As an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto, Paul Guest (BA 1999) took advantage of scholarships to study abroad. He eventually embarked on a global career in finance. Now based in London, he is the lead strategist for UBS Asset Management’s real estate and private markets business. This past year, Guest volunteered as an alumni mentor for b2B Networking Without Borders, a new initiative at Arts & Science that invites alumni based outside Toronto to mentor students via Skype.
DK: What were the most formative experiences for you as an undergraduate?
PG: Critical to my undergraduate experience was earning scholarships, including donor-funded ones, to study outside the province, at places like Laval, thanks to a CD Howe Scholarship; in Germany, through the Trans-Atlantic Summer Academy; and in London, thanks to the Melzer Travel Scholarship. I have to say, my history professor, Bob Bothwell, was very supportive in this regard, as he pointed me to the scholarships.
What my BA gave me was exposure to a huge range of courses—East Asian civilizations, macroeconomics, Canadian foreign policy, different languages—as well as to professors and students from diverse backgrounds. The University’s support in broadening my horizons was critical, and its multiculturalism helped me feel international on my own campus.
DK: How important was it to do the master’s after?
PG: My undergrad taught me how to learn. It taught me various schools of research analysis and critical thinking. I was asked in my master’s to come up with new thoughts. And that does make a big difference for my job, which is head of strategy for a multibillion-dollar real estate and private markets business. It meant that I can sit on an investment committee and when an unknown situation arises—like Trump winning the U.S. election—where you don’t have all the answers, all the data, I can confidently advise on what we need to do.
DK: What does a lead strategist at a global real estate and private market company do?
PG: Most investment businesses have a research and strategy team. Research does the research and analyzes what the market is doing and reports on it.
Strategy seeks to answer the question, “So what? What do I do with that information?” Strategy is taking the research and making money out of it or, conversely, reducing risk, which improves your returns. We help investment professionals make better decisions.
DK: You’ve worked around the world. What benefit does that give you?
PG: I’ve always worked with people from different cultural backgrounds—I’ve managed Pan Asian and Pan European teams, for instance. You realize people don’t think and operate in the same way. You learn different ways of working when you’re exposed to different cultures and environments. It’s tremendously valuable. Growing up in a multicultural environment like Toronto also helped a lot.
DK: What is your greatest professional success to date?
PG: Professionally, what I set out to do, I’ve done: I wanted to see the world, I’ve traveled to 90 countries, studied in five or six, worked in a half dozen and I still get to travel regularly.
But I’m most proud of this. I took over European Research at Jones Lang LaSalle in London just before the global financial crisis. I had 135 staff across Europe and our industry, real estate, collapsed. At one point, we were exploring shutting down the entire department. I reformulated the team partially as a consultancy business so we could retain the majority of the jobs. I was quite proud of the fact that we came to a solution that not only improved the value the department was adding to the overall firm, but saved jobs.
ABOUT BACKPACK TO BRIEFCASE
b2B is an Arts & Science initiative designed to develop the capacity of our students to connect their education with their personal values and goals, while providing them with practical planning tools and opportunities to reflect on what they have learned, both in and outside the classroom.
SKYPE WITHOUT BORDERS:
Paul Guest talks with a group of students at a b2B Without Borders event. Photo: Jackie Shapiro.