Operis, long known for training and mentoring graduates, was quick to step up to the plate as corporate sponsor for the Future Leader of the Year category in this year’s Partnerships Awards. “The project finance industry needs bright entrants, and here was an opportunity to recognise some of the talent coming through,” says Simon Williams, Commercial Director at Operis.
Simon headed the panel of judges for the category, which was introduced as a new category this year. Simon explains, “What we were looking for were people showing leadership beyond their years, individuals who are looking to take the next step within their organisations or within the sector.”
The first Future Leader of the Year winner
The Future Leader of the Year award went to Babajide Ogunniyi, who heads up the Strategic Asset Management team at HCP. He emerged as the most highly rated on a shortlist of five names – most of them employed at major UK-based players – drawn from a wider field of candidates.
“It’s a great achievement in terms of recognition, especially in the Award’s inaugural year,” Babajide says. While colleagues’ feedback on his work has been extremely positive, “You never really get a chance to understand how you’re perceived by others outside your organisation,” he adds. The award therefore comes as a welcome external endorsement.
Babajide joined HCP just seven years ago, following a first degree at Lagos University, Nigeria, and then a M.Sc. in Construction Project Management at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. At HCP he has put in place a diverse team advising on public-private partnerships during their operational stage. The focus is on financial management of whole-life costs. Babajide’s leadership skills were noted, for example, in his management of financial modellers alongside surveyors in preparing a more accurate reinvestment plan for a U.S. highway project.
Public-private partnerships in health, education and social housing are strongly represented in his work so far. The challenge, and the sense of achievement, he says, lies in seeing a well designed, well maintained facility meeting the needs of end-users while fulfilling the obligations towards the public-sector commissioner of a project.
More broadly, Babajide is particularly interested in potential applications of machine learning in financial modelling, as it handles ever larger quantities of data. He also sees significant potential in Internet of Things applications, and 3-D building information modelling, for the maintenance of facilities and equipment through a project’s lifetime.
What Operis looks for in its Future Leaders
Operis, for its part, likewise seeks out highly numerate individuals who have the potential to move beyond the spreadsheets into managing their real-life applications. The select number of recent graduates the firm takes on each year – around five in London and three in Toronto – have typically studied pure mathematics or other sciences. But beyond that, “We’re looking for people who have a logical mindset, are good problem-solvers and fast learners,” says Simon.
Operis’s graduate entrants find themselves on a stimulating learning curve, as they acquire a foundation in building and auditing financial models. This training includes use of the OAK software for working with complex spreadsheets, and dovetails with Operis’ external modelling training programmes, which are attended each year by people from various countries and professional backgrounds. Operis also funds its graduate entrants for the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) qualification. “It’s a very open, a very conducive environment for learning here,” explains Simon. “One of the things people say, when they’re reflecting on their time here, is that the people at Operis are very giving of their time.”
Applicants for graduate opportunities usually have contact with Operis before sitting their final year exams, whether by approaching the company themselves or through UK college recruitment fairs. For those seeking to join the Toronto team, applicants are more likely to already have first-hand experience of the world of project finance through an internship in the sector or from a Commerce or Business degree.
Although women graduates in mathematics, and the sciences generally, are often still heavily outnumbered by their male counterparts, Operis is proud of its track record in recruiting and developing female analysts. This was recently demonstrated when a female employee won the Financial Modeling World Championship (ModelOFF) after three years with the firm.
Industry leaders of tomorrow
Operis believes in allowing its graduate intake, in a relatively short space of time, to apply the rigour of their modelling training across a diverse range of projects internationally, Simon says.
They soon find themselves working alongside some “very bright people” on both modelling and advisory assignments, as they pick up the nuances of how regions and sectors differ. Many will eventually move on to apply these transferable skills in other areas of the project finance sector or wider financial services sector.
In that case, they become valued members of Operis’ alumni community. “There’s a very good chance that they’re going to be a client or customer further down the line”, says Simon. If one of Operis’ strengths these days is this strong base of alumni who started their careers with the company, going back 15 or 20 years, it is because it has long recognised that among the graduates of today are the industry leaders of tomorrow.