Julien Akpan

Balancing his intense training and teaching regime at the MMA club with his trading job at Pictet, Julien embodies discipline and resilience.

"Low kick, right hook, uppercut!" Julien's voice booms across the ring. Less than a year ago his student had been on the brink of quitting. “Keep your distance and prepare for the counter, just like we practiced!” As the final round looms, the young man meets Julien's gaze with fierce determination. He throws a combination of punches and with some agile footwork, his opponent’s knee falls to the ground. It’s the first of a long streak of victories.

8.00 am the following morning, Julien steps into a different kind of ring, that of the trading floor at Pictet, where he has worked since 2007. Curiously, the welcome in both rings is the same. "We immediately start poking fun at each other. Then you catch someone's stern eye and you buckle down and get to work.

"When he first arrived on the trading floor, Julien would spend hours trying to replicate complex formulas he could simply have used a computer for. “When I want to understand something, I will doggedly keep at it until I do.” But it was actually the seven years in the settlements and reconciliation team where he started his career at Pictet Asset Services that initially instilled Julien with the attention to detail and rigour that percolate everything he does. “There’s a certain way of thinking here. People are precise, pragmatic and results oriented yet stay very helpful and look out for each other. You don’t find that in many companies”.

He began his fighting journey with Chinese boxing and Muay Thai back in 1995, and then Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a grappling-based martial art focused on ground fighting, in 1998. His pursuits first took him to Brazil to earn his black belt and then on to secure third place in one of Europe’s biggest championships. Understanding the necessity of a well-rounded skill set, Julien also travelled to Thailand, the birthplace of Muay Thai to train, all while studying for his Swiss trader license. In 2001 Julien came across ‘mixed martial arts’ (MMA), a full contact combat practice which at the time had few rules and little infrastructure. “The discipline was reserved for a few select afficionados willing to risk everything, including their lives in the ring.” Julien was one of them.

Julien's MMA gloves

“Fighting professionally is a risky gamble for people who have no fall back way to make a living. You can play football, you can play basketball but you can’t play MMA.” For Julien, it’s about more than the spectacle we see in the cage. “There’s a sense of self-overcoming. People often underestimate the strategic aspect of fighting, it takes a cool head to fight in a ring. You have to control your breath, anticipate your opponent’s next move and most importantly figure out yours.” Despite the rigid discipline of the sport, this is how Julien finds solace and decompresses at the end of a hectic day on the trading floor.

In 2015, a group of friends established an MMA club (that would become Strike Academy) in Geneva and invited Julien to come train. Finding like-minded training partners, Julien was happy to join. A few months later in the training hall Julien was approached by the club’s management: the Muay Thai teacher had called in sick, could Julien fill in “just this one time”? Little did he know, this first lesson would lead him down a new fighting path, one that would transform him into a professional trainer, and bring him the newfound satisfaction of watching someone else win.

Speaking of his most memorable student, Julien tells of Antoine Petit Jean. “He arrived at the club overweight, with no fighting experience, wanting to launch himself into MMA. That’s like a rugby player attempting ballet.” Yet Julien took him under his wing. “I could see the grit in his eyes, he clearly wanted to change. He had that dog-with-a-bone mentality. You’ve got to respect that.” Under Julien’s militant tutelage, Antoine lost weight, came to training twice a day and began to make progress. 11 months later, he was competing (and winning!) his first amateur competitions.

Julien’s main goal is to preserve his students’ physical integrity, and ensure they dodge life threatening injuries when fighting. He remembers a student coming to him at the end of a particularly hard first round, “he told me it’s harder to train with me than to fight a competitor in the ring!” That’s when Julien knows he’s done a good job. “That’s what we prepare for, if they’re not ready, there is no competition. They may doubt themselves, some cry, I’ve cried too while training. Better to cry in training than in the ring.”

Balancing his intense training and teaching regime at the club with his trading job at Pictet, Julien embodies discipline and resilience. Despite enduring personal hardships, including overcoming the loss of several close family members Julien exudes happiness. He has a loving family with his wife and two children: a son, an avid football fan, who shadows his dad at every fight and a daughter who loves horse riding. While both kids know how to fight, Julien is glad that they are following their own paths, with their own hobbies and encourages them to make their own choices.

Julien emphasises the importance of never underestimating anyone, respecting others, and seizing opportunities when the time is right. “One knee on the ground, never both,” is the mantra by which he lives. The lessons he’s learned in the ring and at Pictet are interwoven into his personal and professional life, all serving as pillars of strength during tough times.

So Julien, are you a trader in the ring or fighter on the trading floor? “They’re two different things. You can bring lessons and skills from both sides to the other but they remain very different ‘rings’. It’s not really a fight on the trading floor and to be honest, I don’t consider myself a trader anymore, more of a manager. It’s the human aspect that stands out and keeps me grounded in both.”

When Julien is not fighting or coaching he is Head of Fiduciaries for Pictet Trading & Sales.

What is MMA?

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is a full-contact combat sport that allows a wide variety of fighting techniques from different disciplines, like boxing, grappling, and Muay Thai, under a unified rule set.

Modern MMA emerged in the 1990s with events like the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) , showcasing fights with minimal rules that evolved into a slightly more regulated sport. It is known to be the most brutal form of martial art.

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