Auburn alumnus Kendall Johnson reflects on career abroad

Published: August 31, 2021

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Born just two hours from Auburn in Birmingham, Alabama, and raised in Mandeville, Louisiana, Kendall Johnson, 2005 Auburn University alumnus and co-founder of Torq Capital Management, knows what it means to grow up in the south. The fall football Saturdays and Fourth of July barbeques are traditions around here, and since moving abroad to Hong Kong in 2011 Johnson has always found a way to watch the Iron Bowl, usually in the early morning hours. To him, living abroad has made him realize that no matter how distant home seems on a map, it is truly never that far away. The Auburn Family is everywhere.

Johnson, a finance major with an economics minor, says that he was always meant to have a career in financial markets, but it was not apparent until he got to Auburn. Johnson’s professors were instrumental in cultivating his curiosity and excitement for the material. Even so, it took more than a positive and enthusiastic attitude for the field to land Johnson on the radar of Wall Street recruiters. With hard work, persistent networking and an ambitious attitude, Johnson made himself a competitive candidate, and following graduation he moved to New York City to begin what would be a successful career in finance.

“Like other Auburn graduates who had been there before me, it didn’t take long to realize I was as prepared and knowledgeable as any other finance graduate from the more traditional Wall Street feeder schools,” said Johnson.

After getting his initial start as an examiner in the Member Firm Regulation Division of the New York Stock Exchange Group, Johnson was hired by Morgan Stanley where he served as a vice president in the Prime Brokerage department. Johnson’s role, which entailed the support of numerous hedge fund strategies and asset classes for both the global multi-billion dollar firms as well as Asia-headquartered managers, led to his relocation to Hong Kong in 2011. Then, in 2014 Johnson was hired as the chief operating officer of Keshik Capital, a hedge fund manager licensed by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. After two-years in Singapore, Johnson moved back to Hong Kong where he co-founded and currently serves as the chief operating officer of Torq Capital Management.

Torq Capital Management is an alternative asset manager focusing on equities in Asia Pacific markets. Recently, the firm hit an inflection point in its history, tripling in size over the last year. As COO, Johnson sits on the firm’s Investment Committee and oversees all non-investment functions of the firm.

Since uprooting from the states and moving abroad in 2011, Johnson has witnessed firsthand the professional and personal opportunities that await those willing to take on new challenges in new places. According to him, Hong Kong is a world class city from all angles. As the gateway to Asia for large multinationals and financial firms, the city provides all the perks: world-class infrastructure, dynamic and diverse intellectual capital, competitive drive and an enriching lifestyle. Because of this, Johnson says that people regularly get the opportunity to do things much earlier in their career than they would in a place like New York City where the hierarchy is more rigid.

“Personally, it’s impossible to overstate how enriching and fun it is to live in an environment like this,” said Johnson. “The people you meet and the places you go, it pushes you to be the best possible version of yourself. You can’t get that by staying in your comfort zone.”

However, the appeal and vibrancy of the region has always depended on the ability to move about, and like everywhere else around the world, that mobility and flexibility has been greatly impacted by COVID-19. According to Johnson, Hong Kong is not the same place it was before. The pandemic has affected every aspect of the expat life. In the past, one of the main selling points for moving to Hong Kong was the ability to travel around Asia, which is no longer a reality with the strict quarantine measures. Plus, the guidelines have resulted in many expatriates, including Johnson and his family, not seeing their parents and extended family in over a year. This reality has resulted in many expats moving home, but for people like Johnson who are in the prime of their careers, that is not practical, so all they can do is stay positive and look forward to a resolution. It’s not all bad though. Johnson says that Hong Kong is a pretty good place to be considering the circumstances – it’s beautiful, fun and there is almost no presence of COVID-19.

Even with all the change and difficulty that the pandemic has caused, Johnson is grateful for his career abroad and especially appreciative to Auburn for the role it played in his success. Johnson’s time at Auburn laid the foundation for his career in finance. His education and aspirational attitude set him up for his professional success. Then, when the opportunity to live and work abroad became a reality, Johnson took the chance to do something unique. To all the current Auburn students and young professionals aspiring to live and work abroad, Johnson encourages you to appreciate how small the world has become and to not allow fear to steer you away from considering diverse perspectives and trying something different.

Submitted by: Kalani Long

Kendall Johnson