DIE DIE ZEIT: Why, of all professions, did you choose banking?
Anshu Jain: My studies in economics were an interesting blend of history, politics and mathematics. That was my first love. Then I studied finance when I went to the United States. An entire new world opened up to me. If you enjoy economics, if you enjoy finance, banks become a natural place for you to go work.
DIE DIE ZEIT: Do you remember the moment when you got really hooked on finance?
Jain: So, this is 1983, more than 30 years ago. A lot that we now take for granted now did not exist. Rudimentary futures and options markets were coming up. And I had the great fortune to become a research associate to a professor who was doing some really cutting edge work in this field. Working with him opened up the world of markets in general, but derivatives in particular, which I found fascinating.
DIE ZEIT: As a teenager you wanted to become a journalist or a sportsman. How does that fit in with banking?
Jain: All of us have multiple sides to our personalities. I have a great passion for sport, but clearly not the athletic ability. My love for journalism is really an expression of my love for the written and spoken word. I enjoy reading, and I consume the press voraciously. I don’t just read as a user. I also often read and imagine if I were writing, how would I cover a particular story.
DIE ZEIT: If you ever want to swap jobs for a week, let us know.
Jain (laughs): You know, I may surprise you! To be a beat reporter covering banks, I think that would be a lot of fun.
DIE ZEIT: How were you raised at home? Which values did you take away from your upbringing?
Jain: Very strong ones. My father was a history teacher who then worked for the government as an auditor. My mother was a housewife, and so I was brought up in a very traditional middle class Indian family. Values were emphasized from as early as I can remember. Humility and modesty were held as very important, lack of ostentation was considered critical, doing whatever you do with a great amount of focus and passion was always encouraged.
DIE ZEIT: You once said your father behaved more like a friend than a traditional parent.
Jain: I was just with my father over Christmas, and I said to him that he was a man well ahead of his time. The 1960s in India were a very conservative time, and a father-son-relationship was ordinarily a very hierarchical one. That was never the case in our household. Debate was always encouraged; questioning was expected from you. At the time, I took it for granted, but now when I look at it, I realize what an unusual upbringing that was.
DIE ZEIT: How did the family culture contrast with the school culture?
Jain: Completely. I attended some fine institutions in India. But these schools were huge, a reflection of the fact that there was a large population and relatively few schools, class sizes were large, tremendous hierarchy, very top down.
DIE ZEIT: At age ten a teacher told you that you were a student like no other she had ever had. What did she mean, and what effect did that have on you?
Jain: I remember it quite clearly. She actually never elaborated too much. But it was a dramatic thing to hear as a ten-year-old, that she had not seen somebody like me, and I am sure there were as many exasperated aspects to that conversation as there were positive ones.
DIE ZEIT: And yet, you never became the best in your class. Intentionally, maybe, to avoid being the class geek?
Jain: No. You never do that intentionally. I never was far from the top either. Spoken with hindsight I think I figured out early on how to balance my interests. Because I limited the amount of schoolwork I did, I could then still play sports, debate and enjoy myself.
DIE ZEIT: What was your image at school as a teenager?
Jain: Pretty different from what you would expect it to be today. I was not as focused.
DIE ZEIT: And yet, at some stage, you must have developed your own standards, and those have something to do with excelling and being among the best.
Jain: That happened later in my life. It wasn’t until I went to the US, when ambition truly kicked in, that my focus and drive really came alive. I very much think of my life as consisting of two segments; before and after getting on that plane, leaving India as a twenty-year-old with no money, a very open sense for where I was heading. And almost from the time the wheels hit the tarmac at the airport, it became a classic immigrant story of suddenly waking up. Partly because you have no choice; you have landed in a foreign country with no resources. But also, I think, because those avenues open up suddenly, and you truly see that the sky is the limit – the harder you work, the more you can achieve. You walk into a system where everyone is an immigrant, whereas I came from a two-thousand-year-old culture, which at the time was going through Fabian Socialism, where the price for excellence was very low and the price of failure was very high.