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Financial Zeitgeist with Maneet Ahuja

Jun/07/2024 / by Abhijit Masih

Maneet Ahuja is the Editor-at-Large at Forbes, specializing in the intersection of Wall Street, billionaires, and entrepreneurial capitalism. She began her journey in finance at seventeen with Citigroup, earning the nickname ‘Wall Street Maneet.’ She later spent a decade at CNBC, where she co-founded the network’s flagship annual Wall Street summit Delivering Alpha. She is the visionary founder of ICONOCLAST, Forbes’ premier global investor summit, bringing together the world’s leading industry titans, institutional investors, dealmakers, and celebrities. Maneet is a recipient of the prestigious Knight-Bagehot Fellowship at Columbia Journalism School.

Early Life and South Asian Heritage

Born to immigrant parents from Punjab, India, Maneet Ahuja grew up in an environment where the rich traditions and values of her homeland were cherished and preserved. “My dad came to America in the 70s after losing a wager,” she recalls with a smile. “He came looking for his buddy and decided to stay.” Her father hailed from Amritsar, while her mother was from Jalandhar, making Maneet a “full on Punjabi girl through and through.”

The cultural values imparted by her parents were a cornerstone of Maneet’s upbringing. “I am Sikh, and some of my earliest memories are of going to the Gurdwara,” she shares. The religious and cultural practices she engaged in as a child deeply influenced her identity. “I grew up learning how to play the harmonium, while my brother and sister played the tabla. Our culture was core and central to every single part of us.” These experiences not only shaped her social interactions but also instilled in her a strong sense of community and identity that would later play a crucial role in her professional life.

The Rise of Wall Street Maneet

Maneet’s career in finance began unexpectedly at the young age of seventeen. Her entry into the high-stakes world of Wall Street was as serendipitous as it was transformative. “I thought I was taking a part-time job as a bank teller for some pocket change while I was a freshman in college,” she admits. However, fate had different plans. The woman she was supposed to assist did not return from maternity leave, and Maneet suddenly found herself on the 60th floor, amidst billion-dollar deals in the heart of investment banking at Citigroup.

This early exposure to the complex world of finance was eye-opening for the young Maneet. “As a teenager, you’re not really thinking about the global economy,” she explains. Yet, this experience laid the foundation for her future endeavors. “Those early days on Wall Street really helped form who I am today. That’s when I got my nickname, Wall Street Maneet.” Her natural aptitude for mathematics and her ability to quickly prove her worth helped her build a solid reputation. “I stayed there working all throughout undergrad and built a strong reputation as someone dependable,” she notes with pride.

Covering the Financial Crisis at CNBC

After her tenure at Citigroup, Maneet’s career took another pivotal turn when she joined CNBC. Her timing couldn’t have been more critical. “I landed at CNBC during the financial crisis, which was another serendipitous event,” she recounts. Her deep understanding of investment banking gave her a unique perspective on the unfolding crisis. “I was able to look at the bank balance sheets and financial statements in a much deeper way than other business journalists.”

Maneet’s incisive analysis of Lehman Brothers’ impending collapse placed her at the forefront of financial journalism. “Nobody believed that this storied financial institution could be on the brink of bankruptcy,” she says. Her ability to challenge influential figures and bring critical insights to light underscored the importance of rigorous, evidence-based reporting. “Just because something is in front of you, and it’s a big tower in Manhattan, doesn’t mean that it’s financially secure. Covering Lehman Brothers during the financial crisis was a defining moment in my career,” she reflects. “Being able to critically analyze and report on such a major event at a young age taught me the importance of questioning the status quo and relying on hard data,” she adds.

Exploring Billionaires and Financial Titans 

Today, Maneet Ahuja is the Editor-at-Large at Forbes, where she continues to focus on Wall Street, billionaires, and entrepreneurial capitalism. Her transition to Forbes felt like a natural progression. “I was on the Forbes 30 under 30 list, so in some ways, I was part of the Forbes family unofficially for a long time,” she notes. Forbes’ long-standing reputation for celebrating entrepreneurial capitalism was a perfect fit for Maneet’s interests. 

At Forbes, she found the opportunity to delve into the lives of the financial elite. “What really interested me was being able to dig deeper into who these illustrious investors are,” she says. This deeper exploration allowed her to uncover the stories behind the headlines, providing readers with a more nuanced understanding of the financial world. “The transition to print at Forbes allowed me to go beyond the news of the day and explore the intricate stories of these financial titans.”

