In two months, it will be a year since Isabella Antollini left JPMorgan. She wasn't there long - Antollini joined JPM as an equity research analyst in the summer of 2017 and left a year later. Now aged just 24 she's running a business employing 16 people. With her 23 year-old fiancé. In rural France.
"We are young," says Antollini. "And we're some of the youngest people to take over a company like this....It was always my partner's goal to come back to his native place and take over a business. It just happened very early on."
Antolllini's fiancé is Henry Soulhol, a former associate at the Government of Singapore Investment Corporation. The two met during their Masters course at the London School of Economics in 2017 and lived apart while they worked in finance in Singapore and London. Now they're together all the time, in a picturesque town called Condom in Southern France.
Antollini and Soulhol's new business is Aurian, a maker of fortified wines and spirits. Soulhol, whose family own a farm in region, is CEO. Antollini is a director focused on provisioning and exports. She plans to bring Aurian's artisanal liquors to the rest of Europe and Asia.
"When I went into banking, I thought I'd spent at least five years there," says Antollini. "My plan was to go into the buy-side or at least to become an associate. Everyone was surprised that I was leaving very early on, but my time at the bank was crucial to what I'm doing now. - I learned what a financial statement is and how it links to the underlying company and how the two financial statements work with each other."
Aurian has been in existence for over 40 years. - Soulhol's family helped buy the company from the founder when he retired late last year. Most of the employees are older than Antollini and Soulhol, but she says they keep a "respectful distance," and that winning over the trust and confidence of the existing staff might be perceived as a challenge.
Given the well-documented difficulties finding and sustaining a relationship when you're a junior finance professional, Antollini and Soulhol seem to be living the dream. Antollini says former colleagues from the JPMorgan analyst class have come to Condom and expressed a mixture of "jealousy and astonishment": "The lifestyle here is very different. The quality of life is different and the pace is different."
This doesn't mean it's easy. Antollini and Soulhol now run a large factory. "I am probably putting it in more hours now than I did in banking," says Antollini. "But every minute we put into this is really for the good of the company."
And despite the hard work, Antollini says staying in banking wasn't really an option. "I joined right at the time when MiFID II came into place and was seeing people leave in the morning and not come back in the afternoon because they'd been let go.
"I was very much aware of where equity research was going and of the risks I might encounter one or two years into the future."
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