Per Heilmann describes Cornell as a “world of opportunity.” He found Cornell’s diverse environment inspiring, and it reinforced his desire to work in the varied world of international business.
After graduating from Cornell with what he calls an “academic maturity,” Heilmann went straight to Cambridge University for two years of graduate study in Economics and Management Studies. “At Cambridge I hunkered down and put my nose in the books a little more than I did at Cornell,” he says, where he’d been “well-rounded and very social.”
Heilmann left Cambridge for a job as a corporate finance analyst with Fox-Pitt Kelton, an investment banking firm. He stayed three years, and then he joined Heidmar Inc, an international shipping company that manages a fleet of over 100 petroleum tankers, thus fulfilling his collegiate goal of working for a global firm.
As Vice President of Risk Management and Information Technology, Heilmann heads up derivative trading and risk management for Heidmar. He manages the firm’s financial risk to shipping markets by trading derivatives in niche corners of the commodities market, and calls it “an innovative application of modern finance to a storied industry.” He adds that “the shipping business is a very straight forward application of economic principles of supply and demand. My role in the business requires a daily application of my economics training, the foundation of which came from my time at Cornell.”
But the ongoing pirate activity in the Gulf of Aden has complicated Heilmann’s job. He says that Heidmar’s ships try to travel in convoys, because the defense the ships have is very limited. “You don’t want to be firing weapons around ships which can carry more than 200,000 barrels of volatile refined petroleum products,” he points out.
Heidmar’s diversity is clearly part of the attraction for Heilmann. The one hundred employees encompass fourteen nationalities and speak twenty languages. “We’re kind of like a mini-U.N.,” says Heilmann. “It’s a great group of people.” It’s not surprising that Heilmann feels at home in such a global company. His father was in the packaging business, and the family moved around a great deal. Heilmann was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and had lived in Belgium, Canada, and several cities in the United States by the time the family settled in Greenwich, Connecticut.
A New Role: Fatherhood
Connecticut is once again home for Heilmann; he lives in Fairfield with his wife, Lydia, and their eighteen-month old son, Lars. “Fatherhood completely changed my outlook,” says Heilmann, adding that all the changes in his life have been positive ones. Unlike many new fathers, Heilmann hasn’t had to choose between his son and his career. “Heidmar is very family friendly,” he explains. “I haven’t had to make the trade-offs most people typically have to make between family and workplace.”
The time management skills Heilmann developed at Cornell have become even more useful now that he’s a working father. “My job involves a lot of different roles,” he says, “and being able to toggle between things is important.”
Despite the demands on him, Heilmann still finds time to keep fit. He and his wife participate in several triathlons each year. “We take turns with child care or get a babysitter,” he says.
Rugby at Cornell
Triathlons are a new passion for Heilmann. While at Cornell he played rugby, serving two years as team captain. During his tenure, says Heilmann, “Cornell’s rugby team climbed from the basement of the Upstate New York League in 1994 to a nationally ranked collegiate contender by 1996.” In addition to raising the status of the sport on campus, Heilmann and his teammates--whom he describes as “a group of talented and committed players from all walks of the Cornell campus”--also raised the funds to build a new rugby pitch.
The strong bond Heilmann developed with his rugby team mates as well as his classmates has endured through the years. “I still rely on that network of people today,” Heilmann says.
One Cornell professor also had an ongoing influence on Heilmann’s life: Junot Diaz, his freshman writing seminar teacher and a recent winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Diaz had a profound impact on him, says Heilmann. “He encouraged us to open our eyes and respect new perspectives”--advice Heilmann has clearly taken to heart.