Ahmad Abou Merhi
"The golden output of your university experience is the network you build, the friends you make, and the character you develop – three outputs significantly impacted by the amount of extra-curricular work you put in and the Business School is a great place to do that."
Course studied: BSc Accounting & Finance
Graduating year: 2018
What do you do now? What do you enjoy about what you do now?
I am a Strategic & Commercial Advisor in the Shipping & Offshore team at Société Générale, part of their investment banking presence in London. We work on advising clients for financing solutions, equity, management consulting, strategy, commercial agreements, asset-level M&A, joint venture partnerships, and commodity supply.
The greatest aspects of advisory are the flexible framework, steep learning curve, and extensive network. It is not uncommon that you start a week advising a client on their bid to supply power in Africa and end it structuring the set-up of a leasing fund in the Middle East. I am also a director of Pelagic Partners, a Shipping PE fund established in Cyprus as a collaboration between my family’s business and the Hartmann Group. Pelagic Partners is focused on raising equity from the Middle East and investing in the shipping industry.
I am striking a great balance across both ventures as I push to grow each in their respective ways. Ultimately, the day you stop learning is the day you move on, and I am grateful to be working with teams who are eager to learn, push each other to unlock potential, and deliver week in week out.
Why did you choose to study at the Business School?
My decision to study at the Business School was primarily driven by the structure of the programme as it offers a wide variety of modules not limited to the fields of accounting and finance. What complements the school is its tremendous location in Central London within walking distance to The City. This was of upmost significance for me as an international student embarking on a journey to start a new chapter in a foreign country.
It goes without saying that all of these are supporting factors to the ultimate brand behind the Business School, a name recognised by professional individuals and institutions locally and globally, with alumni present across all sectors and continents. The Business School is a hub of diverse international students coming from different cultures and backgrounds for a common purpose, founding you an avenue to grow just as much personally as you grow academically. Being an alumnus myself, I would place the spotlight on the lecturers for being in the driver’s seat of growing this brand. I have had the pleasure to be taught by fantastic academics over the years to whom I am extremely grateful.
The choice of business school is not black or white. It is a decision based on evaluating key pillars and seeing how different schools compete against your key priorities. A solid driver to my decision is the fantastic dominance of the Business School in the world of shipping, which is my background. Having seen how their graduates have dominated the shipping world, it was a no brainer for me to become part of this legacy.
How has the Business School supported you in your career journey, and helped you get to where you are today?
During my time at university, I met many students doing the same programme at different universities and this encounter always reassured me that I had made the right decision. The Accounting & Finance programme at the Business School is structured in a fantastically extensive way that provides students with exposure to a variety of sectors in the business world.
Back in my days, we always had at least one module more per term compared to other BSc programmes at Cass Business School, and despite that meaning longer library hours, it resulted in a more diverse spectrum of offerings from the programme. It is often that graduates are unsure of their career path, but this programme offers you a lot that you become well-aware of not necessarily what you want to pursue, but most certainly what you do not. In addition to that, a key highlight is the extensive presence of alumni in the world’s top corporations.
This gives you entry points and insights that other students struggle to have, which ties to the importance of developing your network and utilising the brand of the Business School. I joined Société Générale as a referral from a fellow Business School graduate who joined the bank just a few months before me, and now I refer ex-classmates who I know may be a good fit for future openings. This is how it works; everyone looks for their own and it is experiences like these where a rich network built on years of investments pays off.
What did you enjoy most about your course?
It is definitely the structure of the course. Between the wide spectrum of modules covering all aspects of the business world and the quality of electives available for students looking to develop sector-specific skills, the Accounting & Finance programme surely provides you with a foundation on which you can easily build through a post-graduate degree, professional qualifications, or your career. I have tried it first-hand that being a graduate of this field gives you an edge in your career, as everything you work with in the business world is based on accounting and finance. Of course, the course offers the foundation and the knowledge, but it is your game plan that determines how you benefit from it.
What was the hardest part of your course?
I would not label any parts of the course as hard. There are many challenging aspects in completing this programme, but they are all designed constructively and if you invest the time from the first year to ensure you leave no cracks in the required fundamental knowledge then you’ll be fine. It is often the case that students cruise through the first year (especially having just recently moved to London) with minimal effort as it only contributes 10% to your degree average, but you will notice them struggle in years two and three when courses are built on the “assumed knowledge” developed in year one.
Don’t get me wrong, enjoy your time in London. Univeristy life is arguably the most adventurous chapter of your life, but work on striking the right work-life balance. Make sure that you set your foundations right to make the most out of the programme. I am a true believer that investment in knowledge pays off the best interest, as it is ultimately the only interest you fully control.
Were there any lecturers who particularly inspired you?
A person from the Accounting & Finance staff that holds a special place in my heart is the course director Dr Danielle Lyssimachou. In July 2017 I was put in a situation where I had to decline a full-time offer from JP Morgan Chase as I decided to pursue a Masters’ degree. Many made me doubt this decision as they described it as a dream for many finance students, but I had different plans for myself and I envisioned my future differently from a typical finance graduate.
I was put against time pressure to make a decision and Dr Lyssimachou was the first on the phone to talk me through it one evening. She gave me advice and, more importantly, she assured me that she sees the angle behind my approach. Throughout the programme, and especially as I was a course representative and an ambassador, I developed a strong relationship with Danielle and she played a monumental role as my mentor.
It is common for a course director to play the role of a mentor for a student, especially a good performing one, but it was that evening when I understood that she is not just my mentor but my go-to. There is a big difference, and I am grateful for that.
What was your favourite part of being a Business School student?
I enjoyed the platform of extra-curricular opportunities the school offered me. I was a very active student. At one point in time, I was a course representative working with the course office, the programme ambassador giving talks to prospective students, the co-president of the Shipping Society, the founder and editor in chief of The Cass Exposure (The Business School’s official student-led newspaper), and a member of the Board of Studies with the Dean.
These opportunities allowed me to meet like-minded people and make long-term friends, which is the key takeaway from any university experience. Let’s face it, a good portion of what is taught in class becomes irrelevant as you choose a career, and what is relevant is retaught to you with a twist. The golden output of your university experience is the network you build, the friends you make, and the character you develop – three outputs significantly impacted by the amount of extra-curricular work you put in and the Business School is a great place to do that.
If you could give one piece of advice to a prospective Accounting & Finance student, what would it be?
Always reach out to alumni. We have been in your shoes, worried your worries, worked the hours, sat the exams, drank the coffees, and fought the fights. We will happily respond to your queries because we remember how much we would’ve appreciated insight back then. We know that a 10-minute reply will go a long way in your decision-making process, so always shoot your shot. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take, right? More importantly, that is an investment in your network. I will end this with my favourite quote and my favourite proverb.
Quote: You are an Olympic runner, and the Olympics are in 3 years. No one bats an eye if you are the fastest (wo)man in the world today, what matters is that you are the fastest (wo)man in the world then. Morale: Time yourself wisely, different people manage their time differently. Do not let other students’ schedule apply pressure on yours.
Chinese Proverb: The (wo)man who asks a question is a fool for a minute, the (wo)man who does not ask is a fool for life. Morale: Never hesitate to ask a question. If you are ever made uncomfortable for asking, then you are surrounded by the wrong people. Remember, if you are the smartest person in the room then you are in the wrong room.