Biz Sch News 24 October 2017

Leadership Dialogue Series with Nikhil Srinivasan of Oxford University

In a recent Leadership Dialogue Series (LDS) talk, Mr Nikhil Srinivasan, the former Group Chief Investment Officer of Generali and Allianz, two of Europe’s top insurers, and currently the Visiting Fellow at Oxford University Centre of Corporate Reputation, shared his thoughts on the mistakes he had made and the lessons he has learnt from his journey of building his career.

In line with keeping his session casual, Nikhil sat on the steps of the stage, and summarised his journey into three main buckets:


  • Being impatient
  • Did not take advice
  • Didn’t always leverage instincts
  • Don’t be quick to make judgment
  • Always felt that he had time
  • Didn’t value his friendships

What he learnt:

  • Stay in one place for a long time – career wise
  • Think long-term and short-term
  • Listen well
  • Act decisively – no one likes an indecisive boss or subordinate
  • Get a mentor and be a mentor
  • Enjoy life while it lasts


  • Be curious, not inquisitive
  • Speak another language or culture
  • Be polite, and don’t forget those who have been kind to you
  • It is ok to fail, success is not ‘linear’
  • It is better to be under-estimated

NUS BBA Year 3 Ben Wee said, “Nikhil’s sharing on taking advice from others spoke to me the most. Especially if someone had gone through a similar experience, it would be useful to tap onto the collective knowledge of people who have already had the experience.”

Bentley also recalls three key points of the sharing that would be relevant to anybody.

  1. Mistake – Didn’t always leverage instincts
    Nikhil’s first job saw him working for Jeff Bezos – where Bezos flew him to New York to work for him in a hedge fund. When Bezos left in 1993/1994 to start Amazon, he asked Nikhil to join him at the start-up – but Nikhil did not given that there was much uncertainty in leaving his high paying Wall St. job for a start-up. Today, Amazon is a US$535b market cap company. Nikhil says that if he had properly leveraged his instincts, he would have followed Bezos to Amazon – but sadly did not.
  2. Mistake – Didn’t take advice
    By age 30, Nikhil had become the CEO of an asset management firm, but decided to leave the firm to create a tech start-up in Thailand – this was right after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997/1998. Whilst he had professional investors telling him to not enter the market, he chose not to heed their advice. The start-up crashed, and Nikhil was left with nothing. Later on during the talk, he also does mention that some friends did not talk to him – as people tend to be concerned with others’ corporate title and/or wealth.
  3. Advice – Be polite, don’t forget kindness
    As a personal way of being polite, Nikhil likes to write a personal thank you note to whomever he had just met. He advised all to do likewise, as this would make them stand out – for the simple reason that no one every writes thank you emails anymore these days.