November, 12, 2004. The balmy Friday morning was a dream come true for 35 Wharton students. They had a lunch date with the world’s greatest investor. Warren Buffett hadn’t extended his customary invitation to the B-school for the past few years, which meant there was a mad scramble in the Investment Management Club for the limited spots. Akhil Dhawan was among the few who got lucky that day. “People have paid upward of $2 million to have lunch with Mr Buffett so, the way I see it, I recovered a large chunk of my Wharton tuition in one day — both monetarily and intellectually,” he says.
Dhawan’s introduction into the world of investing wasn’t through Buffett, though. It was through his brother Ashish, who founded ChrysCapital, one of the earliest and the finest private equity firm in the country. After his schooling in India, Dhawan went to Cornell University in 1994 for an undergraduate degree. A turning point that would shape up his investment thinking in the years to come, happened by sheer accident. “One of my roommates in college had bought Robert Hagstrom’s The Warren Buffett Way. I picked it off our bookshelf for a casual read and my fascination for Buffett started right then.”
Around the same time, Ashish Dhawan — an MBA student at Harvard — was interning at Goldman Sachs’ proprietary investment group and the firm had given him The Intelligent Investor to read. “I wasn’t getting paid that summer, so I was sleeping on my brother’s couch. He recommended the book,” says Dhawan. “I had never bought a stock, but Graham’s distinction between investment and speculation stuck with me.”
Dhawan’s first job was also with the most sought-after investment bank in the US — Goldman Sachs — as an analyst in the corporate finance division. Those years (1998-99) were boom times in the US and Dhawan got to work on several deals, especially stake sales to private equity (PE) firms. The dotcom craze had started and smitten by the same, Dhawan came back to India to set up a company of his own. As events proved, India wasn’t quite ready for the tech revolution and Dhawan returned to the US in under a year. And this time, he moved to the other side of the table, joining SG Capital, a mid-sized PE firm with a corpus of $500 millio