«Asset management never stops being exciting.»
Sven Württemberger has been responsible for sales of passive products in Switzerland and Israel since 2017. He is also in charge of sales of active products to private banks. He previously spent eight years working in various positions at BlackRock Asset Management with responsibility for sales of iShares ETFs in Germany and Switzerland. Sven worked at Deutsche Bank up to 2009 developing structured product solutions for institutional sales, and before that he was with an international corporate consulting firm until 2006. He has an MBA in international finance from the Helsinki School of Economics and the University of St. Gallen as well as a BA in finance from Bristol Business School in the UK. Sven lives in Zurich with his wife and two sons, aged four and seven.
Sven Württemberger, what was the best decision you took in your career?
It was definitely a good decision to start focusing on passive investment components as early as 2008. Up to that point, I’d specialised in structured product solutions. They haven’t lost their appeal, but I was quickly won over by the charm of a product that’s actually quite simple but can be used in a whole range of different ways. I’m now responsible for traditional, active fund solutions as well, which was the next logical step for me and rounds out my view of the world of investment products. It also makes sense from the client’s point of view to take a holistic approach to investment concepts and make decisions from an overall asset allocation perspective. After all, every product is merely a building-block for applied portfolio management. My experience ultimately helps me to provide clients and investors with all-encompassing advice. Thanks to my career to date, I’m now wearing two hats, so to speak, as an expert in both active and passive investments.
Have you ever regretted a career decision?
Some decisions have of course proven to be the wrong ones with hindsight, but thankfully there haven’t been too many of them. When you look back, you often realise that even your less successful decisions were needed to pause for thought and take stock of where you were, and there was almost always some sort of upside to the outcome. I think it’s important to make mistakes. You always learn something from them. They’re an unavoidable part of life, and they help you to keep your feet on the ground.
What is it that motivates you?
We’re lucky enough to be working in an industry that has a substantial influence on the global economy and is always changing. We’re confronted with new information and new opportunities – as well as new challenges – on a daily basis. We often encounter the unexpected, which demands both a fast tactical response and long-term strategic decisions with far-reaching implications. This is what defines the excitement of asset management for me. On top of that, we’re in a position to set trends for the whole industry in Switzerland, and I really enjoy working in such an innovative environment.
What are your goals – professionally and personally?
My biggest goal is striking the perfect balance between my job and my private life. I imagine it’s the same for a lot of people. For me, it can only be achieved if I don’t draw too strict a line between the two – I prefer to keep that line blurred. A lot of what we do revolves around communicating and working with people. That applies equally at work and at home, and it often makes it easier for me to pursue and achieve my goals together with the people around me.
If you were having dinner with Warren Buffett, what would you ask him?
I’d like to take a chance and ask him if I could advise him on his investment strategy. I know that sounds quite presumptuous, but I’m thinking in particular of his assertion that, when he dies, 90% of the money he leaves to his wife will be placed in an S&P 500 index fund with very low costs. I agree with him for the most part, naturally, but I’d still like to see if I might persuade him to consider an active sustainability fund or two.
What importance do you attach to social media?
Social media are playing an increasingly important role for me, especially in my job. They’ve become an indispensable communication and information tool. That said, you need to be careful and serious about what you post yourself – sometimes, less is more.
What advice would you give to someone embarking on a career in asset management today or your younger self?
My advice would be to act like a marathon runner and avoid short-term sprints, although I do value a healthy degree of ambition. I believe that a career in asset management is only successful if it’s geared to the long term. Things I look for in a rising star are taking the long view, an overall understanding of business processes, good communication and social skills and a rational self-awareness.
What, in your opinion, is the best anti-depressant?
I’d love to say French red wine, but of course it’s really the exercise I get when I’m out in the fresh air, especially in the mountains. Now and then, however, I do give in to the temptation of a fine cigar.
What do you do on a short journey?
I take the train from Zurich to Geneva quite a lot, and I always enjoy the landscape, especially along the shores of Lake Geneva. It’s incredible, and it fully deserves its World Heritage status. I find Zurich to London rather less inspiring because it lacks these views, so I tend to work on this route and often brainstorm ideas.
How often do you look at your mobile phone in a day?
You’ve got me there. My team would give you a clear answer: far too often. I’m afraid that I check my e-mails much too frequently, and I still see a swift reply as sacrosanct.
What is more important to you as you get older, and what is less important?
I find that hard to gauge as my needs are sure to change over time, and I can’t predict them. Also, age is a matter of interpretation. Isn’t 60 supposed to be the new 40, if a leading Swiss bank’s advertising slogan is to be believed? Joking aside, I care most about staying healthy in the long term, having financial security and positive relationships with people. I can only hope that my phone will become less important to me with age.
What background picture do you have on your phone?
It’s an abstract painting by Gerhard Richter at the moment because I’m interested in contemporary art, but a picture like that usually only stays in place until the next time my sons get their hands on my phone. Then it might be the latest thing from Lego.