Why Getting Into Asset Management Is So Popular
Kanira Shah, Satellite Manager Belgium, EIT Digital, shares her wealth of experience and covers getting into asset management with Alpesh Patel.
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Kanira’s is an unusual story. After graduation, she studied engineering, joined Bloomberg, quit to be a creative entrepreneur for three years, and then switched to asset management/Private Equity.
Getting into Asset Management with Kanira Shah and Alpesh Patel
Introducing Kanira Shah
Alpesh Patel: Kanira Shah joins me – we’re going to talk about whether you should do an MBA and how you get into private equity.
We all know the statistics regarding venture capital and private equity, asset management and investment. There are very few women and even fewer ethnic minority women.
So in many ways, Kanira has been a trailblazer. To introduce Kanira, she went to Imperial and did her engineering.
Kanira Shah: Exactly, so I moved to London when I was 18. I’m from Belgium originally, so; I was speaking Flemish daily. When I came to the UK, it took some time to get used to the twang.
I joined Imperial doing a sort of in combination course electrical, electronic engineering together with software engineering. So I did that for four years.
Alpesh Patel: When I think of engineers at Imperial, you’re precisely the person’s image that I have in mind. I mean, it must have been just so gender-biased towards women completely.
Role of Gender
Kanira Shah: Completely, we were five girls, including me, 50 boys. Initially, I was very excited about that prospect. But then you realize you’ve got to get on with work.
It was a great experience; I chose engineering because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I was in school. I thought engineering would give me a good base strangely as I liked maths and physics. So that seemed like the most obvious choice then.
Because then I could go in any direction if I chose to do so. Finance was one of the things that were on my mind when I was going through the course.
We had lots of banks, lots of other financial companies just come and talk a bit more about what they were doing. I got quite intrigued by that whole world.
Alpesh Patel: Hopefully, what you indicate is, I mean, it’s important; one thing that you said was it gives you a lot of options. See, many people think they’ve got to have their career mapped out for life, and they’ve got to go down a particular route.
As you said, engineering gave you those options you liked math, which is essential when it came to finance.
Why did you choose finance? Was it the money aspect? Why did you not go into, you know, putting on a hard hat and doing proper engineering as it were?
Working at Bloomberg
Kanira Shah: That’s true. I somehow wish I could have used my engineering degree, but I guess I use it in another way; it’s just when everything that was going on in finance was interesting to me.
But I wasn’t sure where to go yet, and I didn’t want to join one of the big banks. What I did end up doing because I’m quite a people person – I like that that people aspect. I ended up going to Bloomberg.
So it felt like the best of both worlds. You still have your foot in the door in finance, but it’s not like I said, not a bank, not a fund. It gives you a broader overview.
I met so many different people, from traders to equity research. It gives you an even better idea. What could I possibly do with this or not? Because I decided to go a completely different direction after that.
Keep Your Career Options Open
Alpesh Patel: Again, you kept your options open, created a good brand name in Bloomberg. Why did you not want to go with a big bank? Many people always think I’ve got to go with the big-name even if they’re not happy with that. What was your thinking?
Kanira Shah: I didn’t feel for many of the banks I came to; like I could give it my all because you went into these programs and were all graduate programs.
I felt I was not going to get the diversity that I needed and especially the people aspect. I didn’t want just to be sitting behind excel sheets doing analyst work.
Honing People Skills
I also enjoyed that people aspect, and I didn’t feel I would get that at any of those programs. So, I did do a graduate program at Bloomberg.
From what I saw and you know, you meet people you speak to all of them to understand what it involves. The work and the only track I was interested in as a bank was investment banking.
As you know, those are crazy hours, but I didn’t feel like at that level at a junior level. I would put all my skills to good use, which is why I ended up choosing another brand name, as you said, but in a completely mixed way.
Diversifying into Asset Management
Alpesh Patel: I’ve worked at Bloomberg, so I know exactly what you mean. It gives you that best of both worlds give you top tier training as well.
I’m pleased with what you’ve said because it’s a brave decision, but it was the one which was right for you. People often get into careers that are not suitable for them, and years later, they discover that they’re pretty unhappy.
