John Keith - EMBA 2010

Career Overview

I've been with BNP Paribas since 2011, establishing and building the financial and official institution coverage team within Corporate & Investment Banking. I also work as a non-executive director for Atomo Diagnostics, started by a fellow Global EMBA graduate John Kelly, and for Room to Read Australia, part of a global not for profit. My earlier roles include positions with Nomura Securities Australia & Hong Kong, as Deputy Managing Director Australia and Regional Head of Capital Markets Asia Pacific. I became a banker through the Barclays Bank New Zealand and Australia Graduate Programme, within the derivatives group and credit/underwriting group.

Why did you decide to do the EMBA?

To learn to look, to wonder and then try - and then repeat. So I was trying to reverse the manner in which I had been approaching most things in my career.

What was the most fulfilling part of the EMBA program?

The most fulfilling part of the program was becoming immersed in each experience, among friends in extraordinary situations. For example, we found ourselves lost in the maze of downtown Bangalore while trying to find the offices of one of India's largest construction companies. We were on our way there to discuss their use of solar hot water systems.

When we did find the office, the resulting discussion proved to be pivotal in allowing us to identify a silent barrier to foreign firms doing business in India. This barrier lay in the terms of the considerable lending subsidies that were available from India's government agencies.

That same day, we very nearly paid a visit to Ravi Shankar's house, but it did prove too elusive. The experience was important to us as a group - but not as fulfilling as Sunday night Italian in the Languedoc, or taking up ski-shooting in Palo Alto.

How did the EMBA change you - both professionally and personally?

Professionally, I learnt to develop genuine patience and integrity in looking and listening - and only then to draw insights and offer a different, useful point of view. Personally, I found that accepting uncertainty as a vital step to understanding the possibility of change was of pressing importance.

Tell us about your EMBA experience

The EMBA experience was a compelling exercise in humanity and humility. Fourteen of us met for the first time, early one Sunday morning in February 2010, on a steamy Sydney morning. We had been drawn together as the first cohort, a fact that bonded us instantly. We recognised quickly that we had individually and now jointly made a sizeable commitment to a new, unproven program.

Within 72 hours, we had sung, acted, listened and laughed together. Twelve days after that, we had all reached an agreement: there would be no turning back, and no-one would be left behind.

We were exposed to truly extraordinary minds, ideas and experiences. We wrote reflective essays in an effort to capture some of what we had learnt from each other. The changes that we all underwent structured and propelled the entire experience.

How did you achieve work/study/life balance whilst undertaking the EMBA?

I am not sure that I did. It's very tempting to throw yourself into participating. There is a lot of preparatory work before modules. Each of the modules had such a profound effect that I found myself with plenty of work to do at their end. I think it's important to get out and about during the modules and to plan a holiday or short break at the end.

Since completing the EMBA what are you most looking forward to in your career?

I am really looking forward to working with growing, emerging companies that practice a core unorthodox belief in "human centred design".

Greatest challenge of your career to date?

Starting a capital markets business in Asia during the Asian Financial Crisis - guessing at what would make sense, finding courageous colleagues and setting out.

John Keith

Current Position, Organisation:
Managing Director, Head of Financial & Official Institutions Group, BNP Paribas

Nationality/cultural identity:
New Zealander

Languages spoken:
English, French (poorly)

Countries lived/worked in:
Australia, New Zealand & Hong Kong

Education overview:

  • BA (Hons) - Honours paper Economic Cost of Apartheid Policies in South Africa Victoria University Wellington
  • Master of Applied Finance - Macquarie University
  • Executive MBA - Research paper Client Centric Investment Banking University of Sydney
  • University of Sydney

Best business book/motivational book you have read in the last 12 months?

  • Uncommon sense, common nonsense Jules Goddard and Tony Eccles - please read if you read nothing else.
  • Managers not MBAs Henry Mintzberg - this is a great book. I read it then realised why anyone would want to enrol in Sydney's MBA or EMBA program.
  • Reinventing Management Julian Birkinshaw - a chance to see why commonsense needs to be restored through practice.
  • Try Seth Godin's Graceful as an entertaining summary of contemporary business and workplace possibilities.
  • Raising the Bar, The History of Clif Bar Inc. Gary Erickson - a compelling business story set in California and the Italian Alps.
  • Hard Facts, Dangerous Half Truths & Total Nonsense Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton - title says it all as does Pfeffer's Power, both compelling lists of candid heuristics.
  • Change by Design Tim Brown, CEO at Ideo and so immediate descendent of the designers of the first Apple computer, mouse and interactive graphics (on screen visuals for programming)
  • Be Excellent at Everything (Why We're Working Isn't Working) Tony Schwartz and others - valuable insights into engagement and reflection.
  • It's All About the Bike Robert Penn, a great story of craftsmen and travellers

Daily website 'favourites':

Motto to live/work by:
How might we? Prudence, justice, temperance & courage