Alumnus of the year 2015

Heiko Hesse

Heiko Hesse

Our Alumnus of the Year Heiko Hesse is an Economist with the International Monetary Fund, in the Strategy, Policy and Review Department based in Washington DC, where he currently focuses on sovereign debt and financial sector issues. He also works on Spain with past country experiences on e.g. Cyprus, Romania, Turkey, various Middle East countries as well as the European Union.

In the past, he worked in the Financial Crisis Division as well as on the Global Financial Stability Report (both in the Monetary and Capital Markets Department). Some of his recent policy and research work involved sovereign-bank linkages, sovereign debt and bank restructuring, spillovers and stress testing. He is an Advisory Board member (and former President) of the non-profit organisation Washington European Society, which aims to foster debate, discussion and mutual ties among European young professionals living and working in the DC area.

Prior to that, he was an Economist at the World Bank from 2006-2007 on the Commission on Growth and Development, which brought together twenty-one leading practitioners from government, business, and the policymaking arenas and was chaired by Nobel Laureate Michael Spence. Before that in 2005-2006, he was a Visiting Scholar at Yale University and a consultant at the World Bank. He also worked at McKinsey in their Financial Institutions Practice, NERA Economic Consulting as well as PwC. He regularly contributes to the economics blogs VOXEU and Economonitor. Heiko obtained his PhD in Economics from Nuffield College, University of Oxford and his B.Sc. in Financial Economics from the University of Essex.

A native of Germany and Thailand, he is a former professional football player for Borussia Dortmund as well as one of the main actors in the German movie documentary "Die Champions" (2003) and the sequel "HalbZeit" (2010) by Adolf-Grimme-Prize Winner Christoph Hübner. The long-term documentary project has been following the lives of Heiko and some of his Dortmund team mates from 1998 with a third follow-up movie documentary currently in the works. Heiko abandoned his football career to play and study in the U.S. in 2000 and then came to Essex in 2001.

Oration

Oration by Roy Bailey, Department of Economics

Chancellor, the University of Essex Foundation has determined that Heiko Hesse shall be the recipient of the Alumnus of the Year Award for 2015.

Each year the University honours the achievements of one of its alumni whose successes in business, science, the arts, or the wider community should be a source of inspiration for subsequent generations of graduates. This year Heiko Hesse is our Alumnus of the Year.

Following his stellar achievements at Essex as an undergraduate – of which more in a moment – Heiko breezed through the M.Phil. at Oxford, gaining a distinction, going on to complete his doctorate there in double quick time, even before the official record shows, including squeezing in a year as a scholar at Yale University, as well as visiting the University of Copenhagen.

Heiko next moved to the World Bank, in Washington, for two years, and thence across the road to his present employer, the International Monetary Fund, IMF. At the IMF Heiko has worked on a variety of assignments, including for example the highly respected ‘Global Financial Stability Report’. More recently he has led technical assistance missions to countries too numerous to list but including Afghanistan, Mozambique, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates. Orienting his attention more towards Europe, Heiko is currently the IMF’s country economist for Spain and Romania.

While not in the public eye as much as some Essex economics graduates, Heiko does contribute to open discussion, as any search of the internet quickly reveals. Most recently, for instance, Heiko has explored how ‘home bias’ – the tendency of banks to hold debt issued by their own governments – can be attractive for the government in normal times but can prove much less attractive when economic conditions become turbulent. One has only to think of Greece.

My first contact with Heiko was in early 2001 when he sent me an email asking whether he could join the University as a second year direct entrant to our undergraduate programme – Heiko was studying in the United States at the time. Naturally cautious, but always keen to recruit students with an unusual background, my response was an equivocal, “maybe”. I soon realised just how serious Heiko was when he agreed to visit for an interview. On this basis, and subject to one or two conditions that now seem oddly superfluous, Heiko was made an offer for admission to our second year in October.

It was with surprise, I remember, spotting Heiko during the summer, early in the morning out running on the sports field. It occurred to me then that Heiko had previously mentioned a football scholarship that had funded his studies in America. I subsequently learned that Heiko had arrived early in order to find a suitable club for which he could play – moreover that he could well have pursued the game professionally. Indeed, Heiko has appeared in two German documentary films on football.

