"It is a privilege to integrate ESG into our investment style"

Career path: It is rare to meet a portfolio manager who has worked in Kabul at a private equity fund. Or taught economics to South African parliamentarians, for that matter. But the lead manager of Nordea's newest Stars fund, Thede Christoph Rüst, is such a person.
Photo: PR
Photo: PR
Camilla Jenkey

China, South Africa, Australia and Afghanistan are just a handful of the countries where German-born Thede Rüst has either lived, worked or studied.

When he was younger, Rüst thought his career would be in international politics. But it was in South Africa that he found his true passion. As head of the emerging markets debt team at Nordea Asset Management, the global investor discovered a role where he has been able to combine his international background with finance.

He is lead portfolio manager at Nordea's recent Stars fund.

Which career path did you envision for yourself when you were younger?

"To be honest it took me quite a while to figure out what I wanted to do in life. I am not really a ‘born into finance’ type of guy. At one stage, I interned at the United Nations in New York at the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. I became very inspired by the people and nature of the work. Afterwards, I imagined working at the United Nations.

When I was studying in China, I traveled extensively in South East Asia and picked up diving, and for a while I could see myself as a marine biologist. Sometimes, when markets turn sour, I can still see myself as a marine biologist."

When did you decide on the career path you are on today?

"I was writing my Master thesis in Cape Town, South Africa. I wrote the thesis with a non-governmental organization that also taught economics to parliamentarians. So, I was teaching economics to members of parliament. Parliament there was also responsible for the water resource management in the companies in the country. Together with an analyst, I was asked to assess the businesses and draft questions on strategy.

I quite quickly realized that I had found my passion, but it took me a while though to understand that it was not the financial analysis that excited me but probabilistic assessments in general and with a focus on sovereigns rather than companies. After graduating, I decided to combine my two passions – international politics and finance – and went to work in a very unknown niche in finance: post-war private equity.

That took me to Kabul for six months where I lived and worked at a private equity fund with a double bottom line – for profit with positive social impact. Next step was joining ING in the Netherlands in the emerging markets debt team. I chose ING in particular for its strong footprint in emerging markets. From then I climbed the ranks from junior, mid, senior, lead PM — to now being entrusted with managing a great team of portfolio managers and analysts at Nordea as the head of the emerging markets debt team."

Which part of your education have you used the most in your career?

"There is a great article out there from the CFA Institute which is called "Investment Management: A Science to Teach or an Art to Learn?". I believe you need to understand the science aspect of the job – time, value of money, bond math and duration, market efficiency, etc. Yet I believe that this is not enough as one has to learn the art of investing by being exposed to the market dynamics and also learn the ability to take calculated risks in a probabilistic world."

Which part of your resume represents the biggest change in your career?

"Becoming head of emerging markets debt was a big change. Nordea's management trusted my leadership skills and allowed me to become a people leader of a group of highly-dedicated investment professionals. I continue to see it as a true privilege to be mandated with setting the strategic direction of a team of investors. Being allowed to, for instance, integrate ESG deeply into our style of investing. I feel very humble to be responsible for such a diverse and passionate team. It certainly challenges you which is a great thing to experience as a person."

Which leader in the business has inspired you the most career wise?

"I cannot point to one single individual. Yet that doesn't mean I don’t get inspired by others. I appreciate when leadership is authentic, creative and daring. I also strongly believe that to be a leader one does not need to have a formal leadership role. Often people who lead without a formal leadership role are very inspirational and radiate a lot of passion for what they do."

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