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'MBA taught me to take risks and be entrepreneurial'


....says Pawan Kaul, a London Business School graduate in MBA Finance and a Senior Analyst with Lacuna Vermögen GmbH, a German firm. In a tête-à-tête with Kalyani Majumdar, Pawan shares his learnings and observations from topics ranging from Fintech to Value Investment.


Q. Tell us about your career trajectory until your MBA.
I graduated in B.Com from H.R. College of  Commerce and Economics, Mumbai. Simultaneously, I was also pursuing my CA course, and interned with a CA firm. In the first year, I was doing a lot of audit and tax work, and understood how actual accounting works. As part of my articleship, I went for industrial training to Hindustan Levers, where I spent about a year in the corporate accounts team preparing reports and helping in business decisions by analysing numbers and deciding on the kind of priceswe should offer customers and so on.
After I cleared my CA, I started to work with KPMG in statutory audit as a Senior Auditor. After that I spent around seven years working in a private equity company called Lighthouse Funds from the investment angle, writing research papers, managing a few companies, working with CEOs in a lot of operational areas. Since I came from an accounting background, I also helped them develop financial reporting schemes and so on.
For a long time I’d wanted to get an MBA degree, and I was aiming for a top ranked international B-school. And I got in London Business School in 2014.

Q. What is it that excites you about Finance that you decided to pursue it as your career choice?
I understood accounting, and had always been curious about the subject and wanted to explore it further. During my articleship years, I understood the practical reality of how these numbers work in a business environment. Then in KPMG, as I was auditing these numbers, I realised how these numbers shape the business.
As I grew more interested in finance, it intrigued me and I was exposed to different facets of finance. For instance, the early part of my life dealt with accounting, then it was corporate finance, then I got into investments. So covering a lot of different areas within finance itselfintrigued me.

Q. Why did you want to pursue an MBA?
During my job in the private equity firm, I was exposed to a lot of operations, production and marketing aspects of the business. Coming from finance I understood the number aspect, but not its functional side. So, I wanted to learn how an Indian business works and I wanted to understand how these functions operate outside.

Q. Why did you choose London Business School?
To advance my career, I had to get an MBA degree. My focus was to get into one of the top 10 B-schools as ranked by FT. London Business School is, of course, one of the best B-schools for Finance. I already knew the business function in India, and I wanted to understand it at a global level. At LBS, you have people from culturally diverse backgrounds from different parts of the world. And, of course London is a finance hub. Of course, we will have to wait and see what happens after Brexit!

Q. What is the interview procedure for London Business School?
First of all, you have to appear for the GMAT or the GRE. I appeared for the GMAT. On the application front, a big portion of the application consists of 3 to 4 essays, apart from your demographic details.Through these essays, they try to understand your purpose for doing an MBA, what your aims and objectives are, and how an MBA is going to help you fulfil your career goals and move forward in life.Two of my essays were on what I learnt from my failure, and what I intended to achieve after finishing the MBA.
You also have to provide two references, one professional and another academic. It takes about a month before the school responds on whether you’re selected for the next round or not.If you’re selected, you go for an interview, where they arrange a meeting with an alumnus from the local community. For me, the whole process took me around 5 to 6 months.
Before writing the essays, I went to London and visited the campus, which I mentioned in the essay. I would highly suggest that applicants visit the campus before applying, as they want to see your commitment towards the school. When they issue you an acceptance letter they want an acceptance in return!

Q. Are there any job placement facilities at London Business School?
The placement process at LBS actually goes on throughout the year. Generally, after the end of the first year, you try to get an internship with one of the big corporate firms. That way, there are higher chances to get a placement with them. Some of the candidates even do two internships to get exposure to different industries; for example, if one was with a consultancy, the second could be with a start-up.
Around 30 to 40% students get an offer from the company where they interned. Those who did not get a placement then sit through interviews with several companies in the second year which happens throughout the year.
Investment banks have a scheduled calendar in the middle of the second year when they have a series of interviews to shortlist candidates. For a start-up, their recruitment is more demand-based, so if they are looking for a particular talent or quality, they simply hire from the campus.

