Neel Patel (Class of 1997), Head of Partnerships & Strategy, EMEA, Citi Ventures Studio

Neel leads Citi Ventures Studio’s engagements in Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), with a particular focus on collaborations that promote sustainable economic development. He is responsible for engaging with both internal and external stakeholders and identifying opportunities to leverage Studio’s expertise and resources in ways that help clients meet their policy goals.

How did CLS get you ready for the world of work?

Seven years at CLS taught me the value of using time productively. We were encouraged to develop our strengths, but not at the expense of being well-rounded individuals. The cliché of fluency in arts and humanities being incompatible with science and mathematics wasn’t entertained. Instead, we were taught to approach everything to the best of our ability – often leading us to surprise ourselves with what we could achieve. During that time I really appreciated the willingness of our teachers to go the extra mile in identifying ways in which we could fulfill our potential.

What was your first job?

I worked part-time in a supermarket during my sixth form years. I still recall the mad dash from the school back to the suburbs to start a Friday evening shift, followed by another session on Saturdays. The experience of manning a customer services desk proved to be a great way of developing interpersonal and problem-solving skills that came into use in the years ahead.

Upon leaving CLS, I was accepted on to the Arthur Andersen Scholarship Programme and spent a gap year working with them in their corporate tax division. After graduating from university, I rejoined the firm to train as a chartered accountant.

Your biggest professional achievement?

Early on in my career at Citi, I was asked to establish a new team in Budapest, Hungary. The role involved moving to a new country and familiarising myself with its working practices and culture, as well as taking responsibility for the hiring, training and management of the new team. I ended up staying there for a year. I continue to be proud of how our Hungarian division has grown into an integral part of the firm’s Finance function.

Your most challenging professional moment?

Probably my first experience of managing a team who had been at the bank for longer than me. Initially, I was surprised and a little apprehensive at how quickly I was being asked to take on this responsibility. However, as a mentor of mine pointed out, there is rarely a perfect time to move on to the next step in your career. There will inevitably be a period of settling in, but self-awareness of what you don’t know, and a proactive approach to learning from others, are key ingredients towards bridging that gap.

What inspires and motivates you at work?

I’ve been fortunate to have worked for many people who have supported my exploration of new roles in different parts of the organisation. This has given me the opportunity to broaden my experience and continue to challenge myself. I enjoy being able to work with talented individuals who are passionate about what they do, and who come from a diverse range of backgrounds.  

One piece of advice for pupils and other Old Citizens about getting into your profession?

Sustainability and innovation are themes that are getting a lot of attention at present, and they can be interpreted in a variety of ways, depending upon your perspective. Being able to evidence how you have applied these concepts in your career to date is essential in helping employers see how you can make the transition from theory into practice.