Growing up in Toulouse – one of the centres of world aviation – Thomas Lazaridis had a passion for the transport and aerospace sector from an early age. Having already worked in the industry for some years, Thomas chose the LBS Masters in Finance to hone his specialist financial knowledge and fly into the world of infrastructure transport-related investment.
I was born in Lyon in France, but I grew up in Toulouse where I attended an international school. Toulouse is the second largest industrial aviation hub in the world after Seattle, so airports and air travel are a big part of everyone’s lives there. I knew I was passionate about entering the sector after finishing my studies. Due to my school operating on the British model with half of my intake undertaking A levels, I went on to study business management and marketing at the University of Southampton in the UK.
After I graduated, I began to look for opportunities in the transport and aviation industry, which led me to consultancy and transaction advisory. I was in my role for seven years, while I was also investing in aerospace start-ups – specifically those related to new technologies in the space industry – as a hobby. Along the way, I realised that I wanted to study for a Master’s. I was picking things up on the job, but I knew that going back to school would give me the exposure to the academic foundation in finance that I needed if I wanted to get further into infrastructure investment and become a well-rounded person, both professionally and personally. I also needed a degree that would allow me to fit my studies around continuing to work in my sector.
The diversity was not only one of the things that initially drew me to LBS, but also one of the best things about it. I knew that I needed to join a business school where people are ambitious and diverse, but also down to earth. When I looked at LBS, I saw students who had worked hard to get to where they were, who were mature, and who also had a sense of humility to them. I also spoke to friends who were alumni and who told me about how positive an environment it was. Once I joined, I ended up making friends from all around the world; we would have dinner with schoolmates, and our friends from India or Colombia would share their home-cooked meals. It was so interesting to learn about everyone’s culture and to be part of that LBS family.
Going back to school after so long did feel like a change. Whether you’re going back after a few years or ten years you have to adapt, which is the biggest challenge. It was a lot of work, but I found my cohort to be very kind and supportive, and LBS were quick and flexible if anyone needed any extra help with anything along the way.
I was drawn in particular to the Project and Infrastructure Finance elective, which looks at how you manage large-scale investments from start to finish. The module in Mergers, MBOs (Management Buy Out) & other Corporate Reorganisations – taught by Christopher Hennessy – was another favourite. He is an engaging and lively professor who makes the learning experience very interactive. We were not only learning the core course content but also how to behave in the world of corporate finance, which had been a weak spot for me going in. It was a learning curve initially, but it paid off. These were life skills and professional skills – we were essentially being taught how to make smart decisions.
Collaboration was an important part of my time at LBS. As part of the 10-week-long London Innovation-to-Market module (I2M) project, I worked with a PhD student from UCL alongside another LBS student. The idea is that within the pair you have someone with an innovation, which you then help them to bring to market. You are working with people like engineers, who have never done business in their lives, so you are coaching them to present to investors and get important feedback, while they are also teaching you about their research. Your language is very different from theirs – and vice versa – but you meet in the middle and everyone works to understand each other. I ended up working with a student whose innovation was around using biomarkers to pick up on early signs of breast or prostate cancer, for example, that might be missed by regular check-ups, or to check that drinking water was safe. It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with someone who had dedicated years of their life to something so valuable.
Another place where I could collaborate and meet new people was the LBS infrastructure club, where I was co-president for a year. Infrastructure encompasses so many fields – not just aviation – so there was a huge diversity of people in the society, whether that was people interested in renewables or transport or fibre internet or offshore wind farms. I got to organise talks and fireside chats and training for students, to spread the word about infrastructure and to get people excited about the sector. Being French, I also got involved with the French club, which put me in touch with other people from my culture and was a sociable society to be a part of.
Since leaving LBS and moving into my role as an investment manager in Paris, I’ve been using my learnings every day. The Corporate Finance, Investments and Project and Infrastructure Finance courses are all helping me to perform at a high level in my role. In the future, I want to rise to the ranks and step up to director level. My experience at LBS also made me think about other possibilities, such as one day being able to contribute to the public sector and put my professional skills to use to see how I might be able to shape the finances of my country.
The LBS connection has already been a powerful tool in terms of breaking the ice with fellow alumni that I’ve encountered. It feels really easy to talk to other people who have had the same learning experience, to build those relationships more quickly and to engage with people. Especially when coming across people from the MIF, I would think: here’s someone I can identify with and whose judgment I trust.