After Bloomberg came along a private equity fund, tell me why private equity and why, well, I can put it a boutique player like us this way. Why did you go into private equity?
Do Your Research
Kanira Shah: So I did a lot of research around it. I had by that time taken a little detour working in India. I spoke to many of my friends working at the banks who went into that career track of investment banking. And I thought, what could be the best fit for me.
I interviewed at a couple of other places as well and prepared very well. As I knew, my background wasn’t exactly the more traditional one.
What I wanted was a place where I could learn. Where the people I was joining wouldn’t mind training me because of my known experience.
But that it could also show to you in the end basically that I can manage numbers, I can do this. So I came well prepared; we did cases, etc., together.
So that’s why I chose a boutique because I knew that I would get that attention from the partners. I could work together and sit next to you and see how you get hands-on. And become more hands-on as well in the process. I liked the India angle as well, so that was another one of my plus points.
Alpesh Patel: We were fortunate to find you, and I think the the the sort of the interview questions involved were on discount cash flows around solar energy or something like that.
I mean, I couldn’t have done the interview. I think Ajay, my partner, on that and then devised it in a way that you could hit the ground running.
Hence, how important was it that the work you’d be doing was of interest because we were in retail investments and solar investments energy investments, or did you not care about that so much you just wanted to be in private equity.
Choose Companies Carefully
Kanira Shah: For me, it was really about what you were doing. So like I said, I knew about the India angle and that there was an interest in energy. I thought this could be an interesting space for me to learn more.
Maybe there is a way I can put my technical skills a little bit more to use by bringing my engineering background. So for me, your focus was very important.
It wasn’t just like I want to be in any private equity fund at any cost; then, I could have gone to a more prominent player like KKR. But then you were just a number in my I mean, that could work perfectly well for some other people.
But I need it like personal attention, so I knew in a KKR I would just be doing models. I would be able to see at a more management-level position and what you get involved with daily.
Be A Team Player
Alpesh Patel: I guess there’s that banter as well, but you’re part of the team. I think it’s essential people realize what it is they want in a role. In a small team like ours, you’re able to shape which direction you want to go in.
Albeit, it’s all hands on deck. Unfortunately, if we needed you to go to India, I’m afraid you have to because there isn’t a whole team to call out to.
Tell me, what did you enjoy the most about private equity? About that whole industry, because many people reading this are thinking, well, do I want to go into asset management?
Do I want to go into that area or not. As I said to you before, we never thought of you as a woman, and that’s not an insult. It was a team’s team.
Did that ever bother you? I know you, and I were at many conferences. We were events and stuff, and did it ever occur to you that it’s so male the industry.
Don’t Let Gender Stop You
Kanira Shah: For me, not really. I mean, of course, you enter a room, and you’re potentially maybe one of five women. But I was used to that already from the get-go with my studies.
So it never bothered me. I never really felt like an outsider was always very within the team working with you. Even now, I’m still very warmly received; I never felt any different treatment.
I would if I can say so, and I love the banter, which was fantastic. In terms of private equity itself, that’s just unfortunately how the industry is still quite heavily male-dominated.
It would be great to see some more women going into asset management. So I hope that you know some people could read this and say – yeah, I have to push and go for it.
Alpesh Patel: You’re absolutely right. It just didn’t even occur to me because we didn’t think of you, as you know, male-female whatever. You were good at what you were doing. How do you find fulfillment?
Kanira Shah: Work is work, and you have to get things done. I loved what I and I still am doing. It brings the perfect combination.
Private equity brings a perfect combination for me, at least of having both personal relationships. You meet entrepreneurs; you meet companies you use like right now; I work in VC.
Enjoy Your Work
You’re always meeting people; they’re so inspiring. So you have that people aspect which I was drilling on about at Bloomberg, for example.
But you also have the technical aspect, so you go and analyze companies as well at the end. So with working on the excel sheets for me, I didn’t see it as work necessarily.
I was excited, but I tried to help these entrepreneurs and try and push and see how we can contribute here. Because if I can do that and if that means a couple of extra hours of work a day. It’s not work for me because I enjoy what I do.
Alpesh Patel: I know from our stuff when we were doing clean energy. Of course, they now are even more important in the world. But even back then, you were working on those. Well before it became fashionable to be doing solar and biomass.
