Matt Woods: Keelite of the Month July 2014

1996 Economics & Physics
2000 PhD Physics

Matt with Mel What am I doing now?
I am a managing partner of a Wall Street trading firm in New York.

How did you get to where you are now? 
To supplement my beer money while researching my PhD I worked as an academic assistant for the Open University Summer school which Keele hosted during the Summer holidays. A professor asked me what I was going to do with an economics and physics degree paired with a PhD in relativistic quantum mechanics? I told him I was going to become a physics teacher and he told me his son had the same combination of subjects and worked as a derivative modelling quant for an investment bank in London. He told me what book I should read and when I realized the maths was a doddle I decided to put my CV on a job search website. Anyway, I got a phone call about an hour later and was invited to London for an interview on the Friday. The following Monday I had a job offer and three weeks to write the last 40,000 words of my thesis. A month after starting my job I was working in New York, and a year after that I moved here permanently. The first company I worked for was bought by a Wall Street specialist firm, then I left for a job at Royal Bank of Canada where I stayed for the next five years until quitting to start my own business with my very first boss of twelve years earlier.

‌What has been your biggest achievement so far?  
Apart from being a founding partner of a successful business, very happily married and father of a crazy three year old, I always gush when I’m notified that someone has taken my book out of the library, and I’m very proud of my theory making the centre pages of the New Scientist millennium edition with an article entitled ‘Pure genius! Why the bubbles go down in Guinness’ - the bulk of the research having been performed in the KPA.

Photo Above: Matt with Mel in New York

matt in Costume And your biggest mistake?
When you’re at university for seven years the nights out can merge together and get muddled in your mind. So a group of us decided to get dressed up once a month to make the evening more memorable. We were mummies, doctors, wasters, old men and many, many more. Possibly the worst mistake was wearing a negligée to the KPA on a Friday night (there’s a photo out there!)

Photo Right: Costume Night at the KPA

What are your ambitions now?
I have been very lucky in my career and in my life so I’m aiming to get to a position where it is possible to give something back. One day I’ll revert to my original plan to be a teacher and philanthropist.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in a similar field?
Fill your CV with worthwhile extra-curricular activities and experiences which lead to character. The biggest thing employers are looking for is that you are someone they can work with and spend 9+ hours a day with so make sure you’re interesting. Start in a small firm because you’ll get experience and responsibilities in many and varied projects and you can work out which field you want to work in for the rest of your career. After a couple of years, when you’re ready to reel in the big fish, you’ll have a strong CV to use as bait and the conviction in your interview to land the dream job.

‌What made you choose Keele University?  
I knew that my choice would ultimately shape the person I would become for the rest of my life. I looked at a lot of universities and decided I didn’t want to live in a city or that they were just too impersonal. I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond so I decided I wanted to live on a campus with an active Union so I’d know more people than just my roommates. I also liked the idea of studying two subjects with opportunities to study a year abroad as I thought these would really enhance my CV. My first impressions on the visit day were fresh air, wide open spaces, countryside and a strong community feel. It was love at first sight. By the time I left I had literally hundreds of friends and a CV brimming with extra-curricular experiences and skills.

What kind of a student were you?
Nocturnal! I would start working at 10pm and stop at first light to go to the golf course for 18 holes. Then I’d go to my lectures and after lunch I’d go to bed for 6 hours before doing it all over again. I found I could concentrate better when everyone else was asleep. I balanced that with never missing a Friday night at the Union or a Monday night at The Place in Hanley. University is a unique period in everyone’s life so I tried to fill my time with meaningful experiences and good friends “so as not, when I came to [graduate], discover I had not lived” (Thoreau).

How has Keele influenced your life?
Dual honours never fails to impress employers. I continuously draw on both subjects. A PhD in science is essential for my career and it has opened so many doors. It is a fact that all of my friends from Keele have very successful careers which I believe stems from the character building effects of Keele campus, staff, Union and the dual honours program.

matt at the ball 1995 What is your favourite memory of Keele?
There are w-a-a-a-y too many but one that always makes me chuckle is from the period in my final term of undergraduate when my friends and I built a den in the woods behind Keele Hall called ‘Camp Freddy’ (after the character in "The Italian Job"). After a wild night in the Union on the night before results day I slept down there and was awoken the next day by three Irish gypsies sitting around my fire! Utterly surreal!

Photo Left: At the Keele Ball - 1995 - Matt is second from the right end.

What is your impression of Keele now?
Vibrant, thriving and impressive. I wish I could spend another seven years there but most of all I am so pleased to read how Keele is getting the recognition it deserves as it rises in the national and international rankings, increasing the value of my degree in the process. Well done to everyone involved.

 Anything else you would like to add?
Congratulations to everyone in the Keele Alumni Office for their fantastic work and if anyone remembers me and would like to get in touch you can reach me via the Alumni Office.