Meet André: A Day in the Life of a Commodity Trader
I first met André when he moved from Chile, where he grew up, to Switzerland due to his Job. André had studied engineering at the University of Monterrey, Mexico. Right afterwards he joined one of the largest commodity trading houses and worked in their logistics department. The purpose of him moving to Switzerland was to become trained by a senior trader, so he eventually could move into a trading position as well.
I know André for 6 or 7 years already and he has become a near and dear friend to me. I highly value him for his warm heart and calm spirit. To me he is very atypical for a commodity trader and very different from many other people with the same profession. Nevertheless, or maybe exactly because of this, I want you to meet him. Trading is his passion. He puts an incredible amount of energy into his work. And he is the perfect example that shows that you don’t have to be an extremely extroverted, short tempered guy in order to become a successful Commodity Trader.
André, it’s so great to speak to you again. We get along really well, but today I mainly want to speak to you about your job. Something we hardly ever did before. But I am looking forward to it, so I will get right into it: Why did you choose to become a Commodity Trader?
I grew up in Chile and I soon became fascinated by the rich resources our country has. I loved to listen to people talking about these resources, how they use them and how they were selling them to countries all over the world. For me a commodity trader was the epitome of a Business man.
One of the great things about commodities is that the basics are very simple. So simple you can easily understand them as a Kid. You sell a certain commodity higher than what you paid for it. However, once you start entering the business of commodities, you soon notice that it is so complex that you will never be able to understand everything. Between my Bachelor’s and my Masters degree I did an internship with a trading house. What I noticed there was that much of the business comes down to human relationships and human interaction. The best traders have a very high social intelligence. They know how to convince and win people.
Additionally, I was drawn to the excitement. For someone that hasn’t worked in a trading position it is hard to imagine the fast pace of the business. You never know how your day will be like. In my current position, it can even be that I have to take last minute same day flights out of the country. This vibrant environment is very motivating to me.
And ultimately: Yes, you can make a lot of money. But only if you’re good at what you’re doing. If not, you will terribly fail. As a trader, you will always know if you’re doing a good Job or not. The market gives very honest and immediate feedback.
I assume the money is something that draws a lot of people to this profession. Do you think the money alone can be motivation enough?
You have to like money to some extend. You have to want to earn money for the company through selling, and thereby eventually earn money for yourself. As I said before, the basics are very simple. You have to sell higher than what you paid. The higher you sell or the lower you buy, the bigger will be your profit.
But as I also mentioned, there is much more to the business than just money. If you’re just doing it for the money, you won’t do it for long. Jumping on a plane at night instead of going home to your family is something that money doesn’t reward you for. There are days I don’t like it either and where I would rather go home to my wife and my boy. But generally, I am excited to catch that plane and meet new people once I land. This excitement is what truly keeps me going and what makes me do my job well every single day.
Additionally, once you are in a certain position your work continues when you’re at home. I have my time off. But most commodity traders generally work a lot. I write emails on my Blackberry almost every night. Trading is a world wide business. And there is always someone working.
When you started your job, what were the biggest challenges you faced?
I didn’t start as a Trader right away. Almost no one does. I started in the logistics department, handling the deals the traders closed. This job itself isn’t very complicated. The hard thing however is to stand out and get a chance to become a trader. This is probably what I struggled with the most during the early years of my career. Looking back now, I can definitely say that I was too impatient. I pushed hard for a promotion – sometimes probably too hard.
Once I was a Trader I was probably overwhelmed by the responsibility I suddenly had. I was trained by a senior Trader in Switzerland. But in the world of trading it is impossible to be prepared for every possible situation you might face. Once I was back in Chile I had to run our local office and I was suddenly responsible for all the sales and purchases we were making. I remember putting in an incredible amount of time in order to check every little detail. Counting the zeros on paychecks 3 or 4 times was something I always did in the beginning in order to make sure we transfer the right amount. I also remember having some sleepless nights worrying about certain deals going sideways. I had to deal with lots of problems so far, but luckily there was nothing that we couldn’t solve somehow.
How did you ultimately learn to handle this level of responsibility?
I remember the turning point being the Christmas party our company gave that year. We had an event in Sao Paolo and traders from all over the continent flew in. I met and got to know these traders. What I noticed was that these guys were no different than I am. They were relatively young and they all had their flaws. From there on I knew: If they can do this, I can do this too.
After 2 years with the company you moved to Switzerland. Tell me a bit about that experience?
I often refer to this time being the hardest and most beautiful time of my life. Hard because I didn’t know anyone and had a very hard time making friends. I felt alone for a very very long time. Not speaking the language, not understanding the people on the street and realizing what it means to be a foreigner is tough. There were weekends where I didn’t speak to a single person.
Beautiful because, once I got over it and finally started making friends, I met some of the best people I know. I return to Switzerland at least once a Year and I love spending a couple of days in this beautiful country with my Swiss friends.
Now you are a Trader – what advice would you give young professionals or college students that also want to enter the field of commodity trading?
Study something with numbers. I personally have an engineering degree. But you can also pick math, physics or anything related. If you study Business, at least try to take as many economics and finance classes as possible. Stay away from Marketing. This is all just common sense and you will be able to pick it up on the go. Social Media you learn in your free time. You don’t need a 60 year old professor for that.
Additionally, do Internships. Start building a Network already during University. Competition for the best jobs will be harsh, so you better start creating an advantage early.
How does a typical Day in your Life look like?
You can probably guess from my previous answers: There is no typical Day. I might end up in another country negotiating a deal or in the mountains of Chile visiting a mine.
There is just one thing that is fix: Always when I am at home I eat breakfast with my son.
Apart from that, how do you make sure you still get to spend enough time with your family?
To be honest, it is tough. I would like to spend more time with my Family. But I also appreciate the chance of being able to live a very exciting life. It is difficult to control the amount of time I spend with my family. But what I try is to make sure the time I spend with them is quality time. This I can control. I love taking my son to an amusement park or my wife to a nice new restaurant.
I know that many people spend more time with their families than I do. But I know that my son will have great memories of the time we are spending together.
Last question: What has so far been the most exciting or remarkable moment during your career?
There are tons of exciting moments. But if I had to pick one I would pick the following: I once had the chance to show a mine in Chile to the CEO of our company. The mine was in the mountains of Chile in a very rural area. We had chartered an airplane that could land on a private airport nearby. We were supposed to fly to Bolivia later that evening again with the same airplane. What happened then was that we arrived at the airplane at around 11 pm but the pilot was only allowed to take off until 10 pm. Our CEO, a highly impulsive man, tried to convince the pilot to immediately take off. But even our CEO, who could usually convince prime ministers and presidents to enter billion dollar deals, could not change the pilot’s mind. In order to not miss our appointment the next day with the president of Bolivia we had only one chance: To take the bumpy, dangerous (almost criminal) road through the mountains of Chile and Bolivia. With a convoy of 5 Jeeps we drove 11 hours straight to the meeting. We made it just in time.
André, it was thrilling to speak to you. I can feel your passion and I am sure you will inspire many of my readers. Thank you!