The choice of a lifetime
03 October 2023
Assem Karipanova, 29, has been a Fundraising Operations Associate at EQT Partners for five years. Originally from Kazakhstan, she is now married to a French man and has a 3-year-old daughter. Living in a quiet neighborhood of the capital, she delights in being able to walk to her office in the city centre through parks and tree-lined streets. It’s a pleasure she indulges in both in the morning and evening.
Happy with the life she leads today, she enthusiastically recounts the long journey that brought her to Luxembourg. After years spent between boarding school and her mother’s fruit store, she packed her bags and moved to China. After completing a year of Chinese language studies at Qingdao Technological University, she began a Bachelor’s degree in International Business at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, a programme which included a two-month work placement abroad.
“I spent this time at Union Internationale de Pentathlon Modern in Monaco. It was my first time in Europe and I enjoyed the region so much that I promised myself I would come back and do my Master’s degree.” This is how she ended up at Antwerp Management School, in 2017, to pursue a Masters in Global Management. “I tried to travel as much as possible while I was in Belgium and that’s how I discovered Luxembourg, the beautiful colours of autumnal trees, and immediately fell in love with the country.”
This first encounter with Luxembourg prompted her to do a two-month internship in the country, at Sogeti, and then to apply for a job in the financial sector as soon as she finished her studies. This quickly led to a position with EQT Partners.
You are a Fundraising Operations Associate at EQT. Can you tell us a bit about your role?
In my current role, I project manage fundraising from the operational side. In a nutshell, this includes multiple workstreams such as fund structuring and incorporation, marketing of funds, as well as client onboarding and services. The team is now made up of 10 people. When I joined the fundraising operations team in 2018, I was the second person to come on board. I learnt a lot in my first year. While my studies provided me with a general business background, I never imagined working in the investment fund industry, and more specifically in private equity.
While my studies provided me with a general business background, I never imagined working in the investment fund industry, and more specifically in private equity.
What specific skills does it require?
You need to be open-minded and strive for improvements, as well as have strong communication and negotiation skills, which can always be improved. Understanding the big picture of the private equity world is also a great asset when starting your career in this sector. However, if you do not have this background, you can always learn. This was my case, so I would say being a quick learner is necessary. Finally, you need to be able to clearly express complicated concepts in a simple way and be a true team player.
What do you like about your job?
It is very interactive and the ability to work with others internally and externally is a key. In general, the work is diverse. That’s exciting. When I raise my hand, I always feel heard. My co-workers are always welcoming and willing to help out if needed.
I continue to find the private equity fund sector to be highly appealing, and I firmly feel that Luxembourg is the place to be.
Do you have any medium-term plans to take on other roles? If so, what would attract you?
I continue to find the private equity fund sector to be highly appealing, and I firmly feel that Luxembourg is the place to be. My medium-term goals are to improve my skills in my current position. We also have secondment opportunities here at EQT, which is a really great thing. Learning something new, exchanging expertise, and, most importantly, applying it to the team are always fantastic.
The culture where you are from is different from what we have in Luxembourg. How did you adapt to the culture? What were some of the major differences?
The first major differences that struck me are food related. It was quite a culture shock to see people eating a salad as a full meal. In Kazakhstan, a meal consists of hot food and we are big meat eaters, especially horsemeat, which is totally out of character here. I’m not able to compare professional cultures as I’ve never worked in Kazakhstan, but the values that I’ve found at EQT Partners, namely respect, transparency, informality, high performance and entrepreneurship, suit me well.
Do you have any advice for people from other regions on how to adapt to European or Luxembourg culture?
Luxembourg is very international, which is one of its benefits, but it also means that there is not one culture that dominates so you have to be very open-minded. You have to be curious, take your time to discover the cultures that are here, mix with people from all walks of life.
Above all else, you need to learn the languages as it’s the best way to integrate. I’m lucky that the language spoken by everyone in the company is English. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly common across most financial firms here. However, I’ve also been learning French and since my daughter is about to start school, I’m about to start Luxembourgish courses in November. To me, one of the most important ways to feel at home is to learn a language.
You have to be curious, take your time to discover the cultures that are here, mix with people from all walks of life.
Since you arrived in Luxembourg, what are some discoveries that have appealed the most to you?
Undoubtedly the country’s growing dynamism; it’s increasingly obvious and a very positive thing. Secondly, it has to be the international outlook of Luxembourg. You would never imagine that when you come to such a small country that you don’t feel like a foreigner at all, but part of an international community. Finally, it’s easy to feel like home. You feel safe, protected, at ease here.
Is Luxembourg just a stopover for you?
In the beginning it could have been, but now I definitely see it more as a long-term plan: my husband is French, and my daughter just started school here a few days ago and eventually will make friends. From now on, my life will be split between Luxembourg, France, and Kazakhstan, to which I return once a year to see the rest of my family.
From what I’ve heard from other expats here is that either you make your time in Luxembourg a short part of your career, or you fall in love with the country. For me, it’s very much the latter.
Finally, it’s easy to feel like home. You feel safe, protected, at ease here.
Finally, what’s been the wisest investment you’ve made in yourself thus far?
It’s been staying resilient and learning better how to do this. I read a lot about the brain and how it works, how to improve and manage myself. I also think sport helps in this respect, staying mentally and physically fit. We all have bad days, but it’s being resilient on these days and learning how to manage them better that has been important. I always remind myself of the saying that “success is going from one failure to another with the optimism and enthusiasm you had on the first step.”