Making a mid-career transition into another field is one of the most challenging decisions one could make in their life. The process of starting over, creating a plan and retooling with the right skills, deter many from attempting a transition. However, in an ever changing world where job categories may become obsolete much faster than expected due to the digitalization of the economy, and the acceleration of technological change, switching direction mid-career may become a reality for many. With this backdrop, and to provide inspiration for would-be career changers, we look at how Sudharshan Sathiyamoorthy successfully made a career transition, and share with you advice he has for people early in their careers.
Sudharshan spent over 10 years in academia, before making a transition into investment management. He is now the Vice President and Head of Manager Research at Richter Family Office, one of the oldest and largest multi-family offices in Canada. His academic career includes completing graduate courses at MIT, completing his Ph.D. in Atmospheric Physics at University of Toronto, and working at the world-renowned Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Despite a successful academic career, he felt he was missing important elements of career fulfillment.
While at the Oceanographic Institution, Sudharshan went through a process of self reflection, and came to the realization that an academic career could not easily provide him with what he sought. He realized he wanted to work in a more collaborative setting, a faster-paced environment, and in an industry that provided opportunities for greater compensation. It was also important for him to continue to solve complex problems and leverage his analytical and research skills.
Planning and Retooling
After Sudharshan decided to make a change, he needed to figure out what career to pursue, when to pursue it, and how to position himself to ensure the greatest probability of success. He continued to work hard in academia, but after work, he spent several hours reading and researching different careers, and became interested in investment banking and management consulting. Recognizing that an MBA would quickly help pivot his career in that direction, he attended the Ivey Business School, given its reputation and its case-based approach. He also started building up his networking skills, restructured his resume for the business world, and took every opportunity to practice his interviewing skills.
Transferable knowledge and skills, and continual learning
Sudharshan’s MBA program and early efforts in retooling, helped him secure a summer internship at RBC Capital Markets on the commodity desk. As coincidence would have it, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the US during that summer. Given Sudharshan’s background in meteorology and oceanography, he was able to add value to the commodity traders as they traded crude oil and natural gas futures. After completing his MBA, he successfully leveraged that position to secure a full time role in the coveted Generalist Rotation program at RBC Capital Markets. This program allowed Sudharshan to rapidly gain exposure to capital markets, by spending time in the Investment Banking, Trading, and Equity Research groups.
Build a strong reputation
Building and nurturing relationships have always been a key part of Sudharshan’s career progression and success. His strong work ethic, his respect for others, and his pleasant demeanour helped him build a strong reputation among his peers and managers, and opened up new opportunities for him. For example, after spending two years at RBC, one of his colleagues recommended him for a role at Diversified Global Asset Management (DGAM), a fund of hedge funds. This was his first stint in manager research, and set the direction for his new career path. In the role, Sudharshan helped identify hedge fund managers that had the people, the processes and the expertise to meet their respective investment mandates. He has had three subsequent roles after DGAM, all of which were found through relationships he built over his career or through referrals.
After about two years at DGAM, he joined the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB) where he helped lead the search, due diligence and approval for external managers in non traditional strategies, including commodity, multi-strategy, and insurance-linked hedge funds. After spending four years there, he joined former CPPIB colleague and industry veteran Don Raymond on an entrepreneurial venture at Alignvest, with a focus on taking the “Canada Model” global. That entrepreneurial endeavor didn’t gain traction as quickly as the team had hoped, so the team eventually dissolved and moved onto other opportunities, but Sudharshan still gained valuable experience building an external manager selection platform. Subsequently, Sudharshan was hired to build out and lead the manager selection platform at Richter Family Office.
A career transition can be a long and difficult process, but the payoff can be significant. A good portion of our waking hours as adults are spent at “work”, and so it behooves us to spend time figuring out what that “right work” is – this encompasses not only the work itself, but the environment you work in, and the people you work with. Sudharshan’s focus on building and maintaining a strong reputation and his willingness to take calculated risks are great traits that we can look to apply in our careers.
Sudharshan shared a few other gems that are worth mentioning. Early in your career, be willing to do the work no one else wants to do. This will make you valuable to your managers and those around you, and properly leveraged, can help accelerate your career progression.
Technical skills are important early on, but fit becomes increasingly more important as you progress in your career. Make sure you spend time developing your “soft skills” – networking, communication, and empathy. Have a strong work ethic, respect your colleagues, and show humility, but make sure you enjoy what you are doing – otherwise, it may be time to find something else to do.
Vinoth Vykunthanathan is a Vice President at TD Asset Management.
This article is re-published from the Winter 2021 issue of “Street Talk”, TiF’s flagship publication. Interested in writing for us? Click here for our submission guidelines.