AUBG Professor Andrey Gurov: 'AUBG was like coming home'
Read our interview with Professor Andrey Gurov, who is part of the Department of Business at AUBG, and learn more about his extensive professional and academic experience in the U.S. and Europe, why he chose finance over art history, and what brings him a sense of fulfilment as a professor at our university.
What are the three most interesting things the AUBG community should know about you?
One of the things, coming originally from Blagoevgrad, which has a long tradition in baseball, I used to be a national team player and represented Bulgaria in two European Championships. Another interesting thing about me is that I am a very skilled forklift driver. That is because I used to work in construction during my studies in order to support myself. That’s something you don’t see everyday. Third one, there are a bunch to choose from, but I guess, one of the interesting things that happened this year is that I participated in the ultra-cross triathlon “Lion Heart” and managed to complete the course, which consists of 3.2 kilometers open sea swimming, one hundred and sixteen kilometers mountain biking, and twenty-one kilometers cross country running.
When did you first become interested in Finance and Economics?
That goes back to the days when I was growing up as a young student here in Blagoevgrad and then later on in Sofia. At that time Bulgaria was transitioning from a planned economy to a market economy. Hence, all market institutions and regulatory bodies were being created and, of course, there was a lot of interest in Economics and Finance as the major pillars that would support this transition. Having already had a sound background in Mathematics, specializing in Finance looked like a good match.
What is your academic background and experience obtaining a PhD from the University of Vienna in Austria?
Well, it’s a long story actually. It starts in Blagoevgrad and it ends back here again. But, along the way I visited many different places. I got my undergraduate degree from Truman State University in the US. In my senior year I was very lucky to take an interesting graduate course in Probability Theory and Mathematical Statics, which gave me an excellent start in my academic career. Upon graduation, I saw an opportunity to apply to the Institute for Advanced Studies in Vienna, which required a five-hour entry exam in Mathematics and Statistics. It was a selective program that only recruited about twelve people from all of Europe. I managed to get in the program with the highest entry score and got a full-ride scholarship. It was an easy decision to make - getting a PhD from one of the most renowned universities while at the same time living in a nice place like the city of Vienna.
What was the first work position you have had? How has your career developed since then?
I had worked in different spheres before, but I got my first job in finance while waiting for my PhD program to start. I was doing my one year of optional practical training and was on my way home from work one day when I saw this announcement about job openings in a bank. I simply went there and they made me take a placement test. So, I am doing the test and one of the supervisors comes along and says, “How are you doing? Are you fine with the placement test?” And I said, “Yeah, it’s okay. I brought you some materials. Here’s my diploma.” And she looks at it and says, “Oh, you have a college degree. You know what, leave the test and let me take you upstairs to talk to the manager of the Credit Analysis Department.” And after a couple of interviews I got my first professional job as a credit analyst at Harris bank in Chicago. I worked there for a year before returning to Europe and starting my PhD studies.
While still in grad school, I started work as a senior expert in risk analytics and methodology at the Volksbank Group. In 2007, I became Head of Group Credit Risk Controlling, where I had ultimate responsibility for the design and implementation of the internal rating systems of the bank and overall risk quantification, management and reporting on a group level.
Why did you decide to become a professor and what led you to AUBG?
Well, it’s not that something in particular led me to AUBG. AUBG was like coming home really because I was growing up in Blagoevgrad when the university was founded in 1991. Some of my teachers from the English Language School joined the administration of the university and I knew many AUBG students from the first couple of cohorts, with whom we played baseball together. The idea of being in academia – transferring my knowledge to the younger generation -- has always fascinated me and it just seemed like a natural thing to me at some point when I got the chance to come back and teach at AUBG.
What are your teaching and research interests?
I started my teaching career at the University of Vienna, where I taught a course on Value Based Bank Management, while also giving seminar talks at the Vienna University of Technology and the WU Executive Academy. Subsequently, I was offered a permanent position as an Assistant Professor at the University of Vienna but decided to come back to Bulgaria and accept a teaching position at AUBG. Here, I teach Corporate Finance, Company Valuation, and Investments and Portfolio Management. These are the core courses of the Finance program at AUBG. On top of that, I teach topics courses related to my professional career in Risk Management and such that have emerged recently and are of interest to me like Data Analytics and Machine Learning in Finance. I also teach a course on Capital Markets at the Vienna University of Applied Sciences.
My research interests are mostly in the area of risk management and bank regulation, but I also have some deep interest in sports analytics and hope to get a chance to develop that agenda as well.
What is your experience teaching at the AUBG EMBA Program? In what aspects are the undergraduate program in Blagoevgrad and the MBA in Sofia similar and different?