So I guess that private equity and venture capital give you that bigger purpose. A lot of people nowadays talk about purpose.
Well, your purpose then took you to an MBA again. What was the thinking about doing an MBA? Because a lot of people come to me and they say, I don’t know whether I should do an MBA or not. Especially at this time, you know, with all that’s going on in the world. What advice would you give them?
Kanira would love to see more women going into asset management
Getting an MBA degree
Kanira Shah: So my decision to go for that, I was playing around with that for a while. Should I or should I not but considering my background and considering my CV.
I thought it would be a great way to streamline it further, and I thought it would be a great way to discover if there was nothing else’s world that I’m missing out on.
In terms of career opportunities and questions, should I stay? Should I do something else? For me, it offered that whole window of opportunity.
Learning from Peers
The funny thing is, of course, that I decided to still stay in finance. So it makes your decisions easier. You learn a lot in terms of your other peers, and I learned a lot from my professors as well.
It does help to a certain extent when it comes to further down the line; I think you see the returns. Potentially for me, another five years in terms of the network is a stamp of streamlining. Or my seal of approval, you can call it that way.
Alpesh: As you said, it upskilled you. I mean, an MBA would teach you things which we couldn’t in the firm. Again it gave you those choices and broadened that. So from you, definitely a thumbs up to say yep, if you’ve got the opportunity go down the MBA route.
What are your plans? Would you go down the venture capital route, private equity, asset management or an entrepreneur? What do you think you’ll do? Discuss your more glamorous career in movies too, does Hollywood still beckon.
Kanira: I spent three years in the movie business to a certain extent, from everything from performing to producing. I still love the area, but I want to stay in for me. Right now, it is VC that I want to focus on.
I’m working at a fund to help the ecosystem here in Belgium. I want to continue down that path because it just gets me excited every day.
You always see new solutions that entrepreneurs are working on, and it’s fantastic. If someday down the line, I’d like to do my own company that potentially in a few years.
I am working on something on the side that brings my film passion back into place. I’m working on little side projects to help film producers and filmmakers here in the Benelux region get financing.
It’s my way of giving back a little bit to that business that I love so much. I think we see more of that. Filmmaking has always been capital intensive and generates returns for investors. But now we know the importance of regional voices, communities, and all those things.
Alpesh Patel: If you can marry your finance background, the ability to raise funds and again do the more purposeful stuff of giving people a voice. Then you know it sort of ticks all your boxes.
In that regard, do you think you will return to the UK? Do you see yourself as European, especially now we’ve got Brexit? Or do you see yourself as somebody who will be located in different countries and moving back and forth?
Kanira Shah: For sure, I have a big love for London, and it’s never going to go away. I spent more than 15 years there, so I can’t see in my life without either part living their part you know move remote working from Europe.
I consider myself European, but that includes the UK, and I think many people feel the same way. So yes, staying stationary is not an option for me, at least.
Alpesh Patel: Fantastic! I think that has to be the attitude, doesn’t it in a globally connected world. I love the way you know you’ve worked out that you wanted a bigger purpose.
You weren’t ever pushed back by the hurdles around you. So I hope you’ll continue waving the flag for the industry and also for the sector.
Also, approaching a job instead of knowing the conveyor belt but saying no, actually, I want something that fits my personality—any last pieces of advice.
Change is Good
Kanira Shah: I would say don’t be afraid of change. Change is good even if you’re not from a traditional background. You know, if you don’t try, you will never know and always be left with a question. So, go, and whatever inspires you, that’s what you go after.
Attitude At Work Matters
Alpesh: That’s fantastic advice. I like that. I think that’s an important one to finish on. You are proof of that. I would add that the other thing is to be like Kanira.
You’re an absolute joy to work with in the office. People must sometimes forget that hiring isn’t just about CVs and LinkedIn profiles. It’s about likability, energy, and enthusiasm.
I know from some of the hires that my wife’s done, she said to me you know you’ve got qualifications. You can have two people, even somebody less qualified on paper, but you will go with the one you know will be up for doing the job.
Someone enthusiastic, energetic, and sort of light up the office. Instead of somebody who sucks the energy out of the room.
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