Paris de L’Etraz is an investment banker turned business school professor who knows a quant when he sees one.
They are usually mathematically minded and see numbers as sacred.
They struggle with ambiguity.
They are obsessed with objectively.
They believe that more information means more certainty.
They exhibit a fairly closed mind.
They struggle in negotiations and communicating effectively.
They don’t like leaving their professional zones.
The professor of entrepreneurship at IE Business School in Madrid should certainly know because he’s one himself. “A quant mentality,” he says, “is a way of seeing the world and most of us are in denial about seeing the world in a narrow way. We’re accidental quants because we don’t realize we are quants and have closed minds until you start feeling pain by being outside of your comfort zone.”
De L’Etraz is on something of a crusade to convince the world’s quants that they need to get out of their professional comfort zones to become better leaders and managers—and have more fun. He’s studied the subject as part of his PhD dissertation and he’s now in the process of writing a book called The Accidental Quant. De L’Etraz also recently did a TEDx talk in Madrid about his experiences.
To de L’Etraz, now 52, the word quant can be just a euphemism for being a nerd.
FROM A LEMONADE STAND IN L.A. TO A DEAL BROKER IN LONDON
He grew up in Los Angeles where at the age of eight, he set up a lemonade stand outside his home. “I was a quiet guy, pretty shy, and selling lemonade gave me a little bit of excitement. It allowed me to meet people and make friends.”
His girl friend left him at the age of 16. “She said, ‘Paris you are so linear. You are too predictable.’ When I would bring home a girl, my parents would fall in love with the girl. And the mother of the girl would fall in love with me–before the girl fell in love with me.”
He says he had been a “God-fearing nerd,” who didn’t like speaking in public and was keenly interested in math and computer science. He went to Boston University for his undergraduate degree in computer science and stayed on there for his master’s in the subject. But he couldn’t shake his introversion.
“I continued being a pretty shy guy,” he says. “I was a quiet guy. I didn’t party. I didn’t date a lot. What is the four-letter word that best described me as an individual? Nerd.”
THE INVISIBLE FISH TRAINING PROGRAM TOOK HIM OUT OF HIS COMFORT ZONE
It wasn’t until 1984 when his future employer, New York-based venture capital fund MAG Group, asked him to go through a training program as a condition of employment. Dubbed the “invisible fish selling training program,” the exercise was meant to break him out of his shell, allowing him to be so effective in dealing with others that he could sell them “invisible fish.” For six months, de L’Etraz learned to cold call people on the phone and in-person. “It took me out of my comfort zone every day,” he recalls. “I cried probably once a week but I kept going because I realized I was too much of a nerd and needed to break out professionally. I knew I had to change and the experience opened my mind.”
With his newly found confidence, de L’Etraz landed a job in mergers and acquisitions with UBS in 1986 and embarked on a successful career in investment banking with UBS in New York and Zurich, eventually becoming managing director for M&A for ABN AMRO in London.