Once upon a time, I wanted to take the engineering and the Special Class Railway Apprentices’ exams. So, I opted for science subjects after class X. However, at some point of time in class XII, I lost interest in science. I thought commerce was a better choice. So, with good class XII scores under my belt, I followed in my father’s footsteps. I signed up for the BCom (hons) programme at Shri Ram College of Commerce, University of Delhi (DU).
I had one of the best times of my life in college. Besides study, which is extremely important, I dabbled in different extra-curricular activities to develop different skills. I was part of SRCC’s dramatics society and took part in college festivals. I was an athlete (100m and 200m), playing foot squash (playing squash with a football) and badminton as well. Upon graduation, I had the option of taking a non-IIM MBA or DU’s Master of finance and control (MFC) degree. I homed in on the latter because of its reputation.
My first job was as assistant vice president (business development – India) at the London Forfaiting Group, offering international financial services, in Mumbai. In the wake of the 1998 Russian financial crisis, the group, with exposure to that economy, folded in 25-30 countries, including ours. As a result, I lost my job after working there for about four years. However, DSP Merrill Lynch took me on as assistant vice president – private clients group. In 2001, I quit to join Deutsche Bank as assistant vice president (private banking), an interesting assignment just like my previous work.
From 1999-2000, I thought about starting an enterprise. It was the time of the dot-com boom (and bust later). So, I drew up a business plan. Some very affluent individuals have their family offices with CFOs and other such professionals to manage their wealth. We could offer a unique model of a multi-family office managing their riches. It was not an easy decision to leave a plum job, with neither a business family background nor any institutional backing. In 2002, my former classmate and colleague Rohit Sarin and I launched Client Associates, a multi-family office firm in a small office with a table and a computer plus an office boy, at Gurgaon, Haryana.
The first year was difficult because we were newbies on the scene and the economy was down that year. Finally, we had our client, from Delhi NCR, with an average investible wealth of Rs 25 crore.
Since then, we have grown to 500 clients, of which 200 are on the family office platform and the rest, on the private banking/wealth management side, served through seven offices around the country. Today, we advise on a total of about Rs 17,000 crore between these clients.
I think to be successful, a long-term vision is important. It takes at least 10-20 years to create value in a business. Young people should look at the entrepreneurial route. Commerce graduates especially have good basics to become entrepreneurs, preferably after a Master’s and a few years’ work.