Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities – The Sanjay Shah Story

Personal Sep 02, 2016 No Comments
Solo Capitol Hedge Fund owner Sanjay Shah

Solo Capitol Hedge Fund owner – Sanjay Shah

I was born into a modest Indian family in 1970 in London. My parents took care to provide me with a good education and stable upbringing, which was a great start in life. However, my father knocked it into my skull as a child that the only career path worth pursuing was medicine. After all this conditioning over the years I was happy when I finished my A Levels to progress on to King’s College in London to start a medical degree.

After my first year though, I came to realise that I had no real passion for medicine beyond making my family happy. I knew that when finally qualified, after seven years of hard work, I would want a greater breadth of options. With that in mind, I broadened my horizons at university, studying psychology, marketing, and even Japanese for two years. I’d seen my first major obstacle, a lack of passion for medicine, and overcame it by taking constructive action.

At the time I also thought back to my school days, at City of London School, which is the only school located in the heart of the financial district. Every day my friends and I would take a walk at lunchtime to buy sandwiches.  There we were in our red blazers and school ties looking completely out of place in the middle of the city bankers. The same bankers would also come into our school and give talks and presentations about the possibilities of following in their footsteps.  It was this experience that turned me to the world of finance.

I eventually ended up studying to become a chartered accountant. Once qualified, I joined the ranks of newly minted accountants and lawyers being absorbed by the big banks. My first job was as a temp at an American investment bank, which I got thanks to my accountancy background. They had me pulling in data from the trading desks and then turning it into reports for their HQ in New York. The deadlines and time zone difference meant a lot of late nights, but I stuck at it, knowing that this was my first foot on the ladder. It was also part of the office culture at the time, with some people just putting in the hours for the sake of it, to look like good prospects for promotions.

My hard work paid off, as on the strength of this, I landed myself a job at Merryl Lynch, which I promptly hated for taking over my life. By the end of the first month I tried to resign, but the boss wasn’t having it, and neither were my friends, who thought I was absolutely nuts to give up a job like that. In the end, I stayed for three and a half years.

As I got used to it, I decided pretty quickly that I wanted to climb up the ladder. I won’t lie, I was partly inspired by the fancy sports cars parked outside the building. My boss remarked that if I wanted to drive one, I’d have to get myself up to the 5th floor, the trading desks. But the prospect of making it to the top was just as, if not more alluring. I had to get there.

Problem was, I was a back office man. I was excellent at my job, so my line manager didn’t want me going anywhere, and there was also a glass ceiling. It was as though I’d walked in through the wrong door and gotten stuck. I was also sick of the machismo that runs rampant through the industry, so I left for Morgan Stanley, but that was really no different, apart from the longer commute. I lasted all of nine months.

After careful consideration, I decided to get a job at a smaller bank, for less pay. I ended up at Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette. It was tiny by banking standards, but the office culture was significantly more relaxed. In a smaller place, you also end up getting more responsibilities, which is what took me over to the trading desks. I did a good job, and they saw my potential. This eventually led me on to Credit Suisse, providing loans to hedge funds, and then to a Dutch Bank called ING. The contacts I made at ING took me across to another Dutch bank, this time Rabobank.

Then came 2008. The financial crash wiped out my department, and left me on the scrapheap, along with a whole host of other city bankers. Nobody was hiring, and the situation didn’t look likely to change. I had no real choice, I had to set up on my own. I started a securities brokerage, and brought in people I had previously worked with, people I could trust. They of course had their own contacts, so we were able to get going reasonably quickly. I worked out a deal to share commission, and we were all technically self-employed. We were essentially working like estate agents. Solo Capital was born.

In year one, we made just about enough to pay off the mortgage, which brought me to the realisation that I was now free. I was able to live anywhere with a decent phone and internet connection, and took advantage by moving to Dubai, for the lifestyle and warm weather. At this point I had a wife and three young kids, so I had the motivation to keep going, to secure a financial future for all of us. In year two, I just about hit the eight figures mark. That was our lives, changed forever.

The moral of the story is that you’ve got to hang on, never give up. Many of the people I knew back in 2008 left banking completely, in the wake of the crash. A few became teachers, which is admirable, but some have really fallen, working in supermarkets and bars now. If they’d had the foresight and determination back then, they could be where I am today.

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