At the Duke FinTech Seminar: MacKay Shields executive revealed three secrets that influence success.

September 29, 2023 | Emilia Chiscop-Head

John Akkerman was invited to speak to our graduate students last Friday

John Akkerman, Executive Managing Director at Executive Managing Director and Global Head of Distribution at MacKay Shields

John W Akkerman, CFA CAIA, Executive Managing Director and Global Head of Distribution at MacKay Shields came to speak to the 1st year Duke FinTech graduate students last Friday, September 22.

Mr. Akkerman shared the story of his career development and how he became who he is today – an influencing leader of a company focused on wealth management –primarily fixed income solutions. A native of Canada, Mr. Akkerman received his Bachelor of Commerce degree in Finance & Marketing from Saint Mary’s University and his MBA from the University of Western Ontario. “I did not have good grades – I was in the low percentile. I really wanted to go to McGill, but I was rejected. I tried to persuade the committee, but I was told that despite my interesting story the decision still stands,” he recalled with a smile. Mc Gill University is one of best known and prestigious universities in Canada and world-wide.

After graduating from Western Ontario, Mr. Akkerman went to work for the Bank of Montreal in 1982. “The interest rates were 18%, it was really hard for the economy,”, he recalls. He learned then an important lesson which he shared with the FinTech students: “Get into a good organization, don’t worry about what the job is, do your best and use that job as a propeller for your career”.

In his view, there are three points that influence success: competency, likeability, and empathy – which he defined as “being aware of the people around you, what they are dealing with personally and professionally. The interpersonal aspects of who you are as a person will impact how far you go into a managerial role.” John Akkerman mentioned several other important lessons. One is that to succeed, it is important to find something you are passionate about. “Another important lesson is to surround yourself with great people who can know you better than you do. My boss invited me to coffee one day and asked me whether I would consider a career change. The message she wanted to convey was that I was not very good at what I was doing, and I needed to make a change.” Mr. Akkerman followed the advice, and this is how he left the banking sector to transition to a money management company. “Even if I took a 35% pay cut in the first year, in my second year my pay doubled, I liked my work and I was much happier,” he remembers. Being up to date with training – and earning two professional designations as Chartered Financial Analyst ® and the Chartered Alternative Investment Analyst ® - was also important for being able to advance his career.

In addition to his own story, Mr. Akkerman provided students with a comparative perspective of how banks are different than the money management businesses.  “While banks are very transactional and time sensitive, money management businesses are more gentle and more long term. In money management firms, scaling does not require more staffing. They are highly competitive, highly regulated, and governed, and high confidence-based businesses,” he described.

John Akkerman joined MacKay Shields in 2012. He took a newly created position responsible for creating and implementing strategies for the firm’s distribution, marketing, consultant relations and client service practices. He is a member of the firm’s Senior Leadership Team.