Asia School of Business

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Sitting in a leather armchair in the St. Regis hotel, Raghav Narayan had just come back from a visit to a factory in a far-off Malaysian town. He had heaved a sigh when he arrived, explaining that these days his entire life was a whirlwind. This week was the rule, far from the exception. Hailing from India, Raghav has had anything but the standard career trajectory.

He has trained and worked as a lawyer, as well as starting his own businesses and even doing a stint at Google. Earning his MBA at ASB was a way to realign his career path with his growing interest in the financial sector. “I was very clear that this was what I wanted to do,” he says between sips of his drink, reflecting back on the experience.

Southeast Asia turned out to be the perfect place for Raghav to make this career switch, as he was hired straight from ASB into the Kuala Lumpur office of a Dutch private equity firm. He reasons that finding a job in the industry here was easier than it would have been in other regions. “In Asia, you don’t have to follow the traditional path because it’s flexible,” he says. “It’s easier to take higher-level positions.

Elsewhere, I would have to work in investment banking for a few years before going into private equity.” During the course of our catch-up, another of his colleagues walked in and introduced himself. As it turns out, this was a common after-work destination for the whole company, located within walking distance the office. Raghav doesn’t mind this, and in fact loves spending time with his co-workers both in and outside of the office.

“For me,” he says, “they’re the people I’m closest to in Malaysia, so I will usually hang out with them before anyone else.” To him, his close relationship with his colleagues is a by-product of the intensity of the industry. More than just a job, he considers finance a “lifestyle,” and warns to anyone considering investment banking or private equity that they should expect and enjoy this intensity. Those who hope for standard 40-hour workweeks should look elsewhere.

“You need to love what you do,” Raghav explains. “I go to the office at 8:30 AM and leave at 10 PM because I love my work. Everything is tied to outcomes, so It doesn’t matter whether the partners are around, things need to get done. Because the job is self-managed, you cannot do it without hard work and discipline.” Raghav spends much of that time in the office doing two things: learning and meeting people.

The former entails acquiring an unfathomable amount of knowledge about an industry in a short period of time. For example, he was recently approached by a local pharmaceutical company aiming at national expansion. He knew nothing about the industry but made sure that before he met with its directors, he had learned everything he needed to speak about it intelligently.

This ability to absorb knowledge quickly was strengthened through the MBA program at ASB. Termed “drinking from the firehose,” much of the curriculum comprises of intensified versions of courses where a lot of material is packed into a short timeframe. This is especially the case when visiting MIT professors teach at the Kuala Lumpur campus.

When he’s not gathering intelligence on various industries, Raghav is meeting a wide variety of business owners across the region, often exploring multiple opportunities within a week. “It’s great, because everyone wants to sell to you,” he says. Recently, he has looked into acquiring a packaging company as well as a family business. He claims the process of determining what offers to take is one of the most exciting parts of the job.

But he doesn’t spend all of his time in the office. Often, he travels on-site to recent acquisitions to monitor and manage the firm’s portfolio companies. The factory he just returned from is one such visit. There, the firm hired a new general manager, so Raghav plans to visit often to help ease his transition into the role. Though at first Raghav knew nothing about manufacturing, now he feels comfortable giving direction about everything from strategy to purchasing.

The biggest issue, he claims, is convincing the employees to accept change. He admits, “They’re used to doing things in a particular way, and are sometimes opposed to change.” This sort of advisory work isn’t new, as he has gained experience through completing five Action Learning projects at ASB, often dealing with proposing change to large organizations. Notably, he completed his Summer Action Learning Project at OCBC Bank, giving him an insider’s look at the banking industry.

Now, after working in finance full-time for several months, Raghav has come a long way from where he started. Tasks that used to take him three hours now take only one hour, but he laments that his bosses are still much more efficient as a result of their many years of experience. However, Raghav believes that he’s only at the beginning of his learning process, and looks forward to continuing to grow in the industry. “Eventually,” he says with a smile, “I want to get better to the point where I can create a massive amount of value for the company.”