Creating A Global Investor Summit

One of Maneet’s significant contributions at Forbes is the creation of ICONOCLAST, a global investor summit. This initiative was inspired by the need to bring together the world’s most influential investors and provide a platform for live journalism. “Forbes has built its reputation on business, money, and markets. ICONOCLAST is an extension of that, bringing together some of the world’s greatest investors with over $20 trillion in the room in capital,” she explains.

Maneet’s vision goes beyond just financial discourse. “We’re tapping into the cultural zeitgeist, translating compelling stories to the stage,” she explains. The summit highlights the convergence of finance with broader societal trends, creating a dynamic forum for discussion and innovation. “With ICONOCLAST, we’ve created a platform where the stories of influential investors can be shared, providing valuable insights into their strategies and philosophies.”

Championing Female Voices in Finance

“Over 50% of the speakers at ICONOCLAST are purposely female,” she emphasizes providing a peak into her passion to highlight female voices in finance. This focus is driven by the recognition that many influential women in finance have not received their due recognition. “Women are at the top of the corporate ladder, but they haven’t gotten their fair share of airtime or stage time,” she laments.

Through her efforts, Maneet aims to change this narrative. “There’s a lot of research that says women are actually better investors than men,” she notes, citing their ability to handle chaos and multiple responsibilities. “Women can juggle personal and family life with corporate America, and do so with a smile on their face. If you can juggle all that, dealing with the stock market is no problem.”

Maneet’s commitment to promoting female voices is not just about representation but also about showcasing the unique strengths and perspectives women bring to the table. “Some of the most influential investors and executives today are women. I’ve put many of them on the cover of Forbes, including Mellody Hobson, Cathy Wood, and Abby Johnson. Their stories need to be told, and I’m on a personal mission to ensure they are.”

Unforgettable Interviews and Insights

Over the years, Maneet has interviewed some of the most powerful and influential leaders in the world. From former U.S. President Bill Clinton to financial titans like Jamie Dimon and Carl Icahn, each interview has offered unique insights. One particularly memorable experience was her recent cover story on Todd Boehly of Eldridge Industries. “He took me to the Golden Globes, and we got to see behind the scenes of how he transformed the organization,” she recalls.

Another notable experience was attending an F1 race in Singapore with Mark Lasry. “Mark is raising a $3 billion sports fund, and it was fascinating to see firsthand how investors are looking at different asset classes, including sports,” she shares. These experiences have shaped Maneet’s understanding of the diverse and dynamic nature of global finance.

“One of the most unforgettable experiences was being with Warren Buffett and Lloyd Blankfein for the graduation of the 100 small businesses program. Despite their immense success, they were focused on their legacy and the importance of paying it forward,” she reflects. This emphasis on giving back and mentoring the next generation is a common thread, she feels, among the leaders Maneet has interviewed.

The Future of Wall Street and Investing

Looking ahead, Maneet sees several trends that will shape the future of Wall Street and investing. “The markets tend to operate in cycles, and history repeats itself,” she notes. However, the constant drive for efficiency and technological innovation continues to redefine the financial landscape. “The rise of AI is transforming industries, and the financial markets are no exception.”

Maneet highlights the significant impact of emerging technologies on finance. “We’ve seen the rise of Crypto and Blockchain, and now AI is becoming a crucial tool for investors. The ability to leverage these technologies, to gain a competitive edge, is becoming increasingly important.”

She believes that the future of Wall Street will be characterized by a relentless pursuit of efficiency and innovation. “We’re going to see more integration of AI and machine learning in investment strategies. The ability to analyze vast amounts of data quickly and accurately will give investors a significant advantage.”

Advice for Aspiring Professionals

For young professionals aspiring to make their mark in finance, Maneet offers valuable advice. “Don’t be afraid to be a first mover in an emerging industry,” she advises. Emphasizing the importance of diversity and building strong relationships, she encourages individuals to let their personalities shine through. “There’s a myth about South Asians in America being a model minority, but it’s important to advocate for yourself and show your unique strengths,” she states.

Maneet underscores the importance of networking and mentorship. “Building relationships and finding mentors who can guide you is crucial. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire and ask for their advice.” She also encourages young professionals to embrace diversity and inclusion as strength. “Being different is an asset. Use your unique background and experiences to your advantage.”

