If you wanted to draw the ideal 'finance career arc’, it would be hard to come up with something more perfectly curved than the trajectory followed by Khemaridh (Khe) Hy, the recently former managing director at BlackRock.
Hy quit finance in May 2015, aged just 35. After leaving Yale University (Bachelor of Science, computer science) in 2001, he worked at a succession of small hedge funds for six years before joining Blackrock. There, he rose to become head of research for Blackrock's $22bn hedge fund business in New York. And then, at the peak of his earning power, Hy stepped off. Nowadays, he's an evangelist for wholesome-living. He meditates. He blogs. He exercises. He spends time with his children. Most importantly, Hy practices what he calls, "deep self enquiry," which he says has taught him a few things about his mindset while he worked in the finance industry.
"Leaving BlackRock was an incredibly difficult decision," says Hy. "It took me two to three years to reach it. There was this self-doubt, this questioning whether I'd be stupid to leave something I'd worked so hard to build and which it might be hard to reenter. It was a kind of recurring narrative. I'd say to myself, "Khe, you're at the inflection point of your career, why step away now?"
Behind this, Hy says the fear that kept him in finance was financial. Even though he'd been hugely successful, even though he had the kind of credentials that would be wanted elsewhere, Hy says he feared impoverishment. And not just the moving out of Manhattan kind of poverty: actual homelessness. "It's called the scarcity mindset," says Hy. "No matter how much you have, you're scared you're going to run out of money."
It's the scarcity mindset that's the hardest thing to overcome when you're thinking of leaving a finance career, Hy says. This is because the fear of having no money isn't about having no money: it's about death. "I'm going to get a little deep on you here. For me, the scarcity mindset was related to my core, existential fear of dying and never having enough time, or money, or opportunities to do everything I wanted to do."
So quitting finance isn't just quitting finance, it's confronting your own mortality. That's never going to be an easy thing.
"The fear [of having no money as a proxy for dying] never goes away," says Hy. "I still have it all the time. The thing is that I worked since I was 15 and I'd never really seen my bank account go down in 20 years. The first time that happens, it's terrifying."
This might be why career coaches say there's a tendency for finance escapees to try coming back again. Even if they can afford to quit, former banker and career coach Victoria Macpherson says many ex-bankers have two or three goes at leaving before they make a clean break.
When Hy left Blackrock, he told himself it was for a two year trial period. One year later, he says the trial's being extended: "I feel very different. Being out of finance has given me a completely different perspective on the life I want to live."
Although his shrinking bank account is a continuing source of angst, Hy says his attitude to money has changed. "I used to want a lot of money, but I was using money as a metric of success. Now, it's about having the money to generate the life I want to life. That's a nice life, which means traveling and living in New York, but it doesn't mean leaving a lot of wealth to the next generation."
Hy's daughter is only two, so might this not change? "I have money earmarked for my children's education and I want a safety net for them so that they can pursue careers that may not be the most financial lucrative," says Hy. "But I have no interest in leaving them meaningful amounts of money." Does this drive other people he knows in finance? "Not necessarily, it's more that money equals good, so let's get back to work."
If Hy isn't going back into finance, what is he going to do? Keep blogging for one. As Bloomberg recently pointed out, he's become a sort of guru for all sorts of senior people in the hedge fund industry who can understand where he's coming from. "It's shaping up," says Hy. "I have some consulting clients and some speaking engagements. My vision is that I really believe that deep introspection leads to fulfillment which leads to performance. Introspection has brought me a lot of happiness."
Hy has his own YouTube channel and has already given his own Ted Talk. Next up is surely a speaking engagement at Goldman Sachs? Hy says the firm hasn't invited him. It may only be a matter of time - a talk from Hy at any bank could galvanize senior staff into retiring, which is perfect in an era when most banks are cutting costs.
Photo credit: samuda.image.3.jpg by samuda is licensed under CC BY 2.0.