Taking enforced gardening leave doesn’t always come naturally to workaholic investment bankers. Do you sit on a beach in Thailand, or study up before your new job?
Vincent Wong faced no such dilemmas when he left his role as head of Greater China debt capital markets at ANZ late last year. Before joining Mizuho's DCM team as a Hong Kong-based managing director, Wong gave himself three months to…start up a coffee and juice bar.
His two decades working in investment banking provided the inspiration for Athletic Juice & Espresso Bar, which opened in Hong Kong’s Admiralty district in January. “As a banker, I work long hours and travel to China a lot. A few years ago, I realised that my lifestyle was taking a toll on my health, so I started eating a plant-based diet and exercising more,” says the DCM veteran. “From there, it was a natural progression to open a business focused on healthy juices and smoothies.”
High-end coffee is also on the menu. “I even trained as a barista to really get to know the industry before I started out,” he says. “I also spoke to other cafe owners in Hong Kong, and was amazed at how open they were about their businesses. That’s a big contrast with banking, where people don’t like sharing trade secrets.”
Wong got involved in every aspect of his new business – from interior design to smoothie recipes – to make sure it got up and running within his gardening-leave period. “I’m used to working fast and smart. Banking is essentially about being able to project manage a deal so every aspect of it comes together within a tight time frame. I used the same skills getting the cafe off the ground,” adds Wong.
He also put his financial modelling expertise – Wong started his career in corporate finance – to good use. “I did a comprehensive financial review of my competition before I set the prices for my drinks,” he says.
Wong, who previously worked for Deutsche Bank and RBS and has also been based in Singapore and New York, is still drawing on his experiences in banking to help run his cafe. “Banking has made me very adaptable, because I’ve worked across countries, interacted with colleagues and clients at different banks, and transitioned from corporate finance to DCM,” he says. “I’ve also had to adapt to plenty of new situations with my cafe – such as dealing with suppliers and hiring staff – but as a banker I’m used to facing constant challenges.”
Still, most bankers who launch businesses end up quitting their day jobs. “I’m not interested in leaving the sector, I’m not one of those burned-out bankers,” says Wong. “My banking job will always be my priority, and I just work on cafe business at night and during weekends if I need to. I’m fortunate to have a great bunch of employees. They run the cafe so well that it no longer takes up much of my time.”
Wong’s baristas and juice makers are now serving up drinks to the neighbourhood’s banking professionals. Societe Generale, BNY Mellon and ING are all around the corner. “We get a good mix of people here,” says Wong. “It’s part residential so we have locals popping in, and during the week we get our fair share of bankers.”
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