Orbis talks to Andreja Plahuta, Onyx Capital Group


craig-davies, Technology, Business, Change & Transformation...

Founded in 2016, Onyx Capital Group is an award-winning trading company. Craig Davies catches up with Andreja Plahuta, Head of HR to discuss life at Onyx, a great working culture and their quick reputable success. 

Craig: Hi Andrea, appreciate you joining me today and looking forward to getting a bit more insight into Onyx. Perhaps if you could kick us off telling us a little bit about yourself and Onyx?

Andreja: It’s a successful story. The company is relatively young, we were founded four years ago by Greg and Omar, who were 25 years old. Super young and very impressive!

We’ve grown over the last four years and we now have 43 employees in the Onyx Group.

When we started we only had Commodities Trading, but now we also have the Advisory arm, which means we have a Hedging Solutions Consultancy. We also started our own in-house Brokerage. This all sits under Onyx Capital Group.

It's been very exciting to be a part of such a growing firm.

I joined just under two years ago, but it seems like I've been here for much longer because there is so much happening, we build so much and there are so many processes. Partnering with companies like Orbis has enabled us to grow our team. Not only do we have Traders now, but we also have our other firm and we're growing our operations. We have a strong tech team, which we keep building. It's been a really great journey so far and I'm really excited for what's coming.

Craig: What's your role within the business?

Andreja: I'm officially called Head of HR, but as you can imagine in such a growing firm, I sometimes go into other functions which I really enjoy. Greg, Omar and the first members of the team have built all the foundations, but now we have a growing operations team. We have our Internal Head of Compliance, Head of Risk, Head of Operations. We’re working on building a firm structure.

In my position I’m dealing with everything in regard to recruitment, talent development, all the typical HR responsibilities as well. The HR team is growing as well. We have one associate, who has been amazing.

I was working in a bigger firm before where you have a very set course of what you do. You could work beyond your job description if you wanted, but here it is actually rewarding. You get autonomy and freedom to basically build up what you think we should do, and it’s welcomed by open ears.

I think you must enjoy doing that too, if you have a ‘that’s not my job’ mentality, you wouldn’t enjoy working in an entrepreneurial firm like ours.

Craig: Coming from bigger firms, which are more process driven, were you surprised to come into a smaller firm and enter a role where you are empowered to make decisions?

Andreja: I think you can be surprised because you may be conditioned to think ‘we’ve done it for 30 years like this, just continue’. Here at Onyx Group, it’s the opposite.

We have mutual goals around where we want to get to, how we want to grow and the kind of culture we want to have, but I have full autonomy to work with the team and decide what we want to do to get there.

Craig: Speaking of autonomy, that plays into people working from home. With Covid-19, people have been working away from the office. Could you give us an insight into how that works at Onyx?

Andreja: I'm super happy to say it's worked so smoothly, we're pinching ourselves! Usually it can be very complex. It’s a big complement to our tech team, infrastructure team and Operations team. We had our Trading floor move their setups home, and as you can imagine, it’s not a little set up!

It was difficult at times because we didn’t have the office atmosphere. Reflecting on it, you really see if you have a strong team and good relationships. The distance didn’t hurt, and business was better than ever. You can see how much trust you have for your team, and for us, there was no difference.

We kept hiring and growing the team during lockdown, which was incredible. Onboarding went smoothly and it was evident a lot of background work had been done to make it run smoothly.

Now we’re still monitoring the government guidelines, and we don't have everyone back because we want to maintain secure social distancing. I would say we have one third of the trading floor back and about one third of the Operations team.

We are still agile in our thinking, because we have this entrepreneurial mindset every day.

Every day is a rapidly changing environment as it is, so when the pandemic hit, for us it was just another change and we were used to it. This was our team’s mindset, and this has really benefitted us in these times. You must adapt to make it work.

That’s not only for Traders, it goes for the full team because everything’s changing last minute. We could really leverage this mindset to be continuously successful, even when shocking things like this happen.

