Since 2005, he has continued to be in the business of raising funds, setting up new companies, and selling or buying enterprises through his own company Amazing Lab. He has a keen interest for what makes an entrepreneur and what it takes for an entrepreneur to be successful. But his interest in the limitations quants bring to their work never ceased to amaze him.
‘IF WE CAN’T REGRESS A PROBLEM, IT’S BULLSHIT’
For his PhD at ESADE in Spain, he studied 22 cases of quants in various fields, from consulting and investment banking to marketing and the military. People who have a quant mentality, says de L’Etraz, are not in a temporary transition. “It is who they are as professionals,” he maintains. “It is a fundamental part of their professional identity and conditions everything they do in their disciplines as well as their way of seeing the world.” As one University of Chicago-trained professor told him, “’If we can’t regress a problem, it’s bullshit.’”
His conclusion: Quants need to put themselves into positions that force them out of their little worlds. “An MBA is one way to open your mind,” he believes. But it is just as important to step back and reassess your worldview.
“Do things everyday that help you feel more comfortable with uncertain situations,” advises de L’Etraz. “When you don’t understand something at work, think about the amount of information you have available. Are you obsessed with knowing more than you need to solve this problem? Sometimes when you are overwhelmed by a problem, step back and try to look at the big picture. Will solving the detailed problem affect the big picture? As a manger, many times you need to focus on the big picture and exercise judgment on solving the detailed problem. Numbers should be tools for your work, not the reason for your work. All numbers in management require a level of judgment so that you can put them into the right context of the situation.”
“The world is full of quants and there is nothing wrong with being a quant,” he believes. “You don’t need to change as a person to open your professional mind. But unless we are prepared to deal with the unknown, we are going to struggle.”