Taking Risks Pays Off

Paresh Thakrar has embraced both risk and variety in the course of his fascinating and successful career.

Paresh left the School in 1993 with an eclectic collection of A-levels – Physics, Maths, Economics and Russian – but it gave him plenty of options for university. He chose to do Natural Sciences at Cambridge, enjoying the freedom to mix ‘hard’ subjects like physics with options such as zoology or history, and philosophy of science and psychology. “Churchill College was a great choice – out of town, tranquil and with the Cavendish Laboratories on the doorstep. QE had developed good links with the college over time, too.”

On graduating, he headed for the City, working at Deutsche Bank. “The mix of ‘quant’ skills and problem-solving rigour imparted through a Natural Sciences degree is a hugely valuable asset on a trading floor.” He spent five years as an emerging markets trader, trading everything from equity derivatives to foreign exchange, and thriving in the “pacey, meritocratic culture”. During an exciting time in the financial industry, he enjoyed opportunities to spend time in South Africa and Eastern Europe.

Deciding it was time for a new challenge, he then served in various roles at the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office from 2001–2008. “Following a gruelling training programme, I came in after the 9/11 turmoil.” His financial background proved valuable in trying to unravel and understand the new world that emerged after the terrorist attacks in the US. “It gave me a fascinating insight into a fast-paced area of government and a huge amount of autonomy in a career where you could find yourself chasing down leads in the Far East one week and the Middle East the next. I never dreamt I would be posted in Nairobi, doing “j-turns” in a Ford Focus on an abandoned airfield, or jumping out of a helicopter into the English Channel. Whatever your best-laid career plans, sometimes it's just best to follow what you find fun.”

Finding the travel demands of diplomatic life at odds with being a good parent after the birth of his first child, Paresh went back to studying and in 2008–10 he took an MBA at London Business School, looking to move back into the private sector.

After an enjoyable two years, he took a role at management consultants McKinsey, “working with some of the smartest and most inspiring of colleagues”. The highlights included “pulling my first all-nighter at the ripe age of 35” and working for financial institutions after the international financial crisis alongside some of the most senior leaders at the big banks. “The lessons I learnt were to never be afraid to network and reach out to mentors and colleagues, who can often be the source of the most unexpected opportunities – and always to look for ways to reinvent yourself.”

In 2013, he was appointed Chief Operating Officer at FTSE250 insurance company Hiscox. “I was attracted to the small, rewarding and entrepreneurial culture with a distinctive market positioning and a hugely ambitious management team I wanted to work with.” Paresh’s areas of responsibility include strategy, IT and operations for the reinsurance business.

A keen advocate of ‘portfolio careers’ – “more interesting and more fun” – OE Paresh believes one of the key lessons is that it is important to continue to learn and renew yourself throughout your career. “There is no substitute for ‘experiential learning’, taking risks in your career choices and following your interests, so long as you can demonstrate some consistent thought around your decisions.”

“As careers have become so specialised in every field of work from law to medicine to finance, there is more need than ever for people who can bring together the various threads into a coherent strategy,” he adds.

Paresh still lives in Hertfordshire; he is married and has three boys.