Staying ‘ahead of the curve’

Duncan Sankey (MSc Corporate Governance & Ethics, 2007) is a Partner and Portfolio Director at London-based alternative asset manager Cheyne Capital, and recently became a Governor of Birkbeck.

Duncan decided to take on an MSc at Birkbeck in 2005, having already amassed 18 years of experience in the financial services sector for the likes of J.P. Morgan, Natwest and Nomura. Discussing his reasons for choosing to study Corporate Governance & Ethics at Birkbeck, he says:

“There were two things that attracted me to the course. First, I wanted to do a business degree which wasn’t the standard MBA or Masters in Finance, and second, at that time, Birkbeck were the only institution offering the course.”

Duncan explains that in studying at Birkbeck, he was able to focus on governance aspects of corporate finance and understand more about how companies evolve “before it became fashionable.” He believes this helped him stay ahead of the curve in his field and played a role in shaping his successes to date. “The awareness and skill base the course gave me, in terms of understanding governance, has absolutely come into its own.” Several other colleges in London have since followed suit in offering this course.

Duncan has now been at Cheyne Capital for nearly 20 years, holding an influential position as Partner, Portfolio Director and Head of Credit Research. “Like any role, it’s the people you interact with that make it special. What I really enjoy is coming up with an idea, then taking it out to clients and convincing them that it is the right approach.” When asked about the future of his work, Duncan acknowledges that although the world is becoming increasingly digitalised, “the personal interactions you have with people will never be digitalised. Ultimately companies are driven by the people and management structures that run them. It’s a human thing.”

““Birkbeck is a fantastic institution for providing a safety net for those people that want to study but may not fit with the way the education system is structured.”

Duncan spoke with pride about becoming a Governor of the College in 2018, explaining that Birkbeck is “far ahead of the game in focusing on offering new and topical courses, and doing so within a unique model of evening study.” He believes that this model, which allows students to juggle study and work simultaneously, is Birkbeck’s key strength and a key factor in creating a diverse student body:

“Mixing traditional 18–21-year-old students with a more unconventional group of students with a large amount of social capital offers something that no other university does. One of the weaknesses of the UK education system is that it is so structured and ‘cookie cutter’. If you don’t fit the mould, it’s so easy to drop out and never look back. Birkbeck on the other hand is a fantastic institution for providing a safety net for those people that want to study but may not fit with the way the system is structured.”

Duncan wanted to give back to Birkbeck because of the unique nature of the College and the variety of opportunities it provides, and describes it as “diverse, expansive and welcoming.”

We thank Duncan for his commitment and time giving back to Birkbeck.