An engineering degree imparts a diverse range of transferrable skills that can be applied in a variety of fields other than core engineering.

Vardhman Chhajed, our next pathbreaker, Equity Research Analyst at JP Morgan, conducts fundamental analysis of Biotechnology companies listed in the US stock markets, that aids institutional investors.

Vardhman talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about his fascination for stock markets, the opportunity to explore various career options other than core engineering while doing his dual degree at IIT Kharagpur, and eventually finding his calling in the financial domain.

For students, there is always an opportunity to connect your foundational degree with your interests, as long as you can look at the bigger picture of what you want to do !

Vardhman, Your background?

I was born and brought up in Dhule, Maharashtra. I completed my Bachelors and Masters in engineering from IIT Kharagpur and have been working at JP Morgan for the past 3.5 years as an Equity Research Analyst. If not working, I can be found playing cricket or chess, travelling to new places, or reading crime/mystery novels.

What did you do for graduation/post graduation?

I earned my B.Tech/M.Tech from IIT Kharagpur with a major in Agricultural and Food Engineering. As a part of my course, I travelled to the US for an internship at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Following this, I also did a couple of internships in the financial domain to transition to my current field of expertise. Currently, I am pursuing the CFA charter.

What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?

Right from my school days, I had decided that I did not want to become a doctor. My goal was to become an engineer and so I aimed for the IITs. I cracked the JEE and pursued my engineering course at IIT Kharagpur. However, while doing so I realized that in the longer-term, I wanted to explore something more. I used to observe my father tracking the equity markets very closely, and it always fascinated me. Thus, I decided to give it a shot and started reading about how stock markets work. I got so indulged after reading some books and preparing for the CFA, that I choose this as my career. And as I look back today, it was one of the best decisions of my life and I find myself to be really passionate about equities.

Throughout my journey, my family has always stood firm by me and endlessly supported me to accomplish all my goals. My parents have been very encouraging since my childhood and have always pushed me to aim higher. Its often said that whatever you are today is a cumulative sum of all your experiences until now, and I can proudly say that my family and my upbringing is a major part of who I am today.

Tell us about your career path

I started to prepare for the IIT entrance exam right from school days. I secured the National Talent Search Examination (NTSE) scholarship during my 8th std, and topped my school in the 10th board exams. After completing 10th std, I moved to Kota and cracked the JEE. To be very honest, food engineering was not even close to my choices since I wanted to become a mechanical/computer science engineer. However, based on my rank, I had to choose between mechanical/civil engineering at some of the newer IIT campuses at that time or an off-beat, niche engineering course at an older IIT. And I am very glad that I chose the latter – Agricultural and Food Engineering at IIT Kharagpur. 

Then while studying at IIT Kharagpur, I had the opportunity to interact with a lot of seniors and explored various career options apart from my core engineering course. I did some coding, joined a couple of technology focused clubs, and also worked with some early stage start-ups. Eventually, I found my calling in the financial domain and decided to study in-depth about economics and financial markets. After returning to India from a core engineering focused internship in the US, I became aware of the CFA charter and began preparing for it. Alongside this, I looked out for internships within the financial sector and secured one at a reputed wealth management firm in Mumbai. My role at this firm primarily involved performing sectoral research in the Pharma/Cement sectors and implementing portfolio modelling for the company’s tailor-made equity solutions. While working there, I got even more engrossed in markets and shifted to fundamental equity research as my primary focus. 

From there, there was no looking back. I engaged with some extremely smart people in the industry during that time, worked on a couple of interesting projects doing equity research, and even started investing in the Indian markets on my own. After that, I applied for all the top financial sector recruiters during the placement season at IIT Kharagpur, and ultimately got placed at JP Morgan. I completed 3 years at the firm some time back.

How did you get your first break?

