An Interview with James Hogan

Hannah Costello speaks with previous Regional Head of Strategic Growth of HSBC, James Hogan about employment for incoming graduates.

What is the one thing that incoming graduates fear? Getting a job, finding work, getting internships or work experience – in other words, they fear the possibility of facing unemployment in their desired industry. James Hogan, who has had numerous jobs in the banking and finance sector, spoke to the University Observer about these concerns. Hogan, who graduated from UCD with a B.Comm (Bachelor of Commerce), has experience as a banker in multiple international financial centres, including Hong Kong, Sydney, London and New York, and several emerging markets. Having retired from Regional Head for Strategic Growth for the Asia Pacific sector from HSBC in Hong Kong in July of 2019 after working with HSBC for 32 years, Hogan decided to continue building on previous experiences. Hogan, believing that people don’t necessarily retire, has four different part-time roles, including Chairman of an advisory board for a start-up bank operating in India, looking closely at the digital economy. In addition, he is a Commercial Advisor for a biotech company based in Hong Kong. Hogan is also on the Board of directors for SPAC, a Special-purpose acquisition company. Finally, as a volunteer, he is also on the Australian Chamber of Commerce board in Hong Kong.

During his time at UCD, Hogan joined two different societies; the Literary & Historical Society (L&H) and the Commerce & Economics Society (C&E). When asked if he thought the societies helped him with his career, he said, “I enjoyed debating and meeting people. So, whether they (the societies) helped me directly, I’m not sure, but certainly indirectly. You learn how to converse with people. Certainly, the L&H Forum was quite intimidating. In the early days, particularly in my first year, I found it pretty scary to be a speaker at those debates. But I found like anything, the more you do it, the better you get. So, I think that those skills have certainly helped me throughout my life.” 

The careers office really helped in guiding me to potential careers.

As an almost graduate of UCD, Hogan, like many students, faced the dilemma of what exactly it was that he wanted to do for a living. He spent a lot of time in the Careers Office in UCD looking for inspiration, but he was sure of two things; he wanted a combination of finance and an international career that would take him to Asia – where his father spent a lot of time. Having explained this to the careers advisor, she suggested that he would attend the ‘Milk Round’, which essentially was numerous banks who visited UCD and advertised their graduate management programmes. He was then told about The Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, known as HSBC, headquartered in Hong Kong. Having never heard of the bank before, he talked to his father; and realised that HSBC was a well-known bank in Asia. Hogan applied to four different banks, getting interviews with two of the four. The first and most attractive offer came in first: HSBC. 

The most difficult decision to make when you are a student is to actually decide what it is you actually want to do, career-wise

With the topic changing from his time at UCD to recommendations to incoming graduates who’d wish to pursue a career in banking or finance, Hogan had this to say, “I would say to almost step back. I think that the most difficult decision to make when you are a student is to actually decide what it is you actually want to do, career-wise. I don’t think I ever said that I wanted to be a banker. I wanted a situation where I could potentially travel internationally, which was vaguely related to financial services and people orientated. Those three elements were important to me. I knew that those three areas were of interest to me, so I asked what were the opportunities that would meet those criteria.” Hogan believes that students should ask themselves, what they are good at, and what they enjoy. Only then, once you’ve narrowed those four or five different areas down, you figure out the opportunities or careers that allow you to have those elements. “I’ve found that most people are good at what they enjoy doing.” He believes that all students need to take a step back and re-evaluate what they enjoy and what is important to them – the career should come later. “Students should be open to experimenting – none of us get it right the first time; there has to be a time of trial and error. I was lucky with my banking career; I was given the opportunity to experiment and explore the different areas of banking in different countries. But not all banking allows that – not all give you the opportunity of flexibility.” 

Hogan believes that the best skills to have going into the banking and finance industry – rather any industry – is to have a sense of curiosity; he’s observed that the people who excelled the most in the banking industry were people who held an engineering degree, purely because of their curious nature. He believes that students who are going to pursue a career in banking should have an interest in how banking works – being interested is really important, be interested in the business model, be interested in how it all works. Learn how to evaluate people; learn how to ask the right questions. People skills are extremely important in banking. In banking if you are going to be talking to CEOs or Chairman’s of companies, you have to be able to interact with them, be able to ask them the right questions. “All of the information isn’t going to be served on a plate, you have to be able to dig around and figure it out for yourself, and be able to understand the business.” The most important skills to have going into banking are having a sense of curiosity, interpersonal skills, being sceptical (but not cynical) and having strong evaluation skills.  

You should assume that everyone has the top grades

For students who are taking up internships or graduate programmes with large organisations such as, KPMG, HSBC, PwC and AIB, the advice given was to go into these companies with your eyes wide open. Often these companies have a structure to them, to the programmes. Students should be clear on what these companies are offering, what the day-to-day operations are. “Sometimes, I have found that these programmes take a while to give responsibility to these individuals. When you’ve finished three or four years of university, the last thing you want is to be in a sort of school room again.” Do your homework; talk to people that are going through the programme, just to validate that their experiences are what the employers are telling you up front. Students should be able to ask questions to the employer and employees to try and paint a picture of the day-to-day activities and overall experience. 

Sometimes, I have found that these programmes take a while to give responsibility to these individuals

In the current competitive job market, resumes often look the same; with many having a long string of qualifications, students often have a hard time figuring out how to stand out. Hogan commented, “High academic qualifications at this point are prerequisites – the entry level. At this point the way to stand alone is by the other interesting things on your resume; that might be the extra curricular activities (such as societies), part-time work, part-time experiences, internships. Those are definitely the areas where you can differentiate yourself. You should assume that everyone has the top grades, assume that everyone has a master’s degree. The differentiation comes from the activities and the experience.”