Craig: I think, in my experience, if you’ve got a culture of transparency and consistent communication then people take it and understand changes.

Andreja: Exactly. So you just mentioned the cost of communication, we have this special way of having very frequent communication with our employees. We have monthly reviews called Onyx Review System.

I’ve worked in bigger firms and never heard of any other firm doing monthly reviews.

We tend to do these with junior members of the team who are on our Onyx Trader Development Program. We have an in-house designed training program, and they have the opportunity to meet their manager every month.

As you can imagine, this opportunity costs because when the manager is off the desk for an hour or more it’s time where you could make money, but our mindset is that everyone is absolutely onboard with this. It’s so important to invest in your employees, give them this arena and time to discuss their monthly milestones.

This was also a really helpful tool in lockdown. We would continue doing it via Zoom, business as usual. This also gave everyone security for their career progression. Even if they were working, Trading from home. They still felt on track to become a Trader.

It requires a lot of commitment in time from everyone, from HR, managers and employees but it’s been such a great investment. It’s not all about records and rainbows. These meetings are also for people to share some negative feedback too.

From the data we have available from our assessment centre, to get someone in as a Junior Trader is so robust and we have such specific benchmarks for our specific ways of Trading, that when you pass the entry barriers there’s a high probability you will succeed as a Trader. As you can imagine, there's a lot of risk to take on someone if you’re not sure they’re going to make it through the program, because you invest so much time, which is money.

Craig: The environment can be stressful at times, particularly for individuals and for the team. How does the company manage and maintain the company culture?

Andreja: That's a good question because it's very complex.  We always try to improve because there's no limit of how much you can offer support and wellbeing to employees.

We screen for people who want to work in this entrepreneurial environment. You have to like high pressure, not typical high pressure, extreme high pressure. It's such a fast-moving environment, money is involved, as well as the responsibility.

We pride ourselves that when our juniors start on the training program, they have so much of this responsibility already. For someone who has just come from university or their first job, it's a lot to take on.

We feel we have the right mechanisms to identify the right people who will fit our culture.

We can do all of the cliché stuff, like massages and fruit in the office, but I genuinely think it’s more about how you collaborate as a team, with your manager, with me as HR. I feel very privileged that people really trust me, and they know I’m going to act as an agent to fix things if something is wrong. I think in general, everyone has to find their own way.

If you watch our videos on LinkedIn, Traders speak about climbing Kilimanjaro for instance. Sport is so relevant for Sales and Trading, in terms of competition and success. I recommend reading ‘Objectivity Is The Way’. You need to think about not creating obstacles in competition.

It’s all about if you have a good team and if you feel that you can trust your team and your colleagues. It’s so much easier to deal with mistakes. You’re only human and when you work so much, statistically you are going to mess some things up, but it’s all about whether you are scared or not. Greg and Omar started the firm thinking, let’s trial and error, let’s experiment, even if it goes wrong. That’s how you grow.

Craig: There is no playbook or perfect way to make decisions. You make them based on what you think is right at the time.

Onyx are Energy Risk Awards 2020 winners which is a huge credit to the business, and it's incredibly significant…

Andreja: We’ve been around for roughly four years and we were just recently named Top Five Oil Dealers worldwide. We’re very flattered. In the ranking of, which is an established ranking system.

On a recruitment perspective we can talk about our Onyx brand. When I speak to candidates, they might be contemplating joingin a bigger firm like Goldman and JP Morgan, which are all great firms but then we have something else to show now. We rank higher than JP Morgan in certain categories, this is really helping us with recognition and recruitment.

Craig: It's really powerful. People can engage with things such as this Energy Risk Award, which is an amazing achievement, you can use those validation points and make sure you're getting the attention that the business deserves as it's growing. It will be interesting to manage some of those challenges as you get bigger as well.

Andreja: I'm super excited. The sky's the limit for Onyx and I'm excited to see all of this. I’m looking forward to the challenges because it's going be a great growth opportunity.