He’s spent 25 years making money for some of the world’s richest people, including more than a decade as a wolf on Wall Street. He knows everyone who’s anyone in the high-flying world of finance, and he’s worked for a who’s who of financial institutions, including managing director roles at Deutsche Bank, Merrill Lynch, the Royal Bank of Scotland and more.
But despite his phenomenal international success as a salesman, trader and banker, Craig Donaldson is still a down to earth Kiwi bloke (albeit one who keeps his goals scribbled on a piece of paper in his sock drawer). Last week he paid us a visit, sharing his tips for success with around 50 business students from NZMA Sylvia Park, Auckland South and NZCC (New Zealand Career College).
“There are three things I wish someone had told me 25 years ago when I was starting out in my career - embrace change, attitude is everything, and relationships matter,” said Craig, who returned to New Zealand three years ago and is now CEO of New Zealand’s global network, Kea, as well as a company director for a bunch of other organisations including the Hip Group and Oob.
According to Craig there are currently around 80 unicorns in the world. A unicorn is a business that didn’t exist two years ago, but today it’s worth a billion dollars. Airbnb and Uber are a couple of examples.
“If these folks hadn’t embraced change they wouldn’t be worth what they are today. Twenty five years ago, when I was starting out, there was no way you could start a business that would be worth a billion dollars a couple of years later. But things have changed a lot since then – and they’ll continue to keep changing. You need to be energetic, embrace change and look for ways to keep improving yourself.”
A lot of it boils down to attitude.
“As a managing director of big firms I’ve interviewed a lot of people for a lot of jobs. The number one thing I look for is the right attitude. Your skills and qualifications are a given – otherwise you wouldn’t have got the interview – but what I’m asking myself is ‘do I really want to sit next to this person for nine hours a day?’ Being who you are, and authentic and cool is way more important than the academic stuff.”
Craig’s go-getter attitude has taken him a long way, right from his early beginnings as an accountant for his first boss – and now Prime Minister - John Key, who was at that time working in the money markets.
“I did an accounting degree but I never wanted to be an accountant - I wanted to be a trader. John Key hired me as an accountant, but very early on I asked him to put me on the trading floor. He said ‘no, we hired you as an accountant, get back to work’, but every Friday at 3pm I’d knock on his door and ask him to put me on the trading floor. After eight months, he did!”
Craig is big on goal setting too.
“I really believe in goals. Set your goals, write them on a piece of paper and stick them in your sock drawer. Every single morning, when you open that drawer, you’ll be reminded of the goals you’ve set, and where you want to get to. It helps drive you towards them with the right attitude. It works!”
But even more than embracing change and cultivating the right attitude, Craig says the thing he cares about most deeply of all is relationships.
“The power of relationships is the number one thing I’ve learned during my 25 year career. It doesn’t matter what school you went to, what degree you’ve got or what your parents do for a living. If you have the right relationships with the right people you can achieve anything you want.”
His advice? Be real, interested, knowledgeable and empathetic - and don’t focus all your relationship energy on social media.
“I’m talking about connecting with people face-to-face. That’s spending four hours on a golf course with someone, having a drink in a bar with them, or a Sunday barbecue. To me, that’s relationship building, not being friend number 5001 on Facebook.”
A man with an acronym for everything, Craig had more precious gems to share. Such as his four key relationship building skills, CALL. That’s Connect, Anticipate, Leverage and Listen. Anticipate is all around doing your research before connecting with people, finding out a bit about them, being interested and making them feel special. He advised never to make a cold call, and most importantly of all to listen.
“Make your pitch and then shut up! It can be so awkward, but just shut up and listen, because it forces the person to give you feedback. It’s amazingly difficult to do, but it’s a really important part of it.
“The world is changing incredibly fast. If you embrace it and get on top of new technology you will be someone who is in demand, and having an awesome attitude will make you hireable. Use some of these relationship tricks to make these cold calls warm ones and you will have a completely different experience.”
For those about to launch their careers, his words of wisdom were nothing short of priceless.