Why do you want to be a banker?
Why do you want to work for the Bank?
These questions stumped me back in March 2002. I had just got to the Indian School of Business and was filling out an application for a Bank scholarship. I love writing about myself so had little trouble with all the other questions on the application form – but the last two questions on the form stumped me – I could not think of a single reason that I would want to be a banker, let alone come up with any reasons to work for the Bank. I pondered over these unanswered questions for a few days and when I failed to come up with any reasonable answers, I threw away the application form. I’ve may enjoy writing but I’m terrible at fiction – making up reasons to get a scholarship was not something I was prepared to, or capable of doing.
Given my background in the fashion industry and my academic specialization in marketing, I was amused when the Bank shortlisted me for a job interview. The other candidates were all finance majors and most were either ex-bankers or qualified accountants. Assuming it was a mistake or that I was the token ‘diversity candidate’, I ignored it and spend my time preparing for the Unilever interview that was scheduled to take place on the same morning.
The interview started with ‘whats your favorite subject’. My immediate response was ‘marketing’. I had, after all, spent the night prepared for an interview with Unilever. The interviewer, who didnt look particularly happy about being sent off to Hyderabad on recruitment duties, looked up, slightly surprised and asked ‘what do you think of finance?’ to which I responded ‘I try not to think about it very much. To be honest, I find the subject quite boring’. At this point, he seemed to have fully woken up – I suspect he had spent the morning hearing about how fascinating the other candidates found the Black-Scholes Model and was amused to hear the exact opposite response. At this point, he asked if I had perhaps gone into the wrong room, given the interview was for an investment banking job. Realizing that I had probably totally screwed up the interview, I threw a Hail Mary by telling him that I thought investment banking was not really about finance but rather, about understanding clients needs and building their trust – the kind of stuff one is more likely to learn in a marketing class. I went on to say that finance itself was quite simple and that ‘any monkey could do it, with enough training’, which is why I didn’t bother studying it at college since I could get that knowledge from any textbook (borrowing from Good Will Hunting) ‘by spending a dollar fifty in late charges at the public library’.
The rest, as they say, is history. Today, I complete 8 years with the Bank.
I didn’t expect to stick around this long. I thought ‘d pay off my student loan and head back to India – to find a ‘real’ job – in marketing – maybe even convince Unilever that despite my botched interview that fateful morning, I deserved a second chance at peddling shampoo to the masses. I initially hated my job but as time passed, I grew to like – even love this industry and I cannot think of what else I’d rather be doing with my life.
My job has always involved that can make a big difference to people’s lives – refineries in India, power plants in Pakistan, telecoms networks in Yemen, desalination facilities in the Emirates – all big stuff that you can see and touch – and that can change people’s lives. I’m not conceited enough to imagine that I am responsible for all this – I know that I only play a small, maybe even negligible part, in it’s development. But as small as my role may be, the significance of the end result helps me wake up in the morning and feel like my life matters.