Whether multiplying his client’s money as a fund manager today, or growing up in a 210 sq. ft room in a chawl in Kalbadevi, Mumbai, Nilesh Shah is no stranger to targets.
As a child, his aim was to achieve as high marks as possible in school, year after year, to be eligible for the Indian government’s “freeship” programme, which gives school fees to deserving candidates. That was perhaps the only way he, an older brother and a younger sister could afford education.
Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
His father, Dhirajlal, a mill worker at Mukesh Textile Mills, was unemployed for a long time because of the textile strike. He died when Shah was just nine years old and his mother Ansuya worked from home to raise the three.
“Academics came naturally to me because once the head of the family passes away and you see your widowed mother working hard to make ends meet, you graduate from being a child to the man of the house,” says Shah, now a deputy chief investment officer with ICICI Prudential Asset Management Co. Ltd.
So whether it was his mother, or older children in his chawl who used to hand down their textbooks, or social service groups that bought him school uniforms, the message was clear: study hard, earn scholarships and make your own destiny. His focus is evident from his results—he made it to the merit list of all board level exams and got a gold medal in the chartered accountancy exam in 1991.
But it was never easy. Having been schooled in Gujarati, he got a culture shock when he joined South Mumbai’s Sydenham College. Lacking confidence among an “elite crowd” where English was the spoken word, Shah felt intimidated. He remembers an instance when a professor asked him a question in class, but he couldn’t respond despite knowing the answer. “I wasn’t even sure whether my clothes were suited for Sydenham,” says Shah. His academic brilliance soon made him popular though, as he returned to his class-topping ways.
Shah also never rested on his laurels. From taking up a part-time job at an accountant’s office the moment he finished school—and all through college—to declining a cushy job offer from Larsen and Toubro for the lack of challenges, Shah often works long hours even today.
For someone who says he has achieved all in life thanks to the government’s (and, therefore, the taxpayer’s) scholarships, today, Shah’s bread and butter comes from his 2.032 million unit holders whom he helps make money in the equity and debt markets.
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