Heiko could have become a professional footballer, and yet – can you believe? – he chose the dismal science. Clearly Heiko was already perceptive enough to realise the potential value of an economics career. During his two undergraduate years Heiko remained an active footballer, at the same time completing his BSc in Financial Economics with first class honours, and being awarded the prize for the best performance among all economics undergraduates for both of his Essex years. In his final year Heiko enrolled in two modules for which I was responsible. But I hesitate to say that I taught Heiko – quite the contrary, I believe. Now, we all know that the success of their students constitutes the highest reward for any teacher. But the greatest honour of all is to be surpassed by one’s students.

Chancellor, it is my honour to present Heiko Hesse.

Response

Response by Heiko Hesse

Dear Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Roy Bailey and members of the Economics Department, graduating students, ladies and gentleman, it is a great honour to stand here today on this very special day to receive the Alumnus award. I am also very happy to return to Essex during its 50th anniversary.

I see your faces in your beautiful robes, your happiness and smiles… you should be all very proud of what you have achieved after years of hard studying including with, I presume, the occasional pint in the SU or top bar. Congratulations to all of you on finishing one important part of your young life with undoubtedly many adventures ahead of you.

I feel deeply humbled after Roy’s oration, a wonderful person, who has dedicated his life to teaching a generation of Essex economics students. It is not surprising that Roy has been recently honoured by the Queen for his excellent teaching at Essex. A great achievement for him and Essex!

When I sometimes visit the National Gallery in Washington DC and come across the exquisite and marvellous painting by John Constable on Wivenhoe Park, my memories rush back to all the wonderful moments that I experienced here in Essex during 2001-2003. In particular, I have been blessed to be surrounded by wonderful friends and great teachers from across the globe. For instance, Arwed, my childhood friend of almost 30 years and best man at my wedding two years ago and soon godfather to our 1-year old son, actually came to Essex a year before me to study for his BA in Government.

I also vividly remember rather mundane things such as late night shopping trips to Tesco, campus dinners with friends, runs along the river to Wivenhoe or rushing to Liverpool Street to make the midnight train back to Colchester. In the summer of 2001, while trying to find a semi-professional football team, I also worked for a few weeks for Tesco next to campus on the nightshift in the fresh vegetable section. So Essex will always remain in my heart!

My economics studies in Essex have been certainly instrumental for my future path as an Economist from my graduate studies to my work at the World Bank and then the IMF. Essex also deepened my passion for solving real world economic problems. For example, given my recent IMF work on economic and financial crises especially in the European context, I clearly remember my Essex days when I was studying the Japanese banking and Swedish currency crises. The quality of the Essex economics program and the teaching have been excellent, and again, it is not surprising, that Essex is consistently ranked as among the best places to pursue Economics in the UK.

Lifelong learning has always been a goal that I pursued in Essex and thereafter. Though my parents have never had the opportunity to attend university or high school in their lives, they have always given me the belief that education is one of the greatest things a person can obtain in life. Whether you will enter graduate school or start a job after your Essex degree, keep in mind that knowledge keeps evolving with some becoming quickly obsolete. So keep on learning and being curious. In a globalized world of competition for talent, you won’t regret it.

Whatever professional path you choose after graduation, pursue your dreams of work that gives you the most passion and where you feel you can make the strongest impact or difference. It will be learning by doing as well as trial-and-error by making and learning from one’s own mistakes. I have certainly greatly learnt from own failures, be it in football with, for example, the occasional own-goal or mistakes in my jobs.

Furthermore, explore the world when you are young and are able to do so. Travelling the world including outside your comfort zone to rather exotic destinations can be very formative experiences. I have been fortunate to travel to some countries I would have never imagined before to visit. For example, I remember backpacking alone through Iran a few years back where you could literally count the number of tourists on your hand. What always strikes me is the wonderful hospitability of the local population in most countries I have been to. Well, this is like being back in Essex including with its large share of international students. I am sure you have all made lifelong friends from across the world during your studies. You never know where you will meet again and fondly remember your Essex days together. For instance, out of all places, I met an old Essex economics classmate in Kabul, where a few IMF colleagues and I were trying to help the government on some project a few years ago.

Finally, spend time with your family. It might be likely for many of you that your first job will be away from your hometown or even in a different country. Nothing is more precious than spending valuable time with your family.

On this note, celebrate this very special and proud day with your parents and family. My congratulations again, and wish you a very happy and successful start to your exciting life ahead after Essex. My deep thanks again to Essex for this award and Roy Bailey for his oration, for which I feel extremely honoured.