Identifying Emerging Leaders

As part of the team that edits the Forbes 30 Under 30 Finance list, Maneet has a keen eye for identifying emerging leaders. “We receive over 10,000 applications a year for just 30 slots for industry or sector,” she says. The key to standing out, according to Maneet, is demonstrating year-over-year progression through measurable metrics. “Whether it’s revenue, customer acquisition, or any other metric, showing how you’re making a mark in your industry at a young age is crucial,” she says.

Maneet looks for individuals who are not only successful but also innovative and impactful. “We’re looking for people who are not just succeeding in their fields but also changing them. Those who are bringing new ideas and perspectives to the table.” She believes that the future of finance will be shaped by these young leaders who are unafraid to challenge the status quo and push boundaries.

Maneet Ahuja’s journey from her South Asian roots to the frontlines of Wall Street is a testament to her resilience, adaptability, and keen insight into the world of finance. Her story is not just about personal success but also about championing diversity, innovation, and the power of storytelling in shaping our understanding of global business and finance. From her early days at Citigroup to her current role at Forbes, Maneet has consistently demonstrated a commitment to excellence and a passion for uncovering the stories that matter.

Her work and efforts to highlight female voices in finance underscore her dedication to creating a more inclusive and dynamic financial landscape. Maneet’s journey is an inspiring example of how cultural heritage, combined with hard work and determination, can lead to extraordinary achievements in the world of finance. As she continues to break new ground and pave the way for future generations, Maneet Ahuja remains a powerful voice and a trailblazer in the industry, not limited to the Wall Street.

Rapid Fire with Maneet Ahuja

If you could have dinner with somebody dead or alive? – I am a huge Oprah fan and Shonda Rhimes, because I think at our heart we are storytellers. I would say Barbara Walters be added to that, because you’re always looking to go deeper and really get to the heart and soul of somebody when you’re trying to tell their story. That’s my ultimate hope when I try to work on a big cover story. 

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned from interviewing billionaires? – A lot of them don’t consider themselves as billionaires. They’re just normal people like us; some of them drive a Toyota Highlander. Some of them want me to reimburse them for their train ride into the city for the interview. Their proudest moments, 10 times out of 10 always revolve around their children.

What lights you up? – I’m always on the hunt for the next big, great investigation or story. I also have developed this nighttime habit of sports documentaries. 

Your go to productivity hack when you’re on a tight deadline? – I think a timer is helpful. And a to-do-list is really helpful. There’s nothing like taking a pen and crossing right through one of your items on that list.

If you could turn back time and witness any financial event in history – The stock market crash Black Friday 1987. I think just understanding the 80s heyday, an era of the original Wall Street, just being a fly on the wall, would add another layer of perspective to what I am doing now.

If you could swap lives with any billionaire for a day, who and why? – Being Elon Musk must be really cool. I just really feel for him, he’s able to prove a degree of success. 

If you could create your own investment fund focused on one specific industry or trend – I would do impact investing on DEI and female investors. 

Favorite hobby – I a lot of people don’t know this, but I used to be a painter. I fell into impressionistic painting on oil and acrylics and I definitely love that. 

If you had a superpower – I’m told that I’m psychic. I can pick up on energies. It could be a blessing and a curse to know what people are thinking. So sometimes we’re better off not knowing and being oblivious. 

Favorite books on Wall Street – In nonfiction, When Genius Failed by Roger Lowenstein. The Three Body Problem would be a good fictional book.

Guilty pleasure for food – Indo-Chinese. Gobi Manchurian, Veggie Hakka noodles and Chilli Paneer. And I like it very spicy. I’m a true Indian. 

PQ Suggestions:

“Those early days on Wall Street really helped form who I am today. That’s when I got my nickname, Wall Street Maneet.”

“Just because something is in front of you, and it’s a big tower in Manhattan, doesn’t mean that it’s financially secure.”

“There’s a lot of research that says women are actually better investors than men.”

“The rise of AI is transforming industries, and the financial markets are no exception.”

“Being different is an asset. Use your unique background and experiences to your advantage.”

“Women can juggle personal and family life with corporate America, and do so with a smile on their face. If you can juggle all that, dealing with the stock market is no problem.”

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