How Close Can You Go #2 – Mark Schilstra, Managing Director and Executive Committee member of KAS Bank

“Back in the days when I was fifteen years old, I worked my socks off to buy a new stereo system. Every Thursday, every weekend, every holiday I worked at the local supermarket for three-and-a-half years to finally get the stereo system. This does not show that I had the most spectacular job, but it shows that I was willing to sacrifice to get something!” 

The second article of Rostra’s HCCYG series is here! This time, I could sit down with Mark Schilstra, Managing Director and Executive Committee Member of KAS Bank. An inspiring person, with a relentless motivation and dedication.

First something about KAS Bank. KAS Bank N.V. is a European specialist for the safekeeping and administration of securities and high-end risk and reporting services. They focus entirely on wholesale securities services to professionals in the pensions and securities industries. Currently KAS Bank has over EUR 450 billion Assets under Administration. It has offices in Amsterdam (very near to Dam Square), Frankfurt, and London. As a private client, it is possible that you don’t know the bank because it only deals with institutional clients, but within the pensions market, KAS Bank is one of the biggest and most valued players in Europe, and even received the Custodian of the Year award last year.

I walk through the doors of the marble entrance, someone at the reception recognises me. “Back in town?” she says. Last year, I worked here as an Investment Management Services Analyst. After a little chat, I receive my visitor pass and walk through the gates on my way to grab a coffee and wait for Mark Schilstra. A few minutes later, Mark walks out of the elevator to pick me up.

mark-schilstraMark Schilstra, born in 1971, is responsible for multiple departments within KAS Bank. As Managing Director Operations, he is responsible for over 300 FTEs(!). With his MD position, he is a member of the Executive Committee, which consists of the Board of Directors and the Management Board – a very prestigious position at a bank.

Mark began to study in 1990 at the University of Amsterdam. He studied Business Economics (bachelor and master) but found Econometrics far more interesting. During his master Business Economics, he started to study Econometrics, also at the University of Amsterdam, and graduated cum laude (bachelor and master) in 1997.  While studying Econometrics, he worked as an Assistant Professor where he gave lectures in Mathematics and Statistics to Economics students. Holding multiple positions, he graduated from a post-doctoral study in Financial Analysis (RBA) and another post-doctoral study in Risk management (RMFI, cum laude).

If you have ever read the book ‘Liar’s Poker’ or some other piece of art by Michael Lewis, you know that this was the time for econometricians. “When I graduated from Econometrics, I was asked by MeesPierson Securities to join them at the dealing room with sales derivatives and structured products. I was trading derivatives and structured products behind my desk with multiple screens and two phones. During the 90’s, this job was the top of the bill! Unfortunately, this job is a lot less interesting nowadays than it was back in the 90’s. Today, it is much more structured, and moreover, most of it is automated.”

When I asked Mark about the atmosphere in the dealing room he answered: “My first year in the dealing room was horrible. It puts one in mind of a fraternity. The whole first year was like hazing. Constantly being bullied by more experienced traders was the most common thing of the day. On one of my first days, I received a list on which was what everyone wanted to drink. On the list, there were not drinks like coffee and tea, but all kind of complicated cocktails. So what should you do with it? Should you throw it away, like I did, or should you go get the cocktails? Both are wrong. You could not do anything right during your first year. If you threw it away, you were screwed, but when you go get the drinks, the next time you were given a list with food which was far more complicated than the drinks were. Another time, I had my carton of milk on my desk. When I walked away from my desk to get something, they mixed my milk with some liqueur.” I was surprised by hearing these things. It matched completely with all the things Michael Lewis wrote in his book. When I told Mark that I have read this book, he laughed and said: “In the first chapter of that book, they made some kind of bet for ten million dollars. Exactly this happened to me in my first year as a trader. They came to me and wanted to bet with me about the opening price of the Dow Jones. The only thing that I did not know when I worked there for less than a week, was that it was President’s Day next day, so the Dow was closed. It did not matter what I did, I lost anyway. So after my first week, I could give the half of my monthly salary to them.”

After working for three years at the dealing room, MeesPierson was taken over by Fortis Investment Bank. “That was the moment that I wanted to make a move. Even though I was one of them already, I was tired of the dealing room and all those hazing activities that came along with it. At Fortis, there was a front office, which was the dealing room for example, and a back office. The front office was for the cool guys and the back office was for the… the weirdos. A mid office did not exist so, if you knew something about how a dealing room works, you could get a good job within the mid office. I switched from the dealing room to the controlling department and became Head of Controlling at Fortis Investment Bank. Later on, I became Head of Operational Risk because I found this more challenging with my econometrics background. Fortis was taken over by ABN Amro and I was promoted to Global Head of Risk management where I was responsible for the global risk operations of ABN Amro. This takeover was not the smoothest takeover ever, so on my management level, there were a lot of fights. I was almost forty years old and was tired of these internal fights, so I decided to stop working and started studying again. During my post-doctoral study in Risk Management, I came in contact with the Chief Risk Officer of KAS Bank, which was one of my professors. He told me about KAS Bank and that I should take a look at it. That was actually the first time that I applied for a job.” Mark made a CV and applied at KAS Bank where he became Managing Director.

I asked him about the things that are very important to him when looking at candidates for a job. “When reviewing CVs, I mostly look for candidates who demonstrably finished something within a relatively short period. This could be in a work-related environment such as projects or internships, but also with sports achievements. When someone has achieved a top performance in sports, it is really valuable to me. This shows that someone has the motivation and dedication to do something, and is willing to sacrifice to achieve a goal. Most of the time, these candidates are very successful in the workplace. The fact that someone has done a little of everything is one of the most horrible things to me. You will see at work that those people will take multiple projects but do not finish any of them. Good grades are also important to me. When you study something, which should be the first priority, I want to see that you master the curriculum and you are not doing by getting a six minus (C or D equivalent). Work is also a really important factor for a student. I find working during your study a standard thing. If you have not worked during your study, you do not know any value of money. That is just unacceptable to me. It does not even matter if you have worked in a supermarket or at a bank. This indicates that you have a goal in life. Back in the days when I was fifteen years old, I worked my socks off to buy a new stereo system. Every Thursday, every weekend, every holiday I worked at the local supermarket for three-and-a-half years to finally get the stereo system. This does not show that I did the most spectacular job, but it shows that I was willing to sacrifice to get something!”

To get in a top management position, you need to have some skills. You need to be analytical, inter-personal, and solution oriented. But how do you get there? “Well, there is not such a thing as a golden rule. You just need to do it, but the moment you see more than only your own job, you will get close. It is important to see the whole picture. What do my actions mean to the bank? How can I influence the bank’s operations by my own actions? Can it be more efficient? When you are asking this to yourself, you are on a good track.”