My biggest break was getting placed at JP Morgan on Day 1 of the placements at IIT Kharagpur. Right out of college and working at undoubtedly one of the best financial institutions in the world is almost like a dream come true for me. Moreover, coming from a non-finance background and a completely unrelated major, this was the greatest turning point in my journey.

What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?

One of the greatest challenges was getting acquainted with the stock markets and learning about entirely alien concepts such as accounting, valuation, etc., especially since my major was in Agricultural and Food Engineering. Studying for the CFA helped a big deal in overcoming this. I also started interacting with more people in the field during my internship and began investing on my own to experience it first-hand.

The next test was covering the very complex and dynamic biotech/pharmaceutical sector. Although I never wanted to become a doctor (despite my dad being one), destiny had it in store for me to work in the pharma sector, thus indirectly having that exposure. Reading a lot of business-related books, annual reports, following some highly intellectual people in the sector helped me gain knowledge and steepen my learning curve.

Where do you work now? Tell us about your role as Equity Research Analyst

I currently work as an Equity Research Analyst at JP Morgan, Mumbai. My work involves conducting fundamental analysis of Biotechnology companies listed in the US stock markets and writing research reports which are consumed by institutional investors. Fundamental equity research is essentially used to determine a security’s intrinsic value by finding and evaluating the dynamics that influence stock prices. It is typically done by/for investors with a long-term horizon (3-5 years). For healthcare specifically, this process comprises of understanding therapeutic areas, analysing disease epidemiology and treatment landscape, gaining market and brand insights, forecasting future usage trends, and eventually arriving at the company’s valuation by adding all these up. The skill sets required for this job include strong analytical aptitude, quantitative prowess, sound writing and communication, as well as keen interest in the financial markets. JP Morgan is known for its high standards and strong commitment to clients, and I am proud to be a part of this incredible organization. 

While the role of an Equity Analyst might feel a bit hectic to some folks, I love the fact that you get to learn about a range of sectors and interesting companies within them. Additionally, keeping yourself up to speed with the rapidly evolving world by gathering knowledge about companies working on a varied nature of problems/issues all-round the globe and interacting with some of the finest entrepreneurs out there is one of the most fascinating aspects of this job, in my view.

How does your work benefit society?

My team does research on pharma/biotech companies which are focused on the development of novel medical treatments for life-threatening diseases. A recent example of this would be the development of vaccines for the COVID-19 virus. We help clients make informed decisions while choosing which companies to invest in.

Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you?

During my internship at the University of Nebraska in the US, I worked very closely with one of the leading scientists in the genetic grain breeding area and was a part of a high impact programme. This was my first time travelling to the US and I learned a great deal about solid work-ethics and cultural diversities by interacting with people from various parts of the globe.

While it was a totally new experience for me and the task involved a high level of mental as well as physical endurance, working with such highly accomplished people in the field and contributing to a greater cause was an unmatched sense of fulfilment.

Your advice to students based on your experience?

The most influential concept that I’ve come across in life is the Power of Compounding. Simply put, it means earning ‘interest on interest’ and developing a sense of long-term thinking. Be it growing your health, wealth, skill sets, or relationships, this single principle has the potential to transform your life. I cannot emphasize this enough.

There might be hurdles or failures along the way, but your continuous efforts and dedication is the key to success. While you might face intermittent disappointments, do not get swayed by those and keep on putting in your best efforts, eventually you will reach an inflection point post which the rewards will be exponential.

And the most important of all, kindness and humility are very underrated and go a long way in your personal as well as professional lives.

I also want to take this opportunity to encourage people to learn about personal finance and inculcate a habit of investing as early as possible. Be it buying stocks directly or via mutual funds for equities, or participating through any other asset class, start saving and invest regularly towards your long-term goals. There is immense opportunity to invest in great companies in India or abroad and it’s never too late!

Future Plans?

To continue building a career in the financial domain and keep growing in the exciting role of Equity Research. I have a passion for equities and my goal is to become the best in this field someday. 

Good luck to all of you!