Let’s introduce you to Ashish Goyal. As a trader at JP Morgan Chase in London, Ashish helps manage billions of dollars of the bank’s exposure to risks like foreign exchange fluctuations. In his spare time, he takes tango lessons, plays cricket and goes clubbing with friends.
Ashish is an MBA graduate from the Wharton Business School, Philadelphia. He was a staff writer of the Wharton Journal, member of a Brazilian drumming group, and chair of the ‘Wharton Leadership Lectures Committee’, among other things. At graduation, Ashish was voted by his peers for the Joseph P Wharton Award for Leadership and Innovation.
Goyal stood second in his class at Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai and also won the 2003 Dun and Bradstreet Best Student Award. He worked at ING Vysya Bank as a fixed income trader in Bangalore for three years before joining Wharton.
Ashish is also blind.
Goyal was born and has lived most of his life in Mumbai, India. Born with perfect vision, he has retinitis pigmentosa, which caused his vision to deteriorate from age 9; by 22 he was entirely blind. He coped with this adversity by focusing his energies in excelling at academics.
Goyal, who now lives in London, was also the first blind trader at J P Morgan, and possibly at in any bank anywhere in the world.He is now portfolio manager at J P Morgan’s Chief Investment Office. Goyal uses screen-reading software to check his e-mail, read research reports and look at presentations. When he needs to read graphs, which the software cannot do, he goes through the data and tries to imagine the graph in his head.
On his desk, two computer screens show the usual flashing Bloomberg messages and spreadsheets of constantly changing numbers. Two keyboards are linked to headsets through which the information and figures are read out to him at rapid speeds. The same technology reads out text messages he receives on his cell phone.
Tolga Uzuner, executive director of JP Morgan’s chief investment office and Goyal’s boss, said he hired the 30-year old Wharton graduate because he was one of only a few candidates he interviewed who knew about Asian interest rates, had excellent risk management skills and knowledge of foreign exchange.
Vladimir Aleksic, who now works with Goyal, said: “We walked out of the interview room and just said wow.” Many people on the team analyze historical data and use comparisons to make decisions about risks, Aleksic said, but “Ashish looks at where things are now and just follows the news flow. He’s not blinded by the graphs.”
But as someone who can make out only light and shadows, Goyal also knows his limits. “I told people, ‘You can put me on the spot trading desk, but I’d be too slow,’ “ he said. “The challenges are to realize where I can add value and where I don’t. You need to find your niche.”
Goyal says he always wanted to work in financial markets. But despite a résumé that includes a top business degree from a university in India, another from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a three-year stint at an Indian subsidiary of ING bank, finding people who would hire him was not easy.
After gaining his first business degree, Goyal said he had made the short list of candidates for jobs at several firms, but once they realized he was blind he was turned away. When it was ING’s turn, Goyal recalled, he was so frustrated that he just blurted: “I’m blind. Do you still want to talk to me or not?”. “They asked whether I could do the job. I said I think I can, and I was hired,” Goyal said.
Years later, when he applied to Wharton with the goal of getting a job in New York or London, Goyal said, the university’s director of admission signed off on his application with the words: “I have never seen a blind trader on Wall Street. I can’t guarantee you’ll get a job but you’ll definitely be better off with a Wharton degree.”
Still, even after Wharton, many Wall Street firms rejected his applications because they could not find anybody else on Wall Street using the same screen-reading software. JP Morgan was the only bank to offer him a summer internship, which led to an offer of a permanent position.
The loss of his eyesight left Goyal “scared and confused” and with fewer friends, he said. “I was ready to just give up and not take my final exam and just go and work for my dad,” a real estate developer, Goyal said. But his mother forced him to sit for the exam, and to his surprise he not only passed but received good grades.
Ashish is a recipient of India’s National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities 2010.
Ashish is the first blind trader to work for a bank and is also the first-ever blind MBA student at The Wharton School in the United States.
Watch an inspiring video of Ashish here.