Each year, we ask our readers to send in their nominations for TC’s Most Influential Tamils List. We’ve narrowed down the nominations to 5 individuals who exemplify personal success, community involvement and act as an inspiration to others. This week we’re featuring Bahi Kandavel, Trading Director and CEO of Northstar Trading.
Bahi Kandavel is a name synonymous with success in the Canadian Tamil Community. His multi-faceted and illustrious career stands testament to the notion that it is necessary to take risks in life in order to yield a rewarding return on your career investment.
Ten years ago, Bahi was on the fast track at a large investment management firm on Bay Street. A rotational associate program allowed him the opportunity to try many different roles, during which time Bahi was able to identify the potential in a rapidly growing energy market. Despite landing a stable and well paying job at a young age, Bahi recognized that the route to success in Canada was slow and circuituous, preventing him from ascending quickly in his career. The restricted opportunities for growth simply did not match his ambition.
“When you are young and have a risk-seeking temperament, the opportunities in Toronto are few and far between.”
In certain industries, the environment in the United States is more meritocratic for young professionals. In order to achieve exponential growth in his career, Bahi made the tough decision to branch out to the US market. Networking through his undergraduate program connected him with his first US job opportunity at a small start-up in Washington DC. This is where Bahi learned the intricate inner workings of the energy market. Eager to pursue his passion for financial trading, Bahi continued to pursue opportunities in the US and worked at a variety of hedge funds and proprietary trading firms.
His next job opportunity illustrates the importance of always keeping your eyes open to the possibilities taking place around you. When he was presented with the chance to engage in recruitment at MIT for his employer, Bahi recognized the opportunity to build contacts with other trading companies that were also there for the same purpose. This led to his dream job as head trader at Jump Trading in Chicago, where he was asked to build their power trading desk from scratch.
Bahi was employed at a hedge fund in Houston when he began to feel the pull to move back to Toronto. Since his industry is so specific, he no longer felt that it was a fit for him to work for someone else and knew it was time to create his own opportunities. He decided to partner up with a colleague to fulfill his entrepreneurial