Q. You interned with a company from Netherlands, Kempen & Co. How was the experience?
This was a summer internship at the end of the first year — a large corporate entity which is into financial services in the Netherlands. They have various businesses, and I was interning with their investment banking section. Here, they focus on Life Sciences & Healthcare particularly, and cover only the European region. It was very interesting, as I had worked in finance all my life and always in the general industry, but never in the field of life sciences or healthcare.
So I was working in a different country, in a completely different sector with a very different coverage of the European region. That’s what attracted me to this company. And I ended up working for a healthcare fund.

Q. Can you tell us about the campus life? Were you part of any Clubs?
The campus isn’t very big, as it is right in the middle of London, but you are just next to the famous Regents Park— one of the biggest parks in London. You have a lot of activities, a lot of rugby. There are lot of sporting activities that you can participate in.
You also get to know the nuances of different cultures and participate in festivals within the campus. There is a lot of fanfare during the Jewish holidays or Christmas. I was the President of the India Club, we organised one of the biggest Diwali parties that was attended by more than a thousand students. We have food festivals.
Also, we did lot of trips that were great team building exercises and ultimately became fantastic opportunity for intercultural exchanges.

Q. You are now working as a Senior Analyst with Lacuna Vermogen GmbH. What does it entail?
In the last semester of my MBA, Idid a course on Value Investing. This course allows only a class of 20 students for one term. If you do this course, people say your entire MBA fee has been repaid, because it teaches you a lot on identifying investments and evaluating investments. And that’s the path I really wanted to take. When I came back to India, no one was doing value investing! I really wanted to get into the profession and I was willing to wait for an opportunity to get into that profession. So, while I was involved in start-up ventures, I came across Lacuna, which is a fund promoted by an entrepreneur, and they were looking for a value investment analyst who is based out of India.

Q. What kind of impact do you feel Fintech is having on finance and how is it going to impact a fresh graduate from a B School?
Fintech is definitely having an impact on the financial services sector. Let me talk about it globally and then I will talk about India.
London is one of the most advanced places for Fintech, where you have so much disruption within a short span because regulators have been very friendly towards financial services. Whereas, in India for example, the process has been slow, you have seen most of the changes in the unregulated financial sectors. You can see a big impact on the insurance sector, which will be disrupted in the next five years in a major way.
In my view, the education is still evolving in this sector from an MBA perspective, as people arestill trying to understand the disruption. It is still very new. At LBS, we used to have many industry experts who shared their views about it, which is more current and that’s how the education sector is trying to evolve within this space.
In terms of career opportunities, if you have a technical background and an MBA, that’s great. That’s where most of the demand is. Even management education has been disrupted by online courses. So, B-schools need to become more relevant, which they are trying to do. Indian education has quite a bit to do in terms of catching up. I think if they can increase the fees from students, invest more on the infrastructure, invest on getting more good quality professors, I think then you will see some changes.

Q. Has MBA changed your approach to life and work?
Yes, absolutely! MBA taught me to take risks and be entrepreneurial in my approach. I have been a salaried employee, and the reason I say that an MBA changed my perspective is because in my entire family, no one had dared to think of entrepreneurship. Earlier, if I didn’t get a monthly credit to my account at the end of the month, it would worry me a lot, and that’s because of the ecosystem I grew up in. So after coming back to India, I decided to start a venture of my own, in wealth management. I became a wealth management advisor, and at the same time, started working as a CFO of a start-up.
So, in 2016 when I completed my MBA, I was looking towards building something new. Before an MBA, I was looking at linear growth, and now I look at non-linear growth — identifying opportunities where they don’t exist. Those are the key differences I find in myself. I appreciate the difference in the opinion now much more than I used to before. You learn to see life through a different lens.

Q. Do you have any suggestions for MBA aspirants?
Try to find something you would like to do every day of your life. It is probably the most basic thing, but a lot of people miss it. If you get bored of what you are doing, you can’t do anything about it. Always keep updating yourself, and upgrade your knowledge quotient.
The world of Finance is not what it used to be 10 years back. You have to keep on reinventing yourself. Look at what is going on in the world, and the disruptions occurring everywhere. In our day to day life, we don’t think much about it, but if we look at everything happening around us, youcan cope better. There are lot of inefficiencies all around you in the market and it is your job to find out that inefficiency and capitalise on it.