Ondřej Strádal comes from Liberec and he received his master's degree at the IES in 1998. Besides IES he also passed the CFA exams, which he successfully completed in 2003. Immediately after the graduation at the IES he started to work at the Financial Markets Department of the Czech National Bank, where he spent nearly six years. In 2004 he moved to London where he worked as a Bond Salesman at Goldman Sachs. His main duties were developing and maintaing relations with a number of central banks concerning their foreign exchange reserves management. In 2007 he returned back to the Czech National Bank as a Senior Portfolio Manager and less than two years later, Ondřej became the Head of Foreign Reserves Management. He managed a team of six portfolio managers investing foreign exchange reserves of the CNB. He was responsible for assets which over several years of interventions increased up to over 70 billion USD.
In December 2016 he became an advisor of Ms. Michaela Erbenová, one of the Executive Directors of the International Monetary Fund in Washington D.C.. He is in charge of drafting her speeches and statements, so that they reflect the interests of the countries she represents in the Fund. He is also responsible for the relations between the Czech Republic and the IMF.
Could you recall which pedagogue at the IES inspired you the most? And which subject did you enjoy the most?
I am rather old, but not as old as not to remember that! Karel Pulpan is the first teacher I would like to mention. When I started to study at the IES in 1992, I was absolutely fascinated by his ability to walk into a classroom and talk without any notes whatsoever for an hour and a half. Since then I have met a few others like him but he was the first. His stories meandered into many by-plays and frankly sometimes I was wondering what the main message was but I remember I was in awe at his expertise, wit and eloquence. His were my favorite lectures at the Bachelors level. And later at the Masters level it was late Professor Sojka’s. His knowledge of the economic theories was no less impressive. And on top of that I really admired how passionate he was about his beloved Post-Keynesian authors and at the same time how open-minded and tolerant he was when discussing competing schools of thought. I guess I generally preferred good story tellers (Jiri Havel was another one, unfortunately also not among us any more) to those who used a lot of complicated equations. That’s kind of paradoxical as I am certainly no adversary to rigorous and structured thinking but I have always felt that economics is very different from physics and hence, mathematics as a tool should only be used, when it is really helpful.
You have been working at Goldman Sachs in London for three years. It was the time before crisis. Was it possible to recognize in Britain that some problems are looming? How do you remember this era of your career?
I would love to look smart and tell you I had known all along how badly it was going to end, but I simply can’t. Human memory is a deceptive thing that connects stories and emotions from different periods and the prevailing current narrative distorts the recollections of the past. It is important to note that my client base were central banks. These institutions are generally staid and boring by design. That’s why they never jumped on the subprime mortgage bonds bandwagon. I do remember it bothered me back then that my sales colleagues covering pension funds, insurance companies and hedge funds were making so much more money than I did thanks to that new asset class. And I do remember feeling a lot of excess and hubris in the air. But saying that I saw the whole reverse pyramid of credit shaken to the core and threatening the survival of the modern world as we know it, would not be true.
You worked at the Czech National Bank for quite a long time. You have been managing the foreign reserves department until the next year. Was there any subject at the IES which was close to this field and what you would recommend to those students with an interest in this kind of career?
My whole career up until my recent move to Washington, DC revolved around foreign reserves management in central banks which in effect is portfolio management with a heavy skew towards the fixed income subset of it. I remember a few courses taught by Mr. Oldrich Dedek, which I took. I do not mean to berate the IES or the newly appointed member of the Czech National Bank Board but frankly it was not very helpful back then. We talked about the basics of CAPM, efficient markets hypotheses, no-arbitrage pricing principles and so on but it felt rather academic to me and disconnected from the real world. The Czech financial markets were very underdeveloped in the 1990s (and sadly, to an extent, remain so even now) and those, who truly understood how they work, were busy taking advantage of it and making money in the newly developing dealing rooms of a few banks.
You are the advisor to the Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund in Washington since December 2016. What do you specifically does at your position and how did you get it?
I work for the Executive Director (ED) representing the Central and Eastern European Constituency (which comprises Austria, Belarus, Czech Republic, Hungary, Kosovo, Slovakia, Slovenia and Turkey) in the Board of the IMF. By the way, for the first time in the history of the Fund it is a Czech ED – Ms. Michaela Erbenova. In total there are 24 EDs in the Board. My role is multidimensional. I draft her statements and her speaking points (together with advisors from other countries of the constituency) on a number of topics discussed by the Board ranging from many country surveillance reports to IMF quota reform and global financial safety net debates to the budget of the Fund. The voice of the Czech Republic is tiny on a global forum but I am supposed to be that voice within our Constituency and by extension in the Executive Board. The source of that voice in terms of broad guidance and policy principles is the Czech National Bank which also nominated me. In turn I inform the Czech authorities (CNB and Ministry of Finance) on what is going on in the Fund. I will also be a coordinator between the IMF economic team and the Czech authorities during the IMF mission to the Czech Republic which takes place every year. There is a lot to learn in this new role from what I got during my first month here and I look forward to it.
You have lived in the UK, in the Czech Republic and currently you live few months in the USA. What is the nicest in particular countries and what particularly do/did you miss there?
Oh, that is the most difficult question. It would require a book or two to answer it. I do not feel I am in a position to compare as I lived in Britain for three short years more than a decade ago and I moved into the US only in December. Czech Republic is not a bad place to live in by any means but sometimes it is refreshing to take a look at it from outside. The whole current debate about immigration for instance is sometimes too painful to watch. When I arrived here, I have noticed that quite a few houses have a sign on their yard (together with an omnipresent Stars and Stripes of course) saying “No matter where you come from, we are happy to have you as our neighbor.” And indeed we were warmly welcomed by our new neighbors. Of course then you watch the inauguration of the new President and realize that you cannot take it for granted. I guess deep down I really wanted my kids to be in a class with black and Asian and Latino kids and discover for themselves that otherness is not a danger but an asset one can use to become smarter and better. That is what my father taught me and that is what I want to teach my kids. I guess I will always consider Czech Republic my home from where I venture someplace else for a couple of years. Most of my friends live there and so does my mother and brother and my in-laws and we already miss them a lot. And we miss the food too!