Arvind Sankaran, JBS and more...

Arvind is currently on secondment as an industry expert by the Singapore Government/Ministry of Finance to the Asian Development Bank. His primary focus is to help institutional fintech investors, global tech leaders and South-East Asian startups accelerate value creation and inclusive impact. He leverages deep operating experience over two decades in multiple Asian markets as a banking leader in retail payments, lending and wealth management. Arvind was previously a Venture Partner at Jungle Venture and is an active investor/board advisor. He is also a senior advisor at McKinsey’s Asia banking practice and a Board Member at AFG Partners, an Asia-focused fintech fund. Arvind serves as a Fellow at raiSE, a Singapore-government supported ecosystem builder for social enterprise startups. He has also been involved in government/industry efforts such as SkillsFuture to help shape career pathways in data science. He is an alumnus of IIM Calcutta. Umang Agarwal, MBA 59th batch student and the External Relations Secretary of the Student Council spoke to Arvind Sankaran for an interview in Connexion. Here we present the excerpt of the interview.

If we ask you to describe your journey from IIM Calcutta to now. From a young fresher right out of college to now, a person of significance with an illustrious career, how would you like to describe it? How would you explain the gradual evolution that you've had?

  • A journey of a thousand steps, many on main street, in recent years on a road less travelled, lifelong learning from travails and triumphs in equal measure, still walking!
  • The world today is very different from what it was when we stepped out of Joka. Yet, there are so many parallels. Back in the early 90s, India was globalising. Now, India is moving to the centre of the world stage, contributing 15% of global growth. Joka was and still is a great springboard to launch yourself.
  • My career in financial services took me to 4 countries in 2 continents. From managing myself as a young fresher, to managing cross-cultural teams, unfamiliar countries and disparate regions, the professional learning has been immense.
  • I’ve been fortunate that several bosses took a risk on me along the way, to thrust responsibilities that I was not fully ready for. Their confidence in me was my motivation.

We are sure that during this journey for yours, you must have had several shifts in your perspective, can you talk a little about how you viewed the world and yourself back then and how you do now? Also please mention how it has led to the creation of your purpose, the one which you stand by now and most believe in.

  • I was always taught that the the world was “round”. The big shift in perspective that the world is “flat” came with globalisation, which is possibly the first megatrend in my professional life
  • Having been through several startup situations, the realisation that ideas are great, but execution is everything!
  • With a bit more professional experience, I learnt that it is possible to actively steer your career (and I don’t mean the next promotion!), but it means proactively stepping out of your comfort zone. Asking your boss for tough, unfamiliar work.
  • With the advent of the Internet driven knowledge economy, professional life is no longer a linear, chronological journey. Instead, it has and will be a series of several pivots.
  • My personal learning shift in the last 7 years, from working for someone else to working for myself.
  • The big penny drop as one’s career grows long in the tooth- that you can do well and do good. My professional purpose now is centred around promoting fintech as a force for good- to create financial value and social impact at the same time.

You have been an esteemed speaker and panelist for various conferences and occasions and have delivered speeches on various subjects but if we ask you about your favourite topic of conversation that you feel very passionate about then what would it be and why?

  • In 2016, I was asked by a journal what trend I was seeing in my industry. And I said, “We’re witnessing the creative destruction of financial services, rearranging itself around the consumer. Whoever does this in the most relevant, exciting way using data and digital, wins!” This is my most favourite topic of discussion even today.
  • We continue to see this trend, India being a shining example of how private innovation and public-good tech infrastructure can combine to re-imagine business models.

We know that you found the JBS at IIMC, so what inspired you to do that?

  • Music has defined me as a person from very early on, thanks to my parents.
  • At engineering college, I met musically-minded friends who brought multiple influences that combined into my first band. When I arrived in Joka in 1986, I was delighted to find that the campus environment and vibe was very similar to engineering. Soon, I found Paddy and Deven, super talented musicians also from other engineering colleges, we hung out a lot and finally, with encouragement from our buddies and one long chai session at the Gate, we decided to start up Joka Band Stand!
  • We did not feature on the insti honours list displayed in the office (no regrets ), but the idea that what we started has become an unique cultural institution on campus, alive and part of Joka fabric. Priceless! My own estimate that JBS (and subsequently JBS-BaroC) has 300+ musician alumni and 10,000+ Jokars who have listened and cheered on, over the years!

