HFC boss Stefan Nilsson checks in with Steve Knabl in Singapore for a chat about Led Zeppelin, CNN, cycling, “Billion Dollar Whale”, Italian coffee and much more. Steve is the COO and Managing Partner of Swiss-Asia Financial Services Pte Ltd.
From where and how do you get your daily general news updates?
I start off my day by reading BCC and then Financial Times and sometimes CNN for the fun, all via the mobile apps of course. Isn’t it just amazing how CNN has developed a sophisticated daily Anti-Trump bias? I always thought that the press had to remain truly unbiased and independent to maintain credibility.
What do you do to unwind on a weekend?
Weekends are sacred for me. Family and cycling are the main occupations. On Saturdays, I start the day early and hit the mountain biking trails with my friends. We typically ride 50 to 100km which ranges anything between three to six hours of mountain biking. Rain or shine, we ride. Saturday afternoons and evenings are family time and we often go out for dinner together. On Sundays, it’s the road bike day. I take an early start and meet the boys for a fast and furious 70km ride – back home before everybody wakes up and prepare the pancakes!
Can you name a great book you have recently read?
“Billion Dollar Whale: The Man Who Fooled Wall Street, Hollywood and the World” by Tom Wright and Bradley Hope. I read it twice because I just could not believe that in today’s world, such corruption and money laundering could actually still exist on such a big scale. I wanted to understand how these big banks actually abetted people to commit such crimes. All this in the name of money and completely blindsided by profit and greed, forgetting that one day, it could come back and hit them straight back in the face. A great read for anyone in the financial industry.
Your soundtrack of choice?
Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Kashmir” – I never get tired of listening to those two tracks along with some other great and memorable pieces from Pink Floyd.
What drink do you start the day with and what drink finishes it?
When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I do is make myself a double shot of espresso with a good 100% dark Italian roast Robusta coffee. I must admit that I am a coffee junkie. And to prove my coffee addiction, I launched a side business selling Italian artisanal roasted coffee. To date I have opened two retail shops with a third on the way as well as an e-commerce platform – check it out: www.101caffe.sg. In the evening I either have an ice-cold IPA or a gin with soda – really depends on the mood.
What’s the worst money mistake you’ve made?
Thinking that I was smarter than the markets and being greedy. I kept on betting against volatility in February 2007 and got hammered and lost all my investible assets within two days.
Have you ever had a great mentor and what did you learn?
When I started my professional career in 1999, the man who hired me was willing to give me a shot right out of university. I was tasked at hiring and managing a team of traders for Switzerland’s first independent online trading brokerage platform. I don’t know why or how he knew that I would be capable without any previous professional experience! But as I moved on in my career, I understood that when you empower and trust people, believe in their capabilities, perseverance, drive and commitment, they can go a long, long way!
What gives you energy?
Sports. I do at least 15 hours of cycling a week and need it to clear my mind and re-focus. Cycling helps me think and take a step back when I am challenged with a problem.
How do you stay grounded and focused as a person in these turbulent and fast-changing times?
Seeing as I am slightly hyperactive, I can be defined as a workaholic. I need to be constantly challenged mentally or physically. So, when I’m not working, exercise has that wonderful effect of releasing chemicals called endorphins in your body. As we all know, endorphins also trigger a positive feeling in the body and keep you alert and focused.
Can you name a terrific restaurant that you love?
Having a bachelor’s degree in International Hospitality Management, you can imagine that I love food and drink. I have a few favourite restaurants in every city I frequently travel to. In Singapore, I love Burnt Ends and Olivia. In Hong Kong, for some reason, I crave for the vodka rigatoni at Carbone. In Bangkok, other than some great street food, I just can’t get enough of Gaa and Gaggan. And that is just to name a few.
What’s your favourite museum in the world?
The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Not only is the architecture unique, but contemporary art is by far my favourite.
Are you active on social media and what do you actually use it for?
I tried a few social media apps and the only ones that I really use are LinkedIn for business and Instagram for socialising. Both are simple, straightforward and most importantly very fast to get up-to-date on your network.
Do you have any secret guilty pleasure that you are prepared to reveal here?
Not sure that I should mention it in case my wife reads it – but here goes, I’ll take the risk that she won’t be reading this interview. I actually love collecting bicycles. I keep on buying new ones and refurbishing my older ones – I simply cannot get down to selling them. This results in me having to store my bikes at the bike shops and in a storage space and a few at home of course. It’s getting complicated!
What kind of battle dress do you normally put on for work?
No tie and no vest – remember Singapore is always hot and humid and I hate being sticky and sweaty so I keep it light! I have a tendency to keep it very simple; white high-collared shirt, dark grey pants and black Churchill shoes. That been said, I sometimes like to take it easy and wear my blue jeans and a black v-neck t-shirt. Especially if I have no formal meetings to attend.
Do you celebrate your wins? If so, how?
Always! A good bottle of red wine from my cellar and a cigar. It’s important to do something memorable when you want to celebrate and it is probably also an excuse to crack open the wine and cigar cellars!
What makes you happy?
I am not a very outgoing person. I actually rarely go out on drinking binges after work, especially because I often have to get up in the early morning to get on one of my bikes! What makes me really happy though is getting together with my friends from time to time and having a good dinner followed by a drink and cigar and of course chat about everything and nothing late into the night.