01 September 2020

My UEA Story: Darren Baggett

Darren Baggett graduated from Mathematics and Economics in 1991, and won a prize for achieving the highest score in the year. He worked in finance for a number of years before establishing a charity in 2015 following the major earthquake in Nepal.

"Here I was, a graduate from UEA, beating MIT! I loved it." 

What have you been up to since you graduated?

I struggled to find a job at first as we were still in a recession but managed to get a job at SBC, a Swiss bank operating in London. I began as a trainee options trader and undertook two intensive month-long training courses in Chicago to aid my development. In November 1993 I was offered a similar position at Morgan Stanley which I accepted. By the middle of 1994 I was in charge of my own trading book and ran one of the largest positions in the FTSE100 index options market. It was very stressful and a typical day ran from 6am to 8pm with few breaks. But I loved the challenge and the skill set suited my own.

In 1997, I left MS to join a smaller firm. Here instead of having a big US investment bank behind me I was very much my own boss. I worked on the LIFFE floor until it closed in 2000, at its peak there were over 5,000 highly charged young people screaming and shouting to be heard, it was very much of its time and certainly the behaviour and attitudes would not be tolerated today – you met some real characters.

I re-joined MS in 2004 where markets were good in the run up to the financial crash of 2008 and our team were very much at the sharp end as we were responsible for trading volatility in equity markets. We managed to get the right side of the market and achieved record profits that year but many competitors were not so lucky. I decided to retire from the City in 2014, as I needed a change.

2015 was about recuperation and rest and I did very little until a friend and I decided to set up a charity in response to the Nepalese earthquake. The charity is called Acts of Kindness Collective and is registered in the UK. In 2016 I organised a charity event which helped raise over £40,000 towards building a school for 400 kids. It was one of the hardest yet most rewarding things I have done in my life and I had the ultimate pleasure of meeting the school kids and having a classroom named after my family.

Working with close friends, I organised another fundraising event in aid of the UCLH charity, which is building a new hospital in Euston. We raised over £140,000 which all went to the charity in its efforts to make the hospital inspiring for patients and staff through the addition of art and design. The NHS spent over £350m on the building but that just gets you white walls and we helped to make the building more friendly, especially as it will house one of only two Proton Beam therapy units in the UK and will treat children and adults with cancer treatment that they would have to go abroad for. My brother and I are donating artwork for all 40+ bedroom suites, communal areas and staff rooms etc. We are sponsoring an artist and covering the full cost of all the materials needed to produce over 100 original images and 3,000 square feet of artwork. It will open this year and I am so excited.

What was your ambition for your career when you started at UEA?

I did want a career in the city though I thought I would be an equity analyst and not a trader. Traders are harsh, brash and ultra-confident human beings and I didn’t see myself this way but I had little choice for a job and found that I really enjoyed it. It was like a very high level mathematical game with huge stakes but I found I could mitigate the risk and achieve above average returns with much lower risk than my peers.

In your career what key tasks ARE skills are involved on a day-to-day basis? And what have been the most rewarding and challenging aspects?

I used my Math knowledge to underpin my trading strategy and make above average returns with below average risk. When I went to Chicago I sat in classrooms with graduates from Harvard, Yale and MIT and I was better than all of them. This gave me a huge amount of confidence. Here I was, a graduate from UEA, beating MIT! I loved it.

What personal or professional achievement are you most proud of?

Believing in myself and reaching for the stars. This gave me the ability to support my family and give back to society. I am equally proud of building a school in Nepal as I am of helping my parents in any way I could.

What were your experiences of Norwich as a city?

I loved Norwich, I met my wife at UEA in fresher’s week and we were married two years later. Yes, our degree certificates are in the same surname! It’s a while ago since I was at UEA but I loved the location, accommodation, facilities, teaching and the mix of students.

Is there any advice you would give to current students, wishing to follow a similar career path to you?

The world has changed so much in the last 30 years but fundamentally it’s all about doing something you love, then it doesn’t feel like work and the hours don’t matter. If you choose a career in the financial markets you have to be prepared for the ups and downs, and the down is so much harder to bear. It was very much like being a professional sportsperson; it was all about your training but then it came down to your performance on a daily basis and your ability to deal with the mental side, not to mention how to deal with the reality if you are a success or failure and both have their challenges.

What is next for you?

I very much would like to keep up my charitable work and be available to help others achieve their charitable goals. I am optimistic and realistic in equal measure. I have always been someone who has lived and died by my own sword. Since an early age I have had to believe in myself 100% and make things happen with little or no help from anyone. It has been one of my defining characteristics and has led me to where I am now and it has not been all plain sailing.  

So what is it that makes me happy? Making a difference in the world, staying true to my beliefs - I only invest/work in things I believe is of use to society, for examples social housing, renewable energy, Fintech and charity work, and being involved with people who are professional and are well resourced. I look forward to the future and all that it holds.

 

Darren studied Maths with Economics at UEA, graduating in 1991