Joseph Cherian, MS ’92, PhD ’93

A “hybrid” career in asset management

Both a widely respected scholar of asset management and a practitioner with years of experience as a managing director on Wall Street, Joseph Cherian refers to his path as a “hybrid” career. Now a professor of finance and director of the Center for Asset Management Research & Investments at the National University of Singapore, Cherian began his career as a professor of finance at Boston University after earning both his MS and PhD in finance at Johnson. While there, he also taught finance at the University of Amsterdam over several summers, then segued to become managing director and senior portfolio manager at the Banc of America (2000-04), and after that, managing director, global head, and CIO of the Quantitative Strategies Group within Credit Suisse Alternative Investments in New York (2004-08).
“While my career has taken a few professional twists and turns — first as an engineer upon graduating from MIT, then as an academic, followed by a stint on Wall Street, and finally now back as a clinical academic — there is a common thread to it all,” says Cherian. “I went to Johnson after my stint in engineering so as to study under the renowned option pricing theorist Professor Robert Jarrow, where my engineering mathematics background was helpful in writing my doctoral dissertation. When I was a young professor in Boston in the early ’90s, the proximity of Boston’s outsized asset management industry rubbed off on the type of applied research questions I asked. Then having interacted with, and served on, the boards of some financial institutions in Boston, I decided a detour to Wall Street during my sabbatical year in 2000 would be a natural progression to my research and learning journey.” However, Cherian remained on Wall Street for more than eight good years, and he keeps his hand in by serving on various boards and consulting.

His “hybrid” career experience has provided Cherian with the ideal background for directing the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Center for Asset Management Research & Investments (CAMRI), where “the mission is to provide a business-relevant education, to conduct applied research that is impactful to practice, and to perform outreach so as to improve the lines of communication between the industry and academy.”

Since its inception in 2010, CAMRI has launched a student-managed fund course track and the associated student-managed fund, as well as a retirement finance research project. The latter culminated in MBA and undergraduate students developing a Web-based, real retirement lifetime income calculator that is “free of wishful thinking on (uncertain) rates of investment return, and a ‘hope for the best’ type retirement savings plan,” says Cherian.

Fully aware of the natural linkage, Cherian has actively built a close relationship between CAMRI and Johnson’s Parker Center for Investment Research. In 2012, CAMRI hosted a NUS-Cornell Applied Research Forum in Asian Asset Management in partnership with the Parker Center, and they jointly organize an Asian version of the MBA stock pitch competition; in fact, Professor Sanjeev Bhojraj, faculty director of the Parker Center, has participated in CAMRI’s NUS Asian MBA Stock Pitch Competition held in Singapore. “Sanjeev and I also work on joint research projects in asset management together, one of which was presented at CAMRI’s asset owners’ dialogue in Beijing recently,” says Cherian. Many other Johnson faculty members have participated in CAMRI forums held in Singapore and the region, including Ming Huang, Andrew Karolyi, Roni Michaely and Robert Andolina.

Most recently, Eswar Prasad, Tolani Senior Professor of Trade Policy at Cornell University, delivered CAMRI’s Tolani lecture as he has done in the past, this time focusing on the topic of his new book, The Dollar Trap: How the U.S. Dollar Tightened Its Grip on Global Finance. Following Prasad’s April 3 presentation, Dean Soumitra Dutta joined several eminent NUS financial economists in a panel discussion, during which Dutta discussed “competitiveness and innovations as necessary conditions for a nation’s economic strength, resilience and growth, and how that may help smooth out the ‘volatility’ in economic growth in this region,” says Cherian.

Cherian, who served as Johnson’s Executive-in-Residence in 2008-09, has been a member of Johnson’s Advisory Council since that time. Why? “It’s a matter of giving back, while having a voice in helping shape Johnson’s future,” he says. “As a Johnson alum, I just find it a deep privilege to serve alongside so many luminaries from various industries as we serve our common mission to promote the objectives and implement the strategic goals of the school.”

In his roles at NUS and CAMRI, Cherian says he enjoys the ability to make a difference in students’ lives, to affect policy making for the betterment of society, and to contribute positively to asset management at both the national and regional levels. “Asia is a fast growing region, but not necessarily getting everything right, especially in the areas of governance, retirement finance, charitable giving,” he says.

Cherian’s move to Singapore in 2009 to join the faculty at NUS represents one of several full circles for him: “I was born and brought up in Malaysia, which is right next door to Singapore and culturally very similar,” he says. “Although I left Malaysia in 1982 to pursue my undergraduate studies in Boston, there was always a strong fondness for the region. Additionally, one’s aged parents certainly make the decision to move ‘home’ a lot easier. I feel very much at home here, as I do in the Northeast of the U.S., which my wife (whom I met in 1989 while at Johnson!) and I consider our second home.”