Story by Spandana Bhattacharya, Editor-in-Chief
This is the latest installment of a series of interviews with members of the Governing Board.
Gautam Banerjee is the Chairman of Blackstone Singapore, a position he took on after serving as Chairman of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Singapore for nine years. He is the Vice Chairman of the Singapore Business Federation and serves on the Economics Development Board, the APEC Business Advisory Council, and Yale-NUS College Governing Board. In an interview with The Octant on Dec. 2 2015, he talks about the Board’s role at Yale-NUS, challenges that lie ahead for the college as the first class nears graduation, and offers advice on how to enter the financial world. Edited excerpts from the interview follow:
- What motivated you to join the Yale-NUS Governing Board?
I was really quite taken by the concept of Yale-NUS… two great institutions coming together, they are doing something different. I think education is so important for a country like Singapore and it is one of the great ways Singapore has kept its meritocracy, making it available to everyone.
- What is your role in the Yale-NUS Governing Board? What are your priorities when voting on any major decision about Yale-NUS?
The Board’s role is policy and ensuring that the whole organization is governed well. That we have the right people in place. So selecting the president was a very important role of the Board. Selecting key academics, choosing the right people to join. In the initial days I was involved with a lot of meeting prospective senior faculty members. That’s one thing, making sure you have the right people in place. Making sure you have the oversight of the school’s policies and procedures. Management prepares them but you should look at them and make sure you are comfortable with them. Then of course, how is the school governed, making sure the finances are correctly looked at. There is the funding of the college and making sure over time we have an endowment; fundraising and all of that is the role of the Board. Because of my background in finance, I was asked to chair the Audit Committee.
- As the first class nears its graduation date, what do you think are the main challenges that lie ahead for Yale-NUS?
Yale-NUS is in a very early part of the journey and we have had a great start. It has been very well-received by many of its stakeholders, including its students and the Singapore community at large. People from other places have been attracted to come and apply. People will now obviously see how the students do in terms of employment. Unfortunately, the world economy is not in a great place. But I am confident that the students of Yale-NUS will do well because of the fantastic education they receive and the very high quality people that they were even before they came to the college. These days it’s not about what you learn in terms of academic stuff it’s about the diversity of experience—the fact that you have a such a fantastic cohort of fellow students—that really shapes you and your character. Most people forget what they learn in college; I can’t remember anything of what I learned [laughs]. The world evolves so fast, and you have to learn continuously. And how you learn and use your time is shaped by your experiences at college. I think the main challenge of Yale-NUS is more than just to succeed as a college, it is to establish liberal arts as an educational form in this part of the world… I think it’s a great way of preparing the mind and preparing you for the outside world—to be thinkers, to look at information presented to you, analyze it, come to different conclusions. Sometimes there is no right or wrong answer, and those are the things that you learn.
- Where would you like to see Yale-NUS in the next 5 years? How about in the next 10 years?
I think Yale-NUS is in a very unique position. We are the only liberal arts college in this part of the world. So I think it will take another two-three years for everything to settle in, with the campus and with the full cohort of 1,000 students. Then, about 5 years later, our first batch of students should start making an impact in whatever they are doing.
- From your extensive leadership experience in finance, what advice would you give to students who wish to join the field?
I think when you finish at Yale-NUS, you are very privileged because you have studied here. You will have many opportunities, but you have to be true to yourself. What is it that you would like to do and you would find fulfilment from? You have to ask yourself what you like. Finance is a big area – is it banking, accounting, insurance? Do you like numbers, are you quantitative, do you like dealing with people? These are the things that you need to think about.
- Is there anything else you would like to tell the Yale-NUS community?
It’s a great experience you are having at Yale-NUS and, for people who have come from outside, in Singapore. Being in Singapore itself is great—it’s a great experiment which is so successful. So embrace and enjoy it. And when you leave you will be good at what you do, I am sure, but always think about what impact you are going to make.