Nirma University (IMNU) Alumni Experiences: Making a Career in Risk Management

My first step – well, it takes me back to 1999-2000 during my first year at Nirma. When I signed up for the PGDM program at Nirma, I was certain that my specialization in second year would be Finance. My exposure to the field of Finance was limited though. While I had studied accounting and economics during my undergraduate studies, I was not familiar with business finance and various streams within finance. It was a confused state of mind – investment banking was prestigious and meant more money but corporate finance was more popular with an assured job. Risk Management was nowhere on the scene – Indian corporate world was yet to adapt to scientific approaches of Risk Management. And that’s where I found my interest.

My exposure to various streams within finance during my first year of PGDM sparked my interest in the field of Risk
Management – it was a field not explored by many in Indian scenario and there
were no real experts or gurus to look forward to. While the western world was
talking about Basel standards and capital adequacy, Indian corporates and banks
were restricted to treasury risk management and plain vanilla derivatives in
Foreign Exchange market. Stock exchanges in India were yet to launch derivative
products on stocks and indices. My first step really came in during my summer
internship in April 2000, when I selected a risk management project over a
prestigious equity research project.

Family, friends and those I considered my
career advisors were not happy and convincing them was not an easy task.
Arguments were all against my philosophy and interest – but in the end it was
my call. And that’s when I decided to take that first step in the direction of
my interest. There was no stopping me from that point – I was destined to be a
risk management professional.

Today, after almost 14 years after I took
that first step, when I look back at my career and my achievements as a Risk
Management & Decision Science professional, when I talk to the same family,
friends and career advisors, when I talk to my industry friends and peers, when
I talk to my clients and my competitors, everything reminds me of that first
step. If I had chosen a more prestigious assignment in equity research desk of
the broking company instead of the back-office risk management function, I
would have been a 3 Idiots MBA today.

My first step in the direction that I
wanted to pursue, my core interest area – Risk Management, has over years
helped me in gaining knowledge and skills in various subjects including
Mathematics, Statistics, Operations Research, Management Sciences, Behavioural
Sciences and of course, Finance and Economics. It has helped me explore
unchartered territories and go beyond my comfort zone every now and then. It
has helped me look beyond the horizon and come up with original ideas that have
been adapted by many of my peers, clients and competitors as successful
industry practices today.

My professional journey for last 13 years
has been a reflection of that first step – a very clear vision for my career
goals and where I really want to see myself in future. During these 13 years, I
have earned a name as an established risk management professional. My
professional reputation is synonymous to the field of Risk Management and
Decision Science. Some of my family members and my friends still wonder how a
boy that almost flunked the Mathematics exam in 10th standard has made a
successful career out of the subject. Today, I lead a large team in a company
that is reputed as world’s largest Risk Management Advisory firm. In last 13
years, I have worked on numerous projects for reputed banks, financial services
firms and insurance companies across the globe and have advised a number of
Fortune 500 companies on their Risk Management initiatives and strategies. When
I look back at all these, I realize that none of this would have been possible
without that first step.

Since that time when I took my first step,
the world has changed a lot. Today, more opportunities are available for anyone
who wants to make the most of them. We all are living two great Chinese curses
– today, it is possible to get what we wish for and we are also living in
exciting times. Exciting times also mean that we face tremendous competition at
global level and we face many other challenges – it is not easy to excel or be
successful. When we get what we wish for, we also need to be ready for it – we
need to have right skills and knowledge to make the most out of the
opportunity. In this time of high uncertainty and ever increasing risk, that
first step matters more than ever before. If you show that courage to grab the
opportunity and make the most out of it, if you demonstrate right skills and
persistence to pursue your ambition, if you are ready to focus and excel in
that one area of your choice – success will follow. For management graduates,
opportunities are available in many contemporary fields that were not
traditionally known. Today, one can become an investment banker for sports
industry or a management consultant to Bollywood.

Today, more opportunities are available for
management professionals to work in space organizations and aviation companies
or in healthcare and tourism sectors. It is all about taking that risk – taking
that first step. My sincere advice to the current students and fellow
professionals is to courageously take that first step if you have not yet done
so already – your first step may not bring you all the glory and success at
first, but if you take that first step in the direction that you decide for
yourself and continue to pursue your interest and your ambitions, you will
always cherish the memories of your first step.

As Martin Luther King Jr. has rightly said:
“Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase”!

Authored by Mr. Kushal M Shah, Director, Aon | Batch 1999-2001