How a 400-meter hurdles champion ended up running a brokerage

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As a young teenager growing up in the port city of Mangalore, B. Gopkumar was an avid sportsman and won several awards in the 400 meter hurdles at interstate competitions. Over the years, he has become a long-term distance runner and investor, while running one of the largest national brokerages in India.

Edited excerpts from an interview with B Gopkumar, Managing Director and CEO of Axis Securities:

Can you tell me something about your family background and your growing up years?
My formative years in my hometown of Mangalore shaped my beliefs about work and life. Born and raised in a community that values ​​simplicity and hard work, I learned the importance of keeping my feet on the ground and never giving up very early in my life. My parents raised me to be an independent and confident person, supporting my decisions and career choices.

Sport was my first love during my graduation and post-graduation years. As athletic team captain, I represented my university in the 400m hurdles in various interstate competitions, winning several awards and accolades. While the facilities at the time were limited, I tried to make the most of it and continued to pursue my passion for running throughout my post-grad studies.

Once my MBA was finished, I was looking forward to taking on new challenges. I believed in my potential and wanted to explore the corporate world for the growth and learning opportunities it offers. Guided by the desire to be more, I decided to move to Mumbai in 1994 and started my entrepreneurial journey.

Entering the markets and stock brokerage doesn’t seem like your first choice because you started out with a marketing job. So how did you get into the stock market? Purely by chance?
With an MBA in marketing, my first job was that of marketing communications manager. At that time, the main players in the capital markets were stand-alone institutions that could not offer a corporate experience. As a recent graduate eager to break into the corporate world, I wanted to foray into the financial markets with an organization that supported my ambitions. It was around 1997-1998 that brokerage organizations started to evolve with a corporate structure in place, and that’s when I started my first stint in the capital markets.

I was fascinated by the stock markets during my youthful years, all thanks to my father. My dad is a professional company secretary who got his certification in the first CS batch. Every other day he would bring home new IPO forms, which intrigued me, often leading to a discussion about them with my father. When I was in the 8th standard, I had a chance to visit the Mangalore Stock Exchange and was moved by all the hustle and bustle on the floor. Later, in my college years, I participated in a 3-month inter-school management scholarship competition and was declared the best fund manager.

As I started my entrepreneurial journey as a marketing professional, my heart has always been with the capital markets, waiting to make the transition as soon as the right opportunity knocked on my door.

How knowledgeable were you about markets and investing before joining Kotak Securities? Many qualified and very successful people, for example, have no idea how to manage their own money.
Being curious helped me gain good exposure to the stock market before joining Kotak Securities. The fascination with the stock markets led me to follow stocks and learn about good investment techniques. I started out investing in mutual funds and gradually moved into stocks as I gained a better understanding of how markets work. With experience and a focus on constant learning, my understanding of the markets has only deepened over the years.

When you work closely with the brightest professionals in the financial industry, you gain confidence and know how to become a prudent investor. I’ve managed my finances pretty well all these years, with 90% of my investments in stocks. Recently, I started using our professional fund management services to manage part of my portfolio.

I’m sure you’d have a lot to share, but it would be great if you could summarize your key learnings from your time managing the brokerage business.
After years of working closely with the markets, I realized the importance of having a long-term view to succeed in any business. Whether it’s managing work or personal finances, keeping the big picture in mind helps you stay focused and avoid short-term distractions. With the ever-changing business landscape and technology, it becomes imperative for business leaders to be willing to learn and innovate.

Over the years you have seen how technology and digitization have changed the market. Do you think the technological disruption is just beginning in terms of how we invest our money?
Technology has brought about a revolutionary change in the financial services ecosystem. When I started my brokerage career, investors used to go to internet cafes to make their inquiries. With digitalization and affordable internet, investors are now using mobile phones to access stock markets. The process of opening a Demat account and placing an order has become paperless, with customer onboarding taking approximately 5 minutes compared to the 15 days previously required. This ease of investment has been made possible by technology. And that’s just the beginning.

Technology will play a key role in enabling customers to make informed decisions. Digital solutions, such as AI, machine learning or basic data science, will help investors identify the right opportunities at the right time to build valuable portfolios. Evolving products and business models will make it easier for investors to choose solutions that meet their needs. We are already seeing retail investors adopt baskets, model portfolios and other research-based products as it allows them to achieve their financial goals, diversify their portfolios and benefit from the expertise of market veterans at negligible cost.

Today, the brokerage industry has become truly “Bharat” as technology has made it easier for retail investors to access Tier 2-3 cities. With equity penetration in India still hovering around 3%, there is immense potential for growth in the brokerage industry, and technology is key to unlocking this potential.

In your hobby, what kind of books do you like to read? Recent favourites?
I always appreciate a good read, and one of my favorites is Authentic Leadership by Bill George. I return to this book for inspirational lessons in leadership and to renew my commitment to my team and the organization. Besides reading, I also watch interesting podcasts on leadership, markets and sports, especially while running or

commute. Podcasts are a great companion and a fantastic way to keep up to date on the go.

Can you tell me more about your long distance running experience? For you, is running a marathon just about health and fitness?
For me, running is therapeutic and an outlet to maintain my physical and mental well-being, which is very important given the current circumstances. I think finishing a race is really rewarding and fulfilling because it boosts your confidence while reducing stress. Running marathons has helped sharpen my focus and keep me moving towards my goals. I have made friends with like-minded runners who inspire and motivate me to be a better runner and leader. For me, a good race is one of the best ways to elevate my life and meet challenges more effectively.

I have been passionate about running for more than ten years now, because it gives me immense satisfaction, and participating in marathons is another way to live this exciting experience. Although I have participated in several marathons, finishing the Mumbai Marathon is a memory that I treasure very much. Facing the challenge of competing in one of Asia’s biggest marathons and months of training to prepare for it made crossing the finish line a special moment for me.

Do you often tend to draw parallels between running a marathon and how markets work? If you can share some thoughts on this.
I believe training for a marathon is the ultimate test of endurance. It takes consistent practice to build the stamina that helps you cross the finish line. Although completing a marathon is the ultimate goal, runners accomplish this goal at their own pace. Surprisingly, investing in the market isn’t too different from running a marathon.

Just like marathon runners, the ultimate goal of all investors is the same: to accumulate wealth. But, achieving this goal requires constant efforts, such as a disciplined financial approach, SIPs, etc. Also, some investors reach their milestones sooner than others, depending on their investment choices and financial situation. By training yourself over time to make sound financial decisions, you greatly improve your chances of achieving your financial goals.

Ultimately, like marathons, financial prosperity is a long-term game. Keeping an eye on the goal is the best way to put aside all the distractions and short-term volatility that often act as roadblocks to building a rewarding portfolio.

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