Skip To Main Content

George Kerr, class of 1997, interviewed by Henrique Esteves

George Kerr, class of 1997, interviewed by Henrique Esteves

The following interview is part of a new and important project which aims to help the Senior pupils. Henrique E, Humanities and Social Sciences Prefect at our school, is interviewing some Old Pauleans about careers and professional life. Once we have many succesfull stories inside our community, the conversations are engaging and inspiring the youngsters. 

Mr. Kerr is a Partner and Country Head of Compass Brazil having joined the firm in October of 2018. Prior to joining Compass, Mr. Kerr worked for 5 years at Aberdeen Standard Investments, where he was the director responsible for Business Development in Brazil. Before that, Mr. Kerr worked at Claritas Investimentos (Principal), which he joined in 2008, and left as the Director responsible for distribution through intermediaries for their local business. Previous experiences include roles with JP Morgan (in London), Nomura, and Kipany (in Brazil). Mr. Kerr is currently a Governor of St. Paul's School and a member of the Finance and Investments Committee of Umane, formerly Associação Samaritano, a Brazilian endowment focused on promotion and prevention of healthcare issues in Brazil.

Mr. Kerr holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics from the University of Nottingham, UK.

At what moment of your life did you start to seriously think about careers?

Good question. So, I think it was in my second year of university. For context I think it's important to say that there was no Google when I was thinking about this, and the Internet was not really a thing. The ability to research and look for jobs and look for ideas wasn't as easy as it is today. In my second year of university, in a career fair, was when I started thinking about careers and discussing with friends what to do in my career, and then I decided to focus on finance.

What type of access to career guidance and education did you have as a Paulean?

Very little to be honest.  At the time there were only massive books to look into about universities and there weren’t many career fairs at school. It was mainly talking to my father and his friends rather than at school. I think times are changing and I imagine you probably have too much information today than when I used to study at School.

Where did you do your undergraduate degree and in which subject? 

I went to Nottingham University, and I did economics and econometrics.  I chose Nottingham because I didn't want to go to a big city, and I did not want to live in London. I wanted to live in a university city to have a different experience from Sao Paulo, and Nottingham was a very good university sports as well as academically, and as I like sports, I ended up going there.

Did you take advantage of any work shadowing or internships at school or college?

In between my first and second year of university I worked at a science fair here in Brazil, for a company called Tectoy. And they had a video game they were launching, so I was there as a promoter talking about this video game for 4 days, and that was the first sort of real, paid experience from 18 to 19 years old. Then what changed and made the massive difference in my career was my summer internship between my second and third year of university in the UK, where I was lucky enough to get an internship at Chase Manhattan in London working in the emerging market fixed income desk. It was my first sort of real-life experience working in a bank with a very competitive environment. I had to get into work at 6:00 in the morning, and that's when I realised that, for the first time, I could see university work and studies being applied in the real world, and it was super exciting. So, no work shadowing, because in university in the UK we don't have time to do both, it's different to Brazil where you can study and work simultaneously, which is interesting as well.

In what way did university prepare you for post qualification jobs?

University in the UK is very different to St. Paul’s and might be different in the US too. It's very much your responsibility to study and to learn. You don't have teachers pushing you, or giving you detentions, or parents beside you saying: “why aren't you studying today”, you know? I left St. Paul’s when I was barely 18 and at university I started living by myself in the middle of nowhere, and you have to pay your bills, you have to make your bed, you have to wash your clothes, you have to cook for yourself and on top of that I think the philosophy of university is that it's exclusively for you. It's your responsibility and you are there to seize it and to learn as much as you want. Versus here where you have people that are sort of always pushing you on, so I think early on you are given a big sense of responsibility. I remember two months into my first term there I had fever, a high fever, almost 40 degrees. I was in bed for one day and then the next day it lowered to like 38.5, and I thought well I need to go to classes. So, I went to university, and I went into the teacher’s class that I had missed the previous day and said “look I'm feeling really bad, and I can't work. It's 5 degrees outside, it's raining, and I've got almost 40 degrees of fever”. The teacher looked at me as if I was an alien and said “you know this is for you. If you don't want to learn, if you don't want to come, don't come.” So, it was a very quick reality check about responsibility and the fact that you have all those teachers and all those books and all those opportunities to learn as much as you want. I think you learn very early on in university, especially in the UK, that the world is yours for what you want to do with it, rather than people having people guiding you. It sort of forced me to realise that if I want something I have to work for it. If I want to understand something I have to go and research. If I have questions I have to go and get the answers to myself, right? And also, it allows you to focus on what you enjoy and what you like rather than things that maybe you don't want to do, or you don't think that are that interesting. So, yeah, I think it was a wakeup call, a very quick wakeup call so it was quite cool.

Talk to me about your initial job experiences - what went well and what challenges did you have to face - how did you overcome these?

