A Life in Numbers: Meet Global Economist and Mathematician Portia Antonia Alexis

Economy & Politics | Interview

UN Change Maker Nominee, Mckinsey Business Analyst, Forbes Magazine Editor and Entrepreneur Magazine Columnist – Economist Portia Antonia Alexis is a multi-tasker, who keeps the same mentality, whether in business or in academia.

Excited about her upcoming young adult education book series, Portia spoke with Business Leader about her growth as an economist, her business and journalism career and how business and academia collide.

What was the inspiration behind your research and business career?

My professional inspiration is no different from my personal inspiration: people who stop at nothing to do a good deed in the lives of others. I have been fortunate to meet many of these people in my life, and their wish to help others is my main motivation. I’ve always been driven by the idea to have a goal that goes beyond profit and to focus on interacting with people. I started this journey very long ago when I initially volunteered within charities such as The Princes Trust, Mind and Victim Support as a student. I began to observe their infrastructure and wanted to see how I could improve it.

I think it is up to all of us to try to leave the world in better shape than the one we found it in. A good way to find inspiration – and make a positive impact – is to think of future generations in everything we do. I initially wanted to be an equestrian and spent years training but ultimately, I found I could use mathematics to find solutions to solve social problems. Now I ride for leisure.

How has mathematics factored into your success?

One answer we hear quite often is: mathematics is everywhere, whether you have the ambition to study sociology, psychology, physics where mathematics is a privileged tool, biology or even economics, you will be confronted with the analysis of integrals, complex numbers, fractions, multiplication or even cosine. In short, mathematics is present in many aspects of our daily life.

Indeed, it is not only a question of techniques, but especially of cerebral gymnastics. Besides the purely technical aspect, mathematics also teaches me reasoning methods and a certain rigour of work. I feel more comfortable in the “coherence” and “logic” part of reasoning.

I would say if you reason more effectively and remain coherent and rigorous in your thinking, there is a good chance you will be able to make better decisions than a person with little or no mathematical rigour.

Finally, by dint of practising, you will quickly realize this science is a real therapy of patience.

What defines your way of doing business?

I think there is no best way to do business, but my belief is the possibility of creating value and sharing it with the world. And that mindset is that of success. I think setting up a company is a real challenge which can lead to financial freedom. And there’s nothing unrealizable. You just must make the necessary efforts and get rid of the concepts of risk and fear which represent major obstacles … and that’s not to mention the lack of organization or skills. In my way of doing business, anticipation and innovation are very essential. Success is not about meeting the needs of users, of customers. It’s putting your finger on new people to be the one, the only one, capable of providing a solution.

What are your favourite areas of business to research?

The consumer goods space, I do extensive consumer goods analysis and my job requires me to do in-depth research within different fields and emerging trends. Certain brands have expanded rapidly into the burgeoning consumer markets of the developing world. And to make this breakneck growth possible and profitable, they have aggressively built global scale along every part of the value chain. These strategies, along with increased margins and weighting of portfolios toward fast-growing categories, have delivered stellar shareholder returns. I did extensive analysis into the beauty industry and how technology would change the models we currently use within consumer goods.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in business?

Starting your own business is already a daring project. But for the entrepreneur, driving his or her box to success is going to be a real challenge. You should know that if many firms have managed to succeed in the business world today, it is mainly because they have taken advantage of these various key factors:

First, I think of the sense of innovation. I mean that success in business does not only lie in the know-how and performance of the company, but innovation is also an essential element. Other strategic elements that guarantee the success of a business are certainly internal capacities, exploiting and optimizing internal skills and strengths are a must for professionals wishing to make their business grow.

These elements are essential, but it should not be forgotten that there are primary questions that must be asked before undertaking anything in life. Because when you undertake something, you intend to make it. But you cannot without really asking these essential questions to get concrete and positive benefits:

  • Am I ready to make the necessary efforts?
  • Do I want to go through all the stages of the learning process?

What books do you recommend to future economists?

The economy is at the heart of our public policies and the economics essay sheds light on the public debate in a context where the discipline suffers from a lack of understanding in most people.

To this end, I recommend books that are easy to read and understand, in particular, “the great divide” of the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. It is a collection of articles that address the issue of inequality.

Noting that the latter has widened in developed countries, Stiglitz analyses their economic and social consequences and the role of deregulation and tax reduction policies in their growth. He, of course, delivers a series of proposals to remedy this.

Another very inspiring book is that of “Capital in the 21st century” by economist Thomas Piketty. A veritable bestseller and media phenomenon, this book attempts to show that capitalism mechanically generates growing income inequalities within our societies.

Comparing data from more than twenty countries over three centuries, it shows capitalism mechanically produces growing income inequalities. Despite its large size (some 1,000 pages), Piketty’s essay was a huge worldwide success, especially in the United States.

Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Do you know this adage: “Yesterday is no longer, tomorrow is not, today is!” “?

This does not prevent us from living our today as a continuation of what it was yesterday, hoping that tomorrow will be brighter than the past!

We are all the same. It is difficult to live without thinking about the past, difficult to live without planning for the future, and difficult to live what is given to us for the present day.

But, what does this ultimately bring us?

I don’t have a clear answer. But I have the firm conviction that I must not regret anything and must move forward. I admit I have made mistakes in the past, but I must have compassion for myself.

So, I don’t regret anything.

Who are your heroes?

I would not like to give names, because, in my opinion, I have met many heroes in my life who are not necessarily celebrities or members of my family.

A daily hero is neither a perfect being nor a superhero. Absolutely not! It is a person who acts spontaneously.

Any age and any place. We can meet them every day. Those are the people who refuse to give up and stay the course of their commitments, and they are who inspire me the most. It is not always simple, but they move on without giving up.

They act as a positive wave that takes society on a path of change. More ethical, more empathetic, more respectful and soberer.

Those are my heroes!

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