Massimo Passamonti holding his original application for the Technical Student programme in 2003

CERN Alumnus: Massimo Passamonti
At CERN: Technical student 2003-2004
Currently: Entrepreneur, founding partner of a firm specialised in alternative investments

A passion unequalled elsewhere

In 2003, Massimo was working in the Gran Sasso Nuclear Research Laboratory on a short internship, when he first heard about opportunities at CERN. He was enrolled in a dual degree program at the École Centrale de Lyon and the Politecnico di Milano completing a Masters in Nuclear Engineering. His supervisor pointed out the CERN Technical Student programme as a possibility for a unique, early-career experience. Massimo sent an application form, and was selected by Alberto Desirelli, to work as a Project Engineer in the Mechanical Safety group at CERN.  
“I was studying the mechanical safety of ALICE. The group was working to improve certain specific elements of the dipole. I built a model of ALICE using a software called ANSYS and spent the year analysing and validating this model.” Massimo explains. 
And when I ask him what his memories of this time at CERN are, he replies enthusiastically:”Pure excitement Laure! I was thrilled to be in an organisation that was discovering the unexplored. People were so passionate. At lunch, everyone would share ideas and problems, seeking help from each other.  I have not found another place since with the same level of passion. It is unique.”

A book that initiated a career change

After completing his year as a technical student Massimo could have stayed on at CERN, but his reflections on what he wanted his future to bring him led him on another career path:
“At CERN you work on amazing projects, but you only see tangible results over a very long timeframe. Of course, I was very tempted to stay at CERN, but at the same time I realised that if I wanted to make an impact quickly it was not the right place for me.”
Attentive to Massimo’s career path explorations, his supervisor gave him a book about finance and advised him to read it attentively.  “It took me a couple of weeks to really understand the message my supervisor was communicating in sharing this book: that the skills you gain in one area of expertise could be applied to something completely different. I discovered, to my astonishment, that many of the things I did at CERN could be applied to finance. Reading this book was life changing! After doing some more research I decided to change my career.” 

Fast and flexible learning

“Technical skills alone are not enough. So called “soft” skills such as communication are essential. I realised fluent English would be vital to operate in the field of finance, so I moved to the UK to learn. Following that, I applied for positions in banks and was hired by a major bank in London. I was not hired because I was a nuclear engineer (smile) but because they wanted someone flexible enough to learn very fast. One major aspect of my engineering background is the ability to learn quickly and to process complicated concepts. You don’t need to know everything, but you need to be able to assimilate whatever is thrown at you.”

Made for finance

On his first day at the bank, Massimo was put in charge of his desk, as the team that had hired him had resigned and left. He worked in the bank’s structuring department, responsible for creating investment products. 
“It was a tough job and the learning curve was very steep but that’s why they had hired me in the first place!” says Massimo “There is a very nice link between the creativity you need in science and the creativity needed in finance. Physicists are trained to be very creative to push limits and borders. In finance, it is exactly the same thing. You need to come up with ideas and think of possibilities that no one has thought of before.”
“This first job confirmed my idea that I was made for finance. Since then I have been designing financial products and I love it. “ 

The best advice my mentor gave me

Massimo confirms what a decisive advantage a good mentor is in a professional career: “I have kept contact with my supervisor at CERN ever since I left CERN and benefit continually from his advice and recommendations. He was always prepared to point out areas where I could improve. This is what I really appreciated about him. “
“I used to think that writing a good CV was the end and that everything was done when you send it. Alberto made me understand that this was not true. He gave me the best career advice I could receive: if I wanted a job, I needed to persuade the recruiter that I was different and better than all other candidates were.  Therefore, I called the recruiters every day until they invited me for an interview. Much later, my boss told me that if I had not done this, they would not have hired me. “ 
Massimo underlines: “It was a lesson for life! Still today if I want something to get done, I know that I need to create a human connection, emails are just not sufficient.”
This mentor-mentee relationship goes both ways. His supervisor is now himself working in a field related to investments and calls on Massimo’s expertise when he has questions or simply wishes to discuss topical financial news. 

From engineering to entrepreneurship

In 2015, Massimo switched track again and left the world of investment banking. Together with two partners he started a fintech company based in Monaco. Four years on, his firm has operations in five countries and employs 43 staff. 
When questioned on how the idea came to him and his partners to launch their own business, Massimo explains: “My partners and I saw that there was a gap in the market. Big banks were finding it difficult to adapt to the new digital direction that the world was taking. We saw a path that banks were not ready or able to follow quickly enough so we decided to do it ourselves. “
On the connection between engineering and entrepreneurship, Massimo explains, “As both an engineer and entrepreneur you explore the unknown. As a young engineer at CERN I learned to be creative and solve problems. Being an entrepreneur is just the same. It is a true leap of faith, an experiment where the market gives you real time feedback on whether your hypotheses and strategy are correct or not!

Unique value proposition

Massimo describes the UVP of his company very simply: “We give asset managers everywhere in the world access to alternative investments that have been checked and vetted.”
“We provide this access through our platform – PARity - developed by a strong team of programmers. Through our service, asset managers can access information that is not easily obtainable. Trust is paramount and our digital services are complemented with close (personal) contacts. 

Privatam is recruiting CERN developed talents 

Massimo further explains that the reason why he looked at the CERN Alumni Network in the first place was his hope to be able to contact the pool of CERN talent, more precisely in the field of artificial intelligence. Indeed, his firm is investing heavily in machine learning,
“I bought my first book on artificial intelligence when I was at CERN as my supervisor recommended books on neural networks. 16 years later, it is still a passion and my own firm is investing in machine learning. We worked with consultants but now want to insource those skills and there is no better place than CERN to find them”.
In terms of technical skills, Massimo is looking for someone not necessarily with a deep experience in finance but proven experience in machine learning. This person needs to have created models and used them, from regression and recommender models, to natural language processing. All of these techniques can be applied to finance.
With regards to soft skills, Massimo needs to find a person who can fit in with the team. Open minded, with many interests, many passions. “We spend numerous hours at work talking about our passions whatever they are: skiing, reading, playing badminton or music … So we need someone who can talk about his or her passions over a glass of wine!”
I asked Massimo why he wanted to find the rare pearl in the CERN Alumni Network and challenged him that perhaps LinkedIn could be sufficient to find the talents he was looking for. Massimo replies without hesitation “The skills that I am looking for are developed at the highest possible level at CERN. Therefore, looking at the CERN Alumni network is the best and fastest way to optimise your chances of finding the right person! There are many job seekers on LinkedIn claiming those skills, but a CERN experience gives a stamp of quality.”
Massimo further shares his vision for his company in the next 3 to 5 years: “We want to consolidate our position and be the biggest market place for alternative investments. Our vision is simple: we want to enable asset managers anywhere in the world to efficiently access innovative investments. There is no reason why an investment manager in Asia, for example, should not be linked to a strategy provider in Brazil”

Ready to mentor

Listening to Massimo explaining all the benefits he received from having a mentor, I asked whether he would be prepared to become a mentor for early career alumni. “Of course! If someone is planning a career change from research to finance or entrepreneurship, I would be more than happy to help this person” is his enthusiastic reply. “CERN has given me a lot so I hope that I can give back!”

Thank you, Massimo, it is well noted and be sure that we will call upon your engagement in the near future!
Author, Laure Esteveny

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