In a series of interviews conducted by Hedge Funds Club boss Stefan Nilsson, we are aiming to get under the skin of interesting people related to the hedge fund industry. The interviews focus on the people and the good life. Here’s our chat with Henri Arslanian in Hong Kong.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
The world of fintech and crypto moves at light speed. I subscribe to numerous newsletters and Google alerts that I scan every morning. But I ensure to go through all the relevant industry media every week as I need to determine what information I will publish in my weekly “The Future of Money” newsletter or my weekly “Crypto Capsule” video. Whilst these take a lot of time, it forces me to ensure that I am on top of all developments.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
I don’t. I don’t really believe in work-life balance if you want to be successful or if you are under the age of 45. I actually think that encouraging young people to take it easy rather than telling them that they need to be laser-focused on work is one of the most dishonest advice we give these days to young people. Similar to professional athletes, I have found in my career that it’s that extra 10 per cent effort that I put late at night or on weekends to go above and beyond what my competitors do that gives me the extra 20%-30% results and make me an industry leader. And this is going to be even truer in a post-2020 world. I come from a family of Armenian immigrants where most of my family was massacred during the Armenian Genocide in 1915 and where the last 5 generations were each born in different countries and had to start from scratch each time. This turns you into what I like to call a “paranoid optimist” and working hard becomes the norm. And I truly believe that, unless you are a genius or very lucky, working hard is essential to be successful. If I am not working on my “day job” during the weekends, I am normally working on my side projects – e.g. my next book, my script for my LinkedIn videos – or I am busy with my various civil society leadership roles. However, I now have two young kids so I try to take some time to spend with them on Sundays by either going to church or playing with them.
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
I now spend most of my time reading newsletters, blogs and listening to podcasts. This is due to the fintech and crypto industries simply moving way too fast! However, I still read a couple of books a year. One of my favourite books of all time must be ”How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie.
Your soundtrack of choice?
Depends on the occasion. When I want to relax, I love listening to old French ballads – Joe Dassin, Michel Sardou, Charles Aznavour, Michel Fugain, Patrick Bruel, etc. To start my day, I love French-African zouglou (Magic System). As background music, I am a big fan of Armenian jazz and Armenian music more generally. When I am working out or before going on stage for a big keynote, I tend to listen to high-intensity music like Tiesto, DJ Antoine, Armin Van Buuren, etc. So it really depends on the occasion. My Spotify algorithm must probably think that I am crazy!
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
My favourite way to start the day is with a cup of strong Armenian coffee. However, when that is not available, I go for the brew of the day at Starbucks. All my coffee aficionado friends make fun of me but I actually think it’s good and wakes you up. I like to end my day, especially on weekends, with a glass of great Armenian cognac. The Ararat 10 years is my go-to.
What gives you energy?
I am naturally a person with lots of energy! But that is also due to the fact that I work out a lot! I try to hit the gym on a daily basis. When I am travelling, I usually go for runs in the city or work out in the hotel gym. When I am in Hong Kong, my favourites are the spinning or body pump classes at Pure!
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
I actually believe that COVID-19 is a great opportunity, for those stuck at home, to work even harder to learn new skills and be ready for the new reality that is ahead of us. I don’t understand all the people who have been spending this quarantine time being “bored” or binging on Netflix. I have been working 16-18 hour days every day since January 2020 trying to get ready. This includes not only taking advantage of this time to work on my next book and producing new content but also learning new skills and reflecting on what changes are coming in order to be ready for them. The world post-2020 will be very different and you better be ready. I really believe that in the coming months, those who have spent this time productively to upskill themselves will have a clear advantage over their peers or competitors. I always tell my students that they need to always sit on the edge of their seat and be ready for the societal and business shifts that will always happen. This is a great example of a major shift and those who spent the time productively to upskill themselves will have a clear advantage over their peers or competitors. For the rest who took it easy, I hope those Netflix videos were fun…
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
My favourite type of cuisine is, by far, Middle Eastern food. There are a dozen or so restaurants in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, that are truly exceptional. Many are actually owned by Syrian refugees who left Aleppo during the war to come and settle in Armenia. My favourite these days is probably Mayrig (means mother) and Zeituna (means olive). Whenever I am in the Middle East, whether it’s Dubai, Riyadh or Beirut, I only eat at Middle Eastern restaurants. In my early days in Hong Kong, I used to take the three-hour train to Guangzhou – where there are great Middle Eastern restaurants – just to have lunch and dinner and come back! In Hong Kong, the most authentic Middle Eastern sit-down restaurant now is probably Sumac in Central.
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
I love contemporary art. There are so many now but it’s a toss between the Pompidou in Paris or the Tate in London and MOMA in New York.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
Yes, I am very active on social media and LinkedIn is by far my main platform. I have worked hard over the years and continue to do so every week to produce great content that my followers will enjoy. This has allowed me to reach over 500,000 followers and be named one of the LinkedIn Top Voices in Economy and Finance. It’s good to see that years of hard work have paid off and the industry is finally taking professional social media platforms like LinkedIn more seriously. I really believe that LinkedIn is the most powerful tool in business today. I am still amazed to meet people who are not on LinkedIn or believe it is just for headhunters. I actually refuse to meet anyone professionally who is not on LinkedIn as it is for me an indication that that individual has no sense on personal branding or networking.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
My guilty pleasure is probably Cuban cigars. I have two-three humidors at home and am a member of various cigar clubs. I have also been to Cuba at least a dozen times. There is nothing that I love more than having a nice conversation with someone over a nice cigar. Also, when I need to make an important decision, I will always go somewhere alone, light a cigar, reflect and will have made my decision by the time the cigar is over. Most of my ideas and thinking actually happens over a cigar!
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
I am known for wearing a suit all the time. I am probably the only member of the fintech or crypto community who is wearing a suit at all times. My rule is: when you are not smart, dress smart! Actually, people are often shocked when they see me on weekends and I am wearing shorts or a t-shirt!
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
Yes, always. But mainly by being grateful. There is a big element of luck in life and I am very fortunate to have been a very lucky person. Just the fact that I was born healthy, grew up not hungry, was not in a war zone or a refugee camp, was able to go to university and make a living already puts me in the 0.01% of the world’s population. We should never forget that. I find that this lottery of life is very unfair. The one thing that you have absolutely no control over, where you are born, has probably the biggest impact on your life. This is why it bothers me when I see people who are healthy, born in a developed country or with a good passport and who don’t try to reach their full potential although nothing stops them. If only they knew how many people would have loved to have won that lottery of life and taken their place. This is why I am grateful to life every day and try my best to reach my full potential and celebrate the wins that come along by being grateful.
What makes you happy?
In addition to spending meaningful moments or occasions with my family and two young kids, what I really enjoy is public life and public service. If I was still in Canada, I would have probably gone into politics. For obvious reasons, I am not able to do that in Hong Kong so I try to serve society in different ways. I have been in leadership roles all my life, from my time in primary school where I was in charge of a group of 80 plus boy scouts to my college and university days where I was the president of various student organisations. I have been in leadership roles in most organisations that I have been involved in throughout my career. For example, I now spend lots of time leading the fintech community of Hong Kong or the Armenian community in China. Whilst such roles come with a lot of moral, personal and time obligations, I truly enjoy each second of service.