That's a very good question. So, what went well was that I've always been curious, my family even jokes about that with me since I was very young. I always ask “why” about everything. I've never feared asking why, why I am doing this and what is it for etc., but at my internship at Chase Manhattan, there were always the three senior people headings the team at the time. The very senior people, who had twice my experience or 30 years’ experience, they were very busy. It made me realise when I could ask them questions, what questions to ask and to the importance of preparing myself for those questions, so that you know you're not wasting people's time. But early on you, know, I realised it was something that you have to prepare for, work hard for, nothing comes easy. I think the biggest challenge for me was when I was unlucky, or lucky let's say, because when I joined Chase, Chase bought JP Morgan. Then I was thrown into a team of only JP Morgan people and there was a lot of this Fla-Flu kind of rivalry, you know? And the teams didn't mesh, and I really didn't know how to deal with that. I had just turned 21 when I started working, so I really didn't have the maturity to open up say we're the same team and figure it out, but this was a great lesson for the future.

Also, when I joined the dot com bubble burst, which made for a very challenging time, working 120 hours a week in investment banking and no real deals. And there was this issue of work-life balance, how can you be in work all the time and not see your friends and family? So, it was a great test and a very rich experience to think about what I enjoyed and didn’t for my future jobs.

How did you negotiate the professional transition back to Brazil?

I worked a year and a half in the UK and ended coming back after 9/11 and after the dot com bubble burst. So, in the investment banking world it was really tough, and Brazil was going okay, so I came back for holidays and some interviews as well; I was already thinking of coming back. My initial plan was when I graduated from university, I would work 3-4-5 years in London to get more experience to have a different CV, and to potentially manage to jump stages in Brazil because of this experience.  And this plan failed, because I came back for 10 days and I did three interviews and one of them already offered a job and I took it.
I realised that I wanted to come back, it would then be an opportunity to contribute more to Brazil and give back to Brazil and to spend time with my family, and so I did.

In terms of career readiness and preparation for future careers, what advice would you give the class of 2023? 

I think that's one of the hardest questions. The world nowadays is so much more competitive, you have more people applying for the same kind of jobs. I was talking about to some friends at School how you now have millions more Chinese or Indian people just pouring money into enhancing their education and having fantastic CV's, this was different in my time.

The advice I give is, it's kind of cliché and it sounds silly but I think it's really fundamental, find something that you enjoy and are good at. Something that interests you to go and learn rather than think about “what degree am I going to do” or to think about what job you want. Because when I left school, I had no idea what I was going to do. I work in asset management, which was not what I started working in, I didn't even know what that was!

I think that if I had done geography or theology or, I don't know, history, I would probably still end up where I am today. Nothing to do with the degree I took, so I think you know the advice is to find something you are passionate about,  find something you enjoy, make good contacts and friends whichever university you're going to. And the last sort of advice for 2023 is, you know I have a younger sister that is 13 years younger than me and she graduated in 2011 from university, and when she was finishing university in Boston she still hadn't started thinking about what jobs to apply for as she wasn’t sure what to do, which I see as a characteristic of this generation being more restless and unsure about what to do. I see this last cohort of university graduates doing the job for six months, they don't like it and then they go onto another one, and then goes to another to try and find the perfect job. That's OK-ish if you already identify you don’t like it, but realistically you won’t know within 6 months if you really like and understand the job or not.

So, the advice is: try and find things that interest you, do your homework, research about them and then try and get mentors and talk to people to understand what the job is about. Use the community from the school to talk to people that are two or three years older than you. Use these contacts, use these connections that you have to see what people are really thinking and see what they're doing and use them as a sort of a bridge to accelerate your next step in life, to be more precise about your choices.

Building on your thoughts, what advice would you give younger pupils? 

I think the advice is different for younger pupils. I mean with the younger pupils I think they need to be doing team activities and doing things that are not just related to school or important, for example participating in chess tournaments, reading, football, tennis, golf, basketball you know do as much as possible to be exposed to different situations and different people. Be competitive.  Don't fear making mistakes.

A lot of the inventors or entrepreneurs in this world have to try hundreds, thousands of times to get things right. It's not going to change your life if when you're 12 and you try out tennis for example, and you don't like it and then you move onto something else. Or let's say you try out the book club. I think when you're young you should be trying things out more. So, I would definitely do more on the adventure side, one of the School’s values that I really believe in.

When you interview prospective co-workers, what do you look for?

I think the first the most important thing for me is the person’s character. Grit, or resilience come next, which is one of the key values of the school. The cultural adaptability of that person to understand whether they fit into where I work and the business that I want to build and be part of is important as well, if they're there for the wrong incentives, if they're there for the wrong reasons, it's not going to work. The world is about people, and they need to be able to get along, you must realize that the person has to be collaborative. Working in teams is more powerful than working by yourself.

