Ramon de Oliveira has already lived a Chinese proverb, having grown up in exciting times. Much of his journey began in the late 1970s, more than 43 years ago. In those early days, de Oliveira, like many other young people, was seeking to make a reputation for himself in investment banking and similar businesses. For him, the border between investment securities and trading sales faded quickly. He found himself fully immersed in the equities markets, as well as fixed income and comparable assets. This period of de Oliveira’s career lasted till the 1990s.
From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, de Oliveira worked for JP Morgan, one of the world’s most powerful financial institutions. In this capacity, he was promoted to the role of chief executive officer of the Investment Management and Private Bank division.
During this time, Ramon came to prominence in the industry and was appointed to a crucial position on the JP Morgan executive committee. As a result, de Oliveira was a key member of the negotiating team that oversaw JP Morgan’s transition to its present owner, Chase Manhattan Bank. De Oliveira was also instrumental in the purchase of a significant stake in the American Century mutual funds group. Despite this, he made time for the arts and social engagement.
Ramon has been an integral element of RdeO Consulting LLC’s relationship for the past 14 years. De Oliveira’s firm and activities have been improving people’s lives one portfolio at a time by giving important guidance, help, and perspective on investment situations, as well as competence in strategic advice and communications.
Of course, investment advice isn’t his main source of income. Ramon has also served on the boards of other companies. De Oliveira was previously a prominent director of the AXA Group, the Hartford Insurance Company, and the Kaufmann Foundation, thus his appointment to these roles is not surprising. He was also a crucial counselor and influencer for Antin Infrastructure Partners, as well as the Polish and American Freedom Foundation’s Investment Committees.
De Oliveira also devoted a significant amount of time to schooling. Not only did de Oliveira advise businesses, but he also taught finance as an adjunct professor at Columbia University and New York University.
Furthermore, as someone who has achieved the type of accomplishment that Ramon has, he wanted to give back rather than keep that energy to himself. His life has always included a significant degree of charity and volunteer work, and the late 2000s were no exception to that set of values. De Oliveira has spent a lot of time helping other organizations after spending almost a decade supporting the leadership of the Kauffman Foundation in his latter career. Whether seeking larger social aims beyond personal pursuits or simply supporting the arts with shows such as a celebration of the Argentinian dance, the tango, de Oliveira continues to make an impact.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
My professional career can be broken down, up to now, in 3 distinct phases:
Phase 1: full time at JP Morgan where I carried out a number of diverse assignments and eventually rose to the Executive Committee of the firm negotiating our merger with the Chase Bank;
Phase 2: I left Morgan and became a Professor of Strategy at Columbia and NYU business schools as well as a director of a number of public and private companies- Sungard Scientific, Hartford, the Kauffman Foundation and others. During that period, a number of former clients began asking for advice on a variety of topics. The idea of forming a consulting practice began to take form;
Phase 3: I help found the Louvre Museum Foundation, became a Friend of Notre Dame to fundraise to repair the cathedral, and continue with large boards of directors- Axa and Antin in particular, and create a consulting practice focusing on two things: advice on corporate strategy and communications; and advice on investment policy.
I have done consulting work for a number of years now. In short, I help people “think better” about their business, their investments, and the risks that go with both.
In my experience, consulting puts people off. I try to explain that I do it very differently than the established firms. Through a disciplined Socratic approach (questions after questions), I try to have them answer their own questions. I then provide them with a written summary of what I heard.
I also tell them that my involvement is limited in time and scope.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
It invariably starts always very early with a 20 minutes meditation (TS). It works for me; it grounds me.
Then the usual stuff with a focus on going through a wide range of newspapers (starting with the NY Post!) that I read at the local diner.
I am ready to attack the day by 07:30-08:00 am.
I try to read about a wide range of topics- it keeps you sharp, feeds you with ideas, and makes you a better writer.
I follow the markets carefully but not constantly. Of course, I interact with clients and colleagues frequently. I work for them.
Most importantly, I try to carve some time for myself to think through writing and editing.
And I train for triathlons (see below)
The routine is about meditation, reading, writing, and training. The rest can vary widely depending upon the demands of the day. NO ROUTINE PLEASE.
How do you bring ideas to life?
By sharing them with others- friends and colleagues. The wider the better.
It is the back and forth that gives power to an idea if it deserves it. Only with the critical input of others can you take it to the next stage… or kill it!
I believe in always widening the circle, in exposing yourself without fear. It is like watering a plant- it makes it grow or it rots!
What’s one trend that excites you?
Let me make a big point here. I am interested in assessing EXISTING trends and their consequences. I have no interest in spending time trying to figure out what NEW trends could be emerging. The French philosopher Tocqueville spoke about “the vanity of predictions.” Let’s stay humble, always.
To your question, most fascinating to me today is the “work-from-home” trend. I believe it is one of the key question facing our economies in the two years ahead. It is not just a “health issue.” What will make people want to get back to the office?
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Training for triathlons. Swimming, biking, and running (and repeat!). Productivity rests in part on energy. The training provides heavy doses of energy!
Leaders must do at least two things, in my experience: absorb pressure and convey energy.
Intense physical training helps you to do both
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient. Kill the job you are on. Under-promise and over-deliver. Listen. Learn. Read everything you can on a subject. Be different, balanced, and thorough. Be impressive, don’t try to impress.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Business plans are useless. What matters is planning with the right people around the table.
Do not time the stock market. Timing never works; time does.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focus on what you can do DIFFERENTLY from everyone else, including your competitors.
Strategy is about being different by making choices about your business. We are going to do this and not that. Make active choices, don’t imitate.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Make sure your offering to clients has been thoroughly tested and vetted before you scale. This means you need the discipline to say “no” to your team who always wants to go big. Leaders must learn to say “no” to the point of disappointing their best people.
You have to be convinced that your offering has been vetted by clients in a small test market (not necessarily in its final form) before you take it to the next level. You always learn something new through the iterative work with clients in a test market.
Scaling is a different challenge altogether. You better be sure about what you are offering before you go big.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I scaled before I was ready. I did not have the patience to make sure the product/service met a client’s need at the right price. I yielded to pressure from above and from my team. I cut corners and let a big scaling exercise be funded. Failure across the board.
It caused a lot of pain. I had to be honest with myself and recognize I made a mistake. I replaced the leadership and went back to the drawing board. It almost cost me my job. I hung in there and started again. Very tough.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Build an app that helps an individual quantify the risk in his/her investment portfolio.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I took a private lesson with a table tennis professional. Fun, physical, and mental- it sharpens the mind like nothing else!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Being organized with data helps me to set my goals, which keeps me proactive. Setting these goals for yourself is a way of making you strive to be the best you can be.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Any biography of W. Churchill. To learn the meaning of grit; to overcome adversity against all odds; to have fun with his one-liners.
What is your favorite quote?
“Possessions possess you.”
I ran the Private Bank of a major New York firm. I met and advised many (very) wealthy people. They cannot help but accumulate possessions: houses, cars, boats, etc. This brought a degree of complication and annoyance to their lives that was striking. I wondered if, in the end, they did not do it to confirm to themselves their self-importance. I can testify with certainty that it did not bring them happiness.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.