How much do you reminisce about your time back then?

  • A lot. I don’t think a day goes by even today without some anecdote being recalled. A few of my Joka buddies are here in Singapore, we get together often and keep the memories alive. We even had a JBS-BaroC music performance a few years ago at a local pub, with band alumni from over the years jamming together.
  • The class reunions at Joka are aptly called Reminiscences. We had our 25th reunion a few years ago and it was absolutely special. JBS founders took stage once again, creaking joints and all. And played our hearts out.

How important do you feel music is in someone's life?

  • Everyone needs something they can call their own, that connects to their innermost senses. Creates identity, provides counterweight to what life throws at you.
  • I think music is an aspect that defines us as human beings, so for me whether you listen, learn, perform – it is as essential as breathing or walking.

What is your equation with your bandmates Deven Waghani and Paddy Padmanabhan do you all still find time to get along and play a few songs?

  • Paddy, Deven and I remain very close even if apart. Paddy is in Chicago and Deven in Seattle.
  • Paddy and I are still active musicians, while juggling our day jobs. Paddy is an established blues guitarist, song writer and singer and has a band with a following in the community he is part of. As for me, together with a bunch of musicians (bankers, lawyers, techies & one from IIM-A), we founded a band called Bandwidth in Singapore.
  • Paddy, Deven & I have gotten together a few times to jam in Paddy’s basement studio in his Chicago home, on stage once at an IIM alumni event in Singapore. We regularly exchange music we listen to and keep the fire alive!

“Paddy” Sundaravaradan Padmanabhan passed away peacefully in Chicago on 15 June, 2023 surrounded by his wife, two daughters and son in-law. He battled valiantly against his illness due to cancer. Paddy had an illustrious career spanning decades as a healthcare professional. As founder and CEO of Damo Consulting, Paddy was a thought leader with a mission to transform healthcare by modernizing practices and to step into the future of digital health.

In Memoriam: “Paddy” Sundaravaradan Padmanabhan

“As a co-founder and lead guitarist, Paddy was the heart and soul of JBS. It is a huge personal loss, hard to express in words. Beyond being a supremely talented musician, Paddy was a loving father and husband, proud of everything his family was and were doing. In particular, that Sahi, his daughter had followed the music tradition and taken up the bass guitar. Paddy, it is hard to let you go. I was hoping to see you later this year. And do a JBS reprise in your basement studio. Like old times. But, this is the best for you. Your humanity, your music, your friendship will live on. Forever. Only Paddy!”

Please share some of your most memorable moments here at IIM Calcutta

  • So many memorable moments, hard to put them all down here.
  • Founding JBS, scaring away the XLRI rock band (we used to have IIMC-XL culfests back then) when they heard us!, hanging out on the “tyre”, endless birthday mishti, floodlit tennis on winter evenings, last-minute nightouts scrambling to finish term assignments!
  • The most recent memorable experience was during Remini. We trekked to Thakurpukur looking for the Joka to Bandstand red-and-yellow minibus, which had altered its route over the years. We finally found the driver’s assistant under a tree, explained who we were and why we wanted to take a picture with the bus. He said the bus had gone on a trip and he’d arrange to have it come over to the campus. We went back and waited skeptically. And lo, behold! The bus, the driver, the assistant and the owner all arrived. And helped us pull off a most memorable photoshoot of JBS, 25 years on. Special shout-out to Ghotax, our expert lensman!

Any last remarks for our students

  • Be true to yourself, but don’t take yourself too seriously
  • Discover or cultivate a real passion outside of everything you do for a living.
  • Stay curious always, regularly step out of your comfort zone
  • Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans (borrowed from John Lennon :))
  • Good luck!