Plot Twists and Pivots: Designing an Innovative Career

How does an English major become the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of an asset management startup?

The Hatchery invited Chris Kennedy to Emory Innovators to hear how he has taken an innovative approach to designing his career. Chris graduated summa cum laude from Emory’s College of Arts and Sciences with a joint BA/MA in English in 1990, spent five years with Citibank in Germany, then went on to earn a MBA from The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. In 2021, he received an Emory Entrepreneur Award as an industry disruptor in Financial Services. Chris met his wife, Elizabeth, at Emory, and they have raised their two teenage children in Austria. 

On a visit to Europe after his time at Emory, Chris applied for an internship so that he could continue living in Germany. When called in for his interview, Chris said to the manager, “I speak thirty words of German. I know nothing about a bank. But I’m going to work for you.” That high-risk, high-reward approach launch his five-year career at Citibank, starting the following Monday.

In 1994, Chris returned to the states to start his MBA. After completing his degree, he began consulting in Europe, though it wasn’t his ideal career. He “did his time” in consulting—which helped him to articulate his professional philosophy of “Do what you love and love what you do” by showing the opposite of what he loved to do—before moving on to found his own startup. Chris co-founded Fortinbras Asset Management in 2004 as a specialized fixed income boutique in Frankfurt, Germany, with a focus on investment programs for institutional pension funds. 

Chris explained that “the who” took precedent over the “the what” and “the how” when starting Fortinbras. At a business lunch in 1993, Chris overheard his future co-founder, Jochen, quoting Søren Kierkegaard instead of the usual finance and sports conversation. It led to a fascinating conversation, and they kept in touch over the years.  Fast forward to his time consulting, and a fortuitous follow up with Jochen led to their decision to cofound Fortinbras. They shared interests in literature, drinking beer, and hobbies outside of work, yet each had different skills, experience, and philosophies that contributed to the growth of the company.

Since its founding, FAM has raised $2.8 billion in assets for investment programs the company manages.  FAM sold its third-party asset management business to a Chinese fintech in 2017, but retains an intellectual property shop that designs and builds systematic trading strategies.  For the past year FAM has been using these trading algorithms in the carbon markets, and they expect to launch a product in this space in 2022. 

To hear more from Chris Kennedy, you can watch or listen to the conversation here. To stay up-to-date on everything happening at The Hatchery, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

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