My experience with the EMBA program is mostly related to the International Business Trips that we organize for our students. Given my professional background in Europe, I was able to organize trips to different financial centers in Europe. In the past three years we’ve been to Vienna, Munich and London, where we visited many well-known companies, like Goldman Sachs, UniCredit, Barclays, Vienna Insurance Group, Microsoft, SalesForce, or many of the best-known new and established names in the European economy. My other role with the master’s programs was teaching in the Executive Master in Finance, Banking and Real Estate, a joint program with SDA Bocconi, where I taught Financial Modeling, Investments and Risk Management.
In terms of teaching our approach is always the same in that it puts the student at the center of the process. Secondly, we strive to emphasize the applicability of the material and why it is important to us and how we can apply what we have learned in real life. This is always the same and it’s always received very well by the students on the undergraduate and graduate levels alike.
What is different, of course, is the level of experience and knowledge that the students bring to the classroom. On the undergraduate level, you have some students who are very interested in Finance and might even have done some studying or investments/trading on their own. But at the same time we have students who face Finance for the first time. So, you have to be very flexible and very responsive to what is happening on the other side and be able to adapt the material and your approach to teaching. In the master’s programs we have students who are already professionals with established careers of ten and more years and hold very high positions in the financial industry. So, the approach, of course, cannot be the same. On the one hand, some of these people need to be led very carefully through the jungle of the material and to the most important topics, which would be relevant for an executive, for example, but not so relevant to other people. On the other hand, you have very highly skilled professionals that join our programs with the expectation to learn something new. For these people it is extremely important to incorporate in the program examples and cases from our research and professional careers in order to make the material useful for them as well. It’s a real challenge, but very rewarding in the end. The responsibility is very big – the students have chosen AUBG as the leading business program in Bulgaria and we have to live up to these extremely high expectations.
What professional moments and student achievements make you feel accomplished?
Well, talking about professional life in the financial industry, that’s already more than ten years ago, but before I left I was the youngest head of department in a very traditional Austrian institution and trained many risk specialists who still hold important positions with different commercial banks, but also at the regulatory departments of the Austrian National Bank and the European Central Bank. At the same time, I never fully left the professional world and still do consulting for different financial institutions. When they call me and ask for support in the developing of some new rating system or financial model – that is, of course, very nice – not only from a monetary point of view, but also from the point of view of understanding your contribution and how important it is for the industry.
At AUBG, on the other hand, all of the satisfaction comes from the success of our students. And I feel privileged to work in this institution and have such ambitious and interested young people as my students. It’s always great to see how they do after they graduate and when they share that the level of education they have received at AUBG is comparable to what they have experienced in some of the top universities in the world, that’s very nice to hear. Recently, my participation in the Executive Master in Finance with SDA Bocconi has been a very rewarding experience given the extremely positive feedback, which the program received from the students and the industry.
How can you describe your typical workday at AUBG?
This semester I have, for example, two sections of Corporate Finance that meet on Tuesdays and Thursdays and, of course, other classes. But, on a typical day, I would wake up and come to class early when possible – I try to have early classes when the schedule allows it. Then, I go to my office and office hours and Zoom meetings with students. We discuss different things – it could be the class material, the homework or an upcoming assignment, or it could be something completely unrelated to studying. We talk about future careers and I try to give advice and share examples from my experience. I have a second lecture around lunch and then, in the afternoon, I mostly meet with people, work on projects, try to finish some grading or work on research. And, I work with the students on their club activities. I’m advisor of the Investment Management Club and also of the Golf Club at the American University in Bulgaria. For example, we have different projects, external lectures or other events. With the Golf Club we are currently putting together a golf simulator. We should be ready for the spring semester and we will give the AUBG students a new and unique opportunity to stay fit and practice also when the weather is bad or when they don’t have the time to travel to a golf club. I think this will be a very good addition to the sports activities available at AUBG.
If teaching was not your profession, what would have been?
Okay, that’s hard to say. Looking back to when you asked about interesting things, I almost changed my major to Art History during my undergrad studies. I was very interested in the topic and was working for the professor as a student assistant, and she was urging me to switch from Economics to Art History. So, who knows, if the situation in Bulgaria at the time had been a bit different, that could have been a career that I would have pursued with pleasure. But, given the situation, you have to make your choices.
What do you like doing in your spare time?
In my spare time, I do a lot of sports. In the summer, I go kite surfing, play tennis, golf or ride my motorbike; in the winter I enjoy skiing and snowboarding. I spend a lot of time with my family and friends, but also enjoy time with myself, to read and reflect.