This week's Inside View is with Costas Kargakos,an INSEAD MBA who is now Financial Monitoring Officer at the European Investment Bank (EIB).
The EIB is the bank of the European Union and gives loans for development to countries both within and outside the EU. Last year, it gave out over €60 billion of new loans to fund projects within a wide range of industries.
Costas is responsible for a portfolio of around 40 companies who have outstanding loans with the bank. He produces financial reviews that assess the credit standing and compliance of these companies, for the Transaction Management and Restructuring Directorate of the EIB.
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1. How did you end up working at the EIB?
The poor job prospects in Greece after the sovereign debt crisis of the last years have prompted many of my compatriots, especially the younger and more flexible ones, to seek employment opportunities outside the country. In this context, I applied directly on EIB’s website for the role of Financial Monitoring Officer for Corporates in early 2011.
The procedure was quite straightforward: I submitted a CV and a motivation letter. After that came a phone interview, an online test, and then an invitation for interviews and further tests at EIB’s headquarters in Luxembourg.
I started my career in 2000, and since then I have only worked in banks, so I wanted my next step to be in that direction. My first employer was Alpha Bank, in Greece, where I worked for five years working my way up to Senior Credit Analyst.
After my MBA studies, in 2007, I joined the Leveraged Finance Division of GE Capital in London, but after Lehman Brothers collapsed, in September 2008, I returned to Greece to join EFG Eurobank, as a loan workout officer in the restructuring division, before joining EIB in September 2011.
2. What is the European Investment Bank (EIB)?
The EIB is the European Union’s long-term lending institution. Its shareholders are the 27 Member States of the EU. Within the EU, the EIB’s role involves financing a broad range of projects in all sectors of the economy; Other services of the EIB Group include offering
technical assistance, providing guarantees for senior and subordinated debt, and providing venture capital facilities (through the European Investment Fund).
Outside the EU, the EIB works in over 150 countries to implement private sector development, infrastructure development, security of energy supply, and environmental sustainability.
3. Does the EIB hire many MBAs, and what roles would an MBA typically do at the EIB?
I am not sure whether there is a specific programme for MBAs at the EIB. People are recruited on a case-by-case basis based on their experience, capabilities, and suitability for the role, so I would say it very much depends on your previous experience and expertise. I know there are some people here from INSEAD in the various departments of the bank.
4. You completed your MBA at INSEAD in 2006: what were the highlights?
The added value of INSEAD is certainly the unique mix of talented people it attracts, which form each class. I particularly enjoyed class discussions and case studies, where you have the opportunity to learn and expand your horizons, by listening to how people from different academic and professional backgrounds approach real-life business problems. This is also a great opportunity for participants to expand their network.
5. You split your MBA between Fontainebleau and Singapore. What were the major differences between the campuses?
Living in Singapore, even for a few months, was absolutely great. I had never been to Asia before, and it was a fantastic experience to get exposure to a different culture and lifestyle. I used the opportunity to visit Hong Kong, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia, and in the end regretted not having spent even more time in Singapore. I believe that the two campuses proposition is a unique offering, and I would urge all INSEAD participants to take advantage of this opportunity.
6. After five years, how many MBA classmates are you in touch with, and what are they doing now?
I am in close contact with many Greek alumni, whom I regularly met when I was living in Greece; after I moved to Luxembourg, I am in touch with many of them through Skype, social networks, and emails. I have also been in touch with alumni based in Luxembourg, and have kept contact with many of my classmates who are now living in different parts of the world. Many of them are entrepreneurs, some work in investment banks, consultancies or in the industry, but I notice that more and more people are starting their own businesses.
7. Are you starting your own business soon?
Being an entrepreneur is totally different from being an employee, as entrepreneurship gives you extra motivation to succeed, while entailing a higher upside and downside risk. The statistics say that more than 50% of the INSEAD alumni, at some point in their lives, become entrepreneurships. Given that I have recently assumed my current role at EIB, I do not have such plans for the time being, but you never know what the future may bring.
8. What advice would you give to any MBAs who are hoping to work for an EU institution such as EIB?
Given that European institutions do not usually have a presence in business schools during on-campus recruitment, I would advise those interested to apply directly online, at the respective websites. Competition these days is high, especially given that the MBA job market is not at its peak like 5 years ago. In order to be recruited, during these challenging times, one needs not to be selective with applications, and acknowledge the fact that he/she might not land a dream job immediately after business school.
Even if you graduate from a top business school, there are many talented people with similar qualifications competing for the same positions. An MBA is certainly an asset, but you need to be aware of the times we are in, decide what you would like your next employment step to be, apply to as many relevant roles as possible, and present yourself with eagerness and enthusiasm.
9. You grew up in Greece and worked for a Greek bank for seven years. Any thoughts you'd like to share on the Greek economy?
Despite the recent debt reduction of more than €100 billion, everyone in Greece needs to realize that the amount of public debt outstanding still remains very high, and its sustainability largely depends on our decisions going forward. I believe that despite the mistakes made in the past, and the enormous difficulties Greece is challenged with in the next years, what we need to make sure is to immediately proceed to the necessary structural and fiscal reforms in a disciplined way, in order to promote growth and investment.
For me the key question is not so much whether we want to stay in the Eurozone or exit, but rather, whether we want to change
our mentality and reform our country. This, in my view, can more easily be achieved within the Eurozone. The current crisis has caused a lot of misery and anger in Greece, but also presents us with an opportunity to improve the country and make it a better place for future generations of Greeks to live. We should all work together towards this direction, we owe it to ourselves and our children.