important is to take all the chances that come your way. Fear is always going to tell you that you can’t, hope says that you will, but it takes determination and drive to reach and produce endless results.

 

Whether you are a student applying for the Cass Business School or not, remember that when everything might seem to be going against you, “planes take off in the opposite direction from the wind.” Fight your fears and any other forces trying to stop you from moving forward. If the plane can manage to take off with all the resistance, trust me so can you!

Michael Salvi