Updated: Jul 2, 2021
By Tamsin Partiger
You might not know the following figures—but you should. In Campus Characters, The Blue & White introduces you to a handful of Columbians who are up to interesting and extraordinary things and whose stories beg to be shared. If you’d like to suggest a Campus Character, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
My first encounter with Ram Narayan, CC ’14, was in an American political science discussion section. He took over the classroom with an analysis of Huntington that made my TA beam with pride and ask, “You’re a poli-sci major, right?” Ram scoffed. It was his first, and last, political science class, he said.
One of only seven graduating financial engineers this year, Ram is headed to Goldman Sachs to work as an analyst in the securities division at the interest rate products trading desk. When I asked for details about his time there, he flatly responded “I’m not allowed to talk about that.” According to a friend, Ram receives research papers that only Goldman Sachs employees have access to, and trades equities in his room for fun. His classmate Kyungmin Song, SEAS ’14, expects that he’ll be the CEO of Goldman Sachs before he’s 35.
Everyone I talk to about Ram speaks most emphatically about his intelligence. Anthony Clay, CC ’14, insisted, “the kid’s a fucking genius.” His friend, Pirapong Jitngamplang, SEAS ’14, who worked in Goldman Sachs’ Hong Kong office last summer, said that Ram’s success was a topic of discussion in the office.
However, there’s a lot more to Ram than the stereotype of the “smart Indian kid who studies finance at an Ivy,” Clay points out, and Ram works hard to show that. Clay, who befriended him while they were rushing for Pike during the 2010 drug bust, believes that Ram prioritizes his social life over academics, describing him as a “charismatic sweetheart.” Clay doesn’t envision Ram staying in finance, saying, “well, he’ll do whatever he wants. I see him in a small Columbia [bro] tank sailing his yacht around Nantucket and sipping lemonade.” His girlfriend of four years, Nim Gumaste, CC ‘14, describes Ram as relaxed and loving. She sees something similar to Clay, if less radical, imagining that Ram will be working in a hedge fund that gives him flexibility and time off.
His classmates, who don’t see him leaving Wall Street anytime soon, tried really hard to convince me that Ram is not as harsh and cutthroat as he may seem; Jitngamplang insists that, “he really does mean well.” They emphasized Ram’s genuine interest in what he studies, with Song describing him as “passionate about the intersection of finance and technology” and “actively engaged in his classes.” Because the financial engineering major is so small and the requirements are so stringent, classes are competitive, and students learn quickly who their friends are.
Ram works quickly and efficiently, with immense focus. When there’s a problem, he’ll design a solution. Last summer at Goldman, Ram noticed that the derivative traders, who work with multiple monitors and have to make decisions very quickly, were wasting time locating their mouse across screens. So Ram typed up a code that centered the mouse, making it easy to locate. The team loved it.
He describes working at Goldman as an adrenaline rush, with his heart beating in his head all day. However, he isn’t concerned that the addictive allure of Wall Street will turn him into a “wolf.” He believes wholeheartedly in Wall Street and finance as good things, and thinks that the crisis of 2008 should incentivize us to train financial engineers better, rather than imposing restrictions on their careers. He is inspired by initiatives that he believes connect the abstract world of finance to individuals’ lives, and argues that the direct impact of finance on the individual is why he chose financial engineering rather than just economics.
Ram will end up somewhere with a mission that he can get behind. Whether that’s clawing up the Wall Street ladder or figuring out how to luxuriate in Nantucket full time, we’ll have to wait and see.