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Finance alumnus pays success forward to international students

Like so many, Bhaskaran Swaminathan’s journey to the U.S. began with pennies in his pocket and a big dream. After finding success, Swaminathan (who goes by “Swami”), created opportunities for many others to reach their own dreams of studying in the U.S.

Photo courtesy Bhaskaran Swaminathan

Hailing from Chennai, India, and working as a mechanical engineer in New Delhi, Swaminathan (MBA 1989) had never heard about the University of Denver. But, with the United States shining as a beacon of opportunity for young graduates who were motivated to achieve success, he mailed inquiries to graduate schools he learned about in an American culture program at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai. Two months later, paper applications began arriving in the mail. Several months after that, admission offers rolled in.

Swaminathan was accepted into a handful of prestigious MBA programs. But, where other business schools lacked in financial aid, DU offered him a partial scholarship and tuition waiver for fall quarter. Between that offer and its accompanying brochure of the downtown Denver skyline set against the picturesque Rocky Mountains, he was sold.

At 24 years old, Swaminathan arrived in Colorado on a student visa, with a part-time campus job lined up at the then-minimum wage of $3.25 per hour.

“My acceptance letter said, ‘If you perform well Fall Quarter, we will consider giving you the tuition waiver for subsequent quarters,’” Swaminathan said. “I lived on $250 per month for rent, food, everything.”

Not only did he perform well—Swaminathan graduated with his MBA in finance with a 4.0 GPA, earning tuition funding for the duration of his program. During his studies, Swaminathan befriended Endowed Chair and Professor of Finance Ron Rizzuto, at what is now the Daniels College of Business Reiman School of Finance.

Observing that Swaminathan exhibited characteristics of an excellent PhD student—curiosity, inquiry and a desire to understand concepts at their foundation—Rizzuto encouraged Swaminathan to pursue his PhD in finance at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Upon graduating with his doctorate from UCLA, Swaminathan became an assistant professor, then a tenured full professor, at Cornell University, where his students voted him ‘Teacher of the Year.’

“I didn’t know I was a good teacher until I started,” he said. “Mostly I was trying to keep my head above water. Everyone scares you when you are going into teaching at an Ivy League, top 10 business school. My students liked me, they liked my material, and the way I taught. You discover yourself by doing those things.”

As much as he enjoyed teaching finance—and his students enjoyed his teachings—Swaminathan found a new passion at LSV Asset Management in Chicago during what was intended to be a two-year sabbatical. He is now head of research at the $100 billion firm, where he has worked since 2005.

Swaminathan’s interest in applying research into practice was sparked when collaborating with students at Cornell’s student-managed MBA investment fund, the Parker Center for Investment Research. This prompted him to join LSV, founded by three professors he knew from the University of Chicago, University of Illinois and Harvard University.

“I liked the experience, and the idea of being at the forefront and involved in markets day to day,” he said. “It’s stressful, but also interesting and exciting, so I decided to stay.”

Photo courtesy Bhaskaran Swaminathan

Throughout his professional and educational journey from Chennai to New Delhi, India, then to Denver; Los Angeles; Ithaca, New York; and Chicago, Swaminathan kept his eyes on the chance to make a positive difference.

With a $50,000 donation, he established the Swaminathan Endowed Scholarship Fund for international graduate finance students at Daniels.

“I thought I should give something back to help someone else,” Swaminathan said. “It made sense—DU did this and it helped me. I thought, ‘Maybe there’s some other student out there who can come [to the U.S.] with this scholarship, and it can change their life, and the lives of others around them.’”

While U.S. citizens can qualify for federal loans, the legal restrictions placed on international students make loan assistance difficult. “International students probably need the most support,” he explained. “I am a big believer in education. Education is the spark that can change the course of a family—of a generation. I was the first one in my family to attend high school and college. I was able to do that, and now it helps the people who come after me.”

Swaminathan also gives money to a charity that helps Nicaraguan women access diagnostic screening for cervical cancer, as well as an orphanage in India and other children’s charities in third-world countries where the “bang for the buck is big” in terms of positive impact.

Ron Rizzuto

“He very much believes his role in life is to make other people’s lives better,” said Tim Flaherty, director of development at Daniels. “It’s a joy to see how much he enjoys giving back to others.”

Rizzuto, who Swaminathan described as “a wonderful human being,” added, “I am so pleased to see all of Swami’s successes. He is capable of excellence and he achieves it in all he does. Throughout his successful journey, Swami has remained kind, thoughtful and humble.”