The interview process is a sell on both sides, they need to realise how we operate and who we are and we need to realise who they are. The technical side of things, all that we can teach after they are hired but you can’t teach honesty, you can’t teach collaboration, you can’t teach that. They either have it or they don’t. The integrity can’t really be taught and unfortunately in Brazil we have this myth of ‘Jeitinho Brasileiro’ (the Brazilian Way), which people think it is okay. But it’s not, so really important here to focus on integrity.

What are the challenges facing generations Z and Alpha in terms of being successful, fulfilled, productive and happy in the current job climate? 

It’s tough because the world you guys are brought up is a world where instant gratification is everywhere. And life isn’t only about instant gratification, it’s about the journey. Today, if you want food you go on your phone order food with the press of a button like you’re a magician. You want to watch a film then just put on Netflix and there are no adverts. You want to find the capital of a random country, go on Google and you have the answers. I remember there was an intern that joined the company a few years ago and on his second day of the job he asked for a meeting with me and I said “sure what for” and he said “I want feedback”. It was his second day and he wanted feedback. So, I said, “okay I’ll give you the first feedback: don't ask for feedback on your second day”. The challenge that you guys have today is that you want to be the CEO in 6 months or invent Facebook when you’re in your dorm at Uni, but these things don’t happen overnight. They take time. The journey is more important than the short term.

Also, you’re connected to people, but you're not really connected. You are always in touch with your friends via WhatsApp or Facebook or Instagram or whatever you use, but you're not truly connecting. When you walk around the school and see everyone sort of on their phone and not looking into each other's eyes, I think that is the biggest challenge that your generation faces, really connecting to people, whether in your new jobs, or outside within your community. 

How can this generation best prepare for careers which have yet to exist?

I think that the simple and short answer is you have to learn how to be adaptable. You have to learn to be curious, you have to learn to work in different environments with different people. Realise that people are different. Like I said, when I was at school I didn't have an e-mail, right? Know how to adapt and work hard and collaboratively with other people and you will be successful in anything. As long as you realize that you have to work hard, that you have to study, that there is no way to cut corners, that you have to put in the hours, that you have to do the boring stuff. And, ultimately, the world is about connections and the world is about people. So, I think don't worry about it, but don't be lazy, you know? This sentiment of having everything delivered to you on a plate, that doesn’t really create winners. One of my favourite quotes helps explain this: hard times create strong men, strong men create good times, good times create weak men, and weak men create hard times.

Any top tips for our readers in terms of career preparedness - what would the Mr Kerr of today give to a younger version of himself?

Don’t worry. As long as you're making the decisions for the right reasons with the information that you managed to get to make that decision, like if you're changing jobs if an opportunity arises or if you've got an offer and you are worried about it, should I take it or should I not I, don't worry, you know? Don't regret not moving or don't regret moving because ultimately if you're doing it for the right reason for yourself, it’s going to work out. Don't be scared of taking risks and sort of leaping into something without really knowing where it can take you. Since forever I've been very responsible, I was captain here and all these things, and I always want to make the decision with all of the answers, and that's impossible. You have to make decisions without all the answers, and that's fine and it'll be okay.

Also, find people that you look up to and go and work with them. Go after the people, not the job description or the salary, because if you're going for a job only because of the money, where one is paying 10 and the other is paying 12, it might be easy to think that you should go for the one that is paying 12, but the decision when you start to make 20% more will not make a significant difference after 10 years if you chose the wrong place, right? I mean, if you're at the place that pays 10 but it has better people and the people that you admire vs the one that pays 12 and the team aren’t great, you're going to learn more and probably be more successful and enjoy the ride more.

I also think that you know your 20s and 30s are the time for you to work the hardest and dedicate yourself the most to your job. Yes, traveling with friends is fun. Yes, partying is fun etcetera but if you do it at the cost of dedicating yourself less to work, it might hamper your future. So, I would probably say work harder and with things that you enjoy, with people that you admire, when you're younger, in your 20s and 30s, because then your late 30s and 40s you will have probably have accomplished more and be able to reap better things earlier and it will allow you to potentially have a better life for many decades, give more to your family and friends for longer.

What is the key to success nowadays?

I wish I had an easy answer. I think never giving up, having the stamina to fail and fail and fail and try and try and never give up. The resilience part I think this is super important, it's probably one of the most important characteristics for success, but that without empathy and without kindness it's kind of worthless. If you're backstabbing your colleagues at work, if you're stepping over people to grow in life…I mean, yeah you might have financial success, you might progress quickly and some people might look up to you, but is that the right way to do things? Does that make your environment a better place? When you go to sleep do you sleep fine? So, I think resilience with kindness in the work environment are values that are super important for life and will help you be successful in anything that you put your mind to.


Meet the interviewer:

 Henrique E, 

Humanities and Social Sciences Prefect – Class of 2024

I am the humanities and social sciences prefects, which includes subjects like history, geography, economics, global politics, and a few others. Generally, I am focusing on creating more opportunities for people who are interested in the humanities as something to pursue in the future. Currently, I am working on some projects for careers week. I am also working on an assembly about the Ukraine-Russia scenario.