Advice for a physical commodity career

Hello everyone! 

I am very interested in building a career in physical commodity trading, especially in the metal industry, but I am also very keen to work with agricultural commodities. I need advice since I am already 22 years old and have no academic background related to business or science. 

I am a Master's student in International Affairs in a relatively good UK university, and next year I will finish my two-year program with a full year in Beijing. I strongly hope that this international dimension may constitute an asset, even though I know that is not rare at all. I did an LLB for my undergrad: long-story-short I was passionate about working for the civil service of my home country (France), but the whole covid thing has smashed my regards about the state and modified my self-perception about material independence and liberty. 

When I started to feel under heavy pressure about my change of professional objectives, without tangible goals, discovering the physical commodity trading house and their variety of jobs authentically gave me a horizon to aim. I genuinely want to build a career in the sector, and I am ready to work hurriedly to correct my shortcomings. As you can imagine, I have no quantitative background, which I feel can be quite a burden to land a graduate position. 

To correct that, I have started to study python and plan to further continue on VBA, and I am striving to re-learn maths through some classes. I don't know how if the firms will take me as seriously if I don't have any degree to prove my efforts. I was consequently thinking about doing another degree specialized in Commodity trading, mainly the Msc at the Geneva University and the shipping MSc at Cass business school. Would you recommend such additional education? By stalking a little bit on Linkedin, even though these masters look very good, I haven't found many people in firms who did those at firms like Trafigura, Glencore, Vitol, LDC, or Cargill. 

I have managed to find an internship in a small international logistic company in Antwerp for this summer. Indeed, I thought building a  small expertise in operations might be a good idea since I am very interested in this part of the job. However, the firm is not specialized in financialized commodities. Would you thus recommend me to specialize in supply chain and international shipping to create opportunities in the big trading houses I aspirate to work in? 

Any advice or any feedback you would give would be very precious,

Thank you all very much 

Comments (10)

Most Helpful
  • NA in S&T - Comm
Jul 18, 2021 - 11:50am

This is an interesting industry to work in - good choice.

Your year abroad will be invaluable, especially as is China. I suggest making the most of things by attempting to get a grasp of the language/cultural understanding. I think it also makes sense to reach out to any trading houses in Beijing and surrounding areas. You may have some luck, believe there are at least some rep offices there. I do believe IXM have an office there.

Python/VBA are all good, and maths is not really needed on any great level. Mental arithmetic will likely be tested at interview, but not much more for most entry level roles.

As you say, most in this industry have unrelated degrees (or none at all). These Msc schemes are a reasonable money + time investment. I would focus on building a network of those from the big trading houses before taking further education. In this business, relationships mean a lot. Get someone on the phone, ask good questions, see how you can best place yourself to enter their firms.

Some firms to consider reaching out to people at: LDC/IXM, Cargill, ADM, Vitol, Trafigura, Mercuria, Bunge, Glencore, Olam, Gunvor

Aug 16, 2021 - 10:23am
Abel Tiffauges, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Hello, I'm sorry to reply this late. First, I want to thank you wholeheartedly for your message, your encouragement and your time. 
I have some good news and bad news since my message!

The major adversity I faced is that my year in China is cancelled due to the sanitarian situation. Though I will still continue to learn the language, it was a severe hit to my morale. However, on the bright side, I have, as you suggested, tried to network and to reach to people comfortably installed in trading firms. I did get an internship for September. The firm is an international boutique leader in its niche market, which is extremely enthusiastic. I can't wait to start. However, they trade only physical commodities, but they don't extensively use the financial tools associated with the trading activity since the commodity is not on the financial markets. Suppose I perform well in this 6 months internship and manage to get a permanent position in the front office. Do you think that it might circumvent my career options in the future if I, one day, desire to trade oil or metals? If you think so, would you recommend to me to prepare for certification like CFA? 
Additionally, I will follow a professional certification within the Swiss Trading and Shaping Association. I will try to make the most of it as you suggested in terms of networking since I will be taught in Geneva. 

Thank you again 

  • NA in S&T - Comm
Aug 16, 2021 - 3:51pm

No problem.

Good work with the internship. Niche markets are fine - most products can be described as niche by someone...plenty of bitumen/fertiliser/wet freight derivative traders are making ends meet.

An internship is not the complete picture to a student - sure, the closer to the product you want the better. But, this is an industry hard to break into. I would say, ride the internship out and see how it goes (you may well end up loving it). Hold no preconceptions. And if you realise it is maybe not for you, the network you are currently building should be more than enough (so make sure the network is full and of genuine people who want to help you).

No-one cares about the CFA in physical, STSA is so-so. Will DM you.

Aug 20, 2021 - 5:21am
BalkanCowboy, what's your opinion? Comment below:

IXM is actually owned by Chinese so they def. have office there.

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Aug 16, 2021 - 9:44am
PhillRudd1, what's your opinion? Comment below:

Due to the situation with covid19 in the country, I also had to have the main area of my job. It was quite difficult, since I had almost zero knowledge, I had to get a lot of new knowledge. I can say that I was lucky to find a good company in which I quickly took root. Given where you studied and your skills, you can try your hand with If your internship ends successfully and you like everything, then why not stay with these guys? Otherwise, it's not so bad. Know that there are a lot of people in such a situation like you, including me. The main thing is not to give up and continue to search and meet new people in your field.

Sep 22, 2022 - 4:12am
Abel Tiffauges, what's your opinion? Comment below:

No, I did not. I am currently working FT in the company I interned in. Old school but room to grow. 

I believe I made the right call and pursuing those masters might have been a poor decision regarding money and time, as it is possible to break into the industry without. 

Sep 22, 2022 - 4:42am
Matsby, what's your opinion? Comment below:

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