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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies


Iain Drayton, Partner, Goldman Sachs Hong Kong​

Graduated 1995

Iain, it is great to meet you. Thanks a lot for taking the time to talk to us about your career during your visit to Cambridge. Could you tell us how you got into investment banking?

My main interests have always been in language and literature. In 1989, I was accepted to read French and German at Trinity Hall, but I decided to spend a gap year in China first. There, I was introduced to Japanese literature through the books of Mishima Yukio and Endo Shusaku. So, when I returned to Cambridge in 1991, I talked to Prof Richard Bowring and was accepted to read Japanese Studies. This was just after the bubble economy had burst, but there were still some twenty students in my year, some of whom subsequently transferred to different subjects. A total of eight of us graduated from the course.

In February 1993, I participated in a Japanese speech contest and won the Sir Peter Parker Award for Spoken Business Japanese. In the audience, there was a representative from Toyota who offered me an internship at Toyota in summer 1993 and again in 1994. I actually wrote my dissertation on the auto parts industry, but at Toyota I worked in the Public Affairs division, and it was there that I first came into contact with investment banking, albeit from the research side.

During my student days, the study-abroad period was only three months, so we spent Michaelmas term in Kanazawa. When I returned to Cambridge, my friends – who mostly did three-year degrees – were about to graduate and had been applying for jobs. Therefore, I was able to observe how many of them went into investment banking and consulting.

I began my career at SBC Warburg in 1995 in London. Since I remained keen to live in Japan post graduation, I first did a summer internship with the company in Tokyo (before starting full time in London), and then worked for three years in London to develop a solid foundation in investment banking. In April 1998, I transferred to Tokyo. I ended up staying there for 12 years! During my time in Tokyo I changed companies. I have been working at Goldman Sachs since 2006, and moved down to Hong Kong in January 2010. All told, I have twenty-one years’ experience in investment banking.


Could you tell us more about your current role?

I am currently Head of the Financial Strategic Investors Group for Asia Pacific (including Japan) and Head of Investment Banking Services for Asia ex-Japan.

We provide investment banking services for our clients, including (but not limited to) mergers and acquisitions, financing and associated risk management. As I have become more senior, I have assumed the responsibility of managing some of our most important client relationships on the investment banking side within Asia. What is particularly fulfilling is to have the opportunity to help our clients to pursue their strategic ambitions.

I travel throughout the Asia Pacific region, almost weekly. This gives me exposure to many different cultures. I work with clients in China, Korea, Japan, India, Singapore, Indonesia and Australia. I conduct most of my business in English. I am very comfortable using Japanese in a professional context, but unfortunately my spoken Chinese is limited to informal conversations. And although I do not speak Korean, I enjoy listening to the language and discovering similarities with other East Asian languages.


What were the most important things you learned in Japanese Studies at Cambridge?

I came into contact with Japan through literature, which I was (and remain!) very passionate about. I am convinced that if you are passionate about what you do, then you are more likely to do it very well. More broadly, however, what Cambridge nurtured in me was the ability to think and formulate opinions independently.

So when I interview prospective future employees, I look for three things: a basic (but genuine) interest in the position that they are applying for, the ability to think independently, and the determination to work very, very hard.

I have had to do many different things throughout my banking career, but one thing has never changed: work can be long, tiring and lonely. But for anyone who wants to be successful, be it academically or in sport, you need guts and stamina.

Do you still have time to read literature?

Yes, I do. Actually, in 2000 I felt that I was selling my soul to the devil and decided to read at least one book a month! (And the nerd that I am, I have continued to record what I have read.) I still have an interest in Japanese literature and sometimes I read in Japanese, such as works by Murakami Haruki. One of the best books I read last year was ‘A Little Life’ by the Hawaiian author Yanagihara Hanya, and I was lucky to be able to attend an interview she gave at The Hong Kong Literary Festival.


The situation in the world of banking and business has changed. Do you have some advice for our current students?

When I was a student, the financial bubble in Japan had just burst, so my choice of Japanese was not because of the job prospects.

It is not the case in all countries, but for investment banking, especially in the UK, you don’t require a background in finance. Of course, when you apply for a job, you need to read up on finance and banking in order to demonstrate your interest during the interview. The criteria for acceptance are primarily whether you can work long hours, think independently and are flexible and willing to adjust.

With a degree in Japanese Studies, you don’t really have an advantage over other people in your job search (in terms of possessing the technical expertise of a computer scientist, a medic or a lawyer) unless your focus is a career that is in or related to Japan. But your experience of studying a foreign language enables you to look at things from a different perspective. This gives you flexibility and the ability to put yourself in other people’s shoes. I think that is a very useful skill indeed.

Since 2019 Iain generously funds a studentship to support a student undertaking an MPhil in Asian and Eastern Studies (Japanese Studies) at his former college, Trinity Hall. The studentship is open to Home, EU and overseas applicants and will offer full or partial funding depending on the fee status of the successful candidate.

For more information go to:


Interview by Miki Kawabata and Brigitte Steger; December 2016