How one Erasmus alumnus ended up at a big London bank and more about the power of networking

Alumnus Ibrahim Kaya felt Dutch universities needed something like EUR Connect, and he’s glad the network is now operational. Kaya adds that coaching and networking are what got him his job as an Analyst with Citi. A conversation about his remarkable career, and a chat with one of his coaches, Marcel van der Kooij.

Ibrahim Kaya (1990) completed his bachelor Economics and Business Economics at the Erasmus School of Economics (ESE). Today, he’s an Investment Banking Analyst at Citi, currently on a stint in Amsterdam after having spent two years in London. He voluntarily brings up the subject of networking and how useful it can be. ‘I was very happy to get an invitation to join EUR Connect. I did my master’s in the US, at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. Over there, it’s very common to be part of an alumni network. I missed that in the Netherlands.’ 
In the end, it was networking that helped to land him a position at Citi. ‘I wanted to work for a global bank in London, but I didn’t know many people in banking. I took it upon myself to contact people who worked there.’ 

Personal investigation
How? Simply by looking them up on LinkedIn and the alumni database of the University of Rochester, finding out who went to the same university and where they were employed. ‘Gradually, I’d become interested in investment banking. Especially mergers and acquisitions. I wanted to work for a big global bank. Many of them have their European headquarters in London. I needed specific knowledge to get a foot in the door, such as: how to distinguish myself during the selection process and what technical knowledge would be required?’
Even while completing his master’s, Kaya started applying for jobs. ‘It’s not easy to get in, an internship is actually a requirement. I wrote to alumni from both Rochester and Erasmus University with a request for advice and guidance. During Christmas break I visited London and had a lot of coffee meetings with alumni in London.’ 

Trusting people
‘Naturally, I had to do a lot by myself in the end. But guidance and advices from the people I connected with, were very helpful.’ ‘They’d all been through the same thing; had found themselves in a similar position at one point, and were very willing to help. Although it’s not a common thing to do in the Netherlands, in the States it’s perfectly normal. Rochester has widespread alumni networks and certain positions are mostly filled from these networks.’
Early last year, Ibrahim received an offer to come and work for Citi’s Amsterdam office, and he accepted. Who knows which country is next. When it comes to big decisions, he consults with people he trusts. One of them is Marcel van der Kooij, his former high school economics teacher in The Hague. ‘He played an important role in my development, he made sure I made progress in school and passed my finals. When he became CEO at Giving Back, I signed up.’ The goal of this organisation is to provide students who are considered high potentials but can’t rely on a professional network, nor role models in their immediate environment, with the tools they need. Ibrahim Kaya became president of the board of the student body in 2012. One who immigrated from Turkey at age five, who switched high schools at one point because he got into trouble and who now has a wonderful career at Citi. 

Best advice
‘To me, Marcel was a natural mentor, even though officially he wasn’t. Everyone arrives at certain crossroads in life where they need someone’s advice. When I need to make a decision, I consult with as many people as I can. I love sparring with Marcel. He’s been involved in my personal development since my school days. He’ll ask incisive questions that make me think.’
It’s the most important advice Kaya can think of, to both students and recent alumni – always go to experienced people for advice. People who themselves have moved up in their career, who once were exactly where you are now. Says Kaya, ‘Now Rochester and Erasmus students interested in investment banking are beginning to ask me for advice. Whenever I can help them, I’m happy to. It could be tips, or contacts. For me, it will be 30 minutes and a cup of coffee at the most, but for someone else it could be life-changing. Things start with coffee and you never know where they might end.’

'The most important advice I can think of, to both students and recent alumni: always go to experienced people for advice.'

Alumnus Ibrahim Kaya (1990), analyst with Citi

Marcel van der Kooij is course manager at Nova College (an institute for adult education) in The Hague. He went to Erasmus University to study Economics for one year (‘not a resounding success’) and subsequently became an economics teacher as well as team leader at a school in The Hague. That’s where he met Ibrahim Kaya – the latter a so-called ‘problem student’. Not to Van der Kooij’s knowledge, however. ‘The person I met was a polite, intensely driven young man who simply didn’t feel he fit in.’ Kaya made an impression because he wanted to combine Economics with his Science & Technology profile, an unusual choice. Van der Kooij says, ‘I was impossible to plan, due to the fact that economics and physics were scheduled at the same time. I told him - if you really want to, you can go and take economics as an extra subject, but you’ll have to do it on your own. He finished all his assignments in time and passed a great exam.’ 

Van der Kooij adds: ‘I admired his ambition. Later on Kaya told me: "The fact that you believed in me got me through." He had no family members at hand to stimulate him intellectually.’
Marcel van der Kooij moved on to become CEO at a society called Giving Back; a mentor platform aimed at encouraging youth to help them realise their ambitions. It introduces students to people and companies that can either serve as an example or have the power to inspire them.
Marcel and Ibrahim stayed in touch on a personal level as well. According to Marcel, ‘He wanted to improve his English, so I advised him to move to an English-speaking nation. He decided to enrol in Summer School in Boston, and then he wanted to stay on for his Master’s. A big step, but he wrote such great papers that he was accepted for three Master courses, among which the one in Rochester. An attitude like his will get you far. He stands to conquer the world.’ 

Finding motivation
To see Ibrahim Kaya show an interest in international banking was a bit of a surprise for Van der Kooij – how would a likeable guy like Kaya survive in a world commonly known as a viper’s nest? ‘One day I asked him. He said: “But don’t they have to have at least one person who’s willing to do the right thing and remain honest?”.’ 
On the subject of coaching, Van der Kooij says, ‘The Dutch typically don’t like to stand out from the crowd. Or ask for help. Even though a little bit of help can get you very far. Secondly, the educational system in the Netherlands is largely focused on knowledge transfer, whereas students need coaching as well. They need to become confident and find out what motivates them.’ 

More information

Ibrahim Kaya is a member of EUR Connect. You can also expand and leverage the power of your network, by connecting to present and future leaders found among Erasmus University alumni, scientists and students.