Suddenly, Indians Are Hot Properties On The StreetNamita Devidayal
Swapan Bhattacharya was born in Bihar, one of India's most backward states. Determined to escape his humble origins, he worked his way through India's most prestigious engineering school and came to America. He took night classes at Northwestern University's business school in Chicago while working for a consulting firm during the day. To survive, he spent the summer of 1979 selling Bibles door-to-door in rural Texas, which, he jokes, is "to date the toughest job I have done." Today, at 37, Bhattacharya is a senior vice-president at PaineWebber Group Inc., working in the firm's international corporate-finance unit.
Indians such as Bhattacharya, who arrived in the U.S. with only a couple of hundred dollars in their pockets, are suddenly hot properties on Wall Street. That's partly because India has the world's third-largest pool of science and engineering talent, after the U.S. and Russia. The Indians also are English-speakers who are comfortable operating in Western-style bureaucracies.
Cashing in on these strengths, thousands of Indians have cracked Wall Street's performance-based world, one that is quite distinct from the classist, even castist, culture they grew up in. At thirtysomething, they have reached vice-president, managing director, and even partner levels. With many of the Street's newest niches--such as derivatives and mortgage-backed securities--depending heavily on mathematical formulas and computer knowhow, Indians have carved out roles for themselves at top firms including J.P. Morgan and Merrill Lynch & Co. "They are real powerhouse people," says Barton M. Biggs, chairman of Morgan Stanley Asset Management. Morgan Stanley has about 140 Indians working in its various divisions in New York.
No reliable statistics exist to compare how well the Indians have done on Wall Street compared with Chinese or Japanese counterparts, but most experts believe the Indians have done better. "What is interesting is not only their penetration at the managing director and partner level but also the breadth of their capabilities in asset management, sales and trading, research, and investment banking," says Joan C. Zimmerman of G.Z. Stephens Inc., an executive-recruitment firm specializing in Wall Street.
Unlike the Chinese, Indian professionals don't do deals together, and there
isn't an Indian professional organization for Wall Streeters. But they make up for that by stressing work, and lots of it. "Because Indians don't fit into the stereotypical GQ image of the investment banker, we have to work just that little bit harder to prove ourselves," says Bhattacharya, who puts in a 16-hour day and travels abroad almost ev-
PIN-STRIPED. With India figuring more prominently on the world financial map, many of these Indians are helping to guide their U.S.-based institutions into Bombay's rough-and-tumble capital markets. Madhav Dhar, who manages $6.5 billion in emerging-market funds for Morgan Stanley, helped raise $500 million from domestic investors in India for an offshore fund that is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Karan Trehan, senior vice-president of Alliance Capital and president of its international unit, has set up Alliance offices in Bahrain, Singapore, and more recently, Bombay, where he sees a powerful equity cult waiting to be serviced. "India's financial boom is being pushed along by Indian expatriates working on Wall Street," says Trehan.
Some observers, in fact, predict many Indians won't stay in the U.S. indefinitely. As the pin-striped culture takes over Bombay's financial district, some Indians on Wall Street are already opting to go home. But the sheer numbers of hard-charging Indians in America's top educational institutions are so huge that Wall Street is likely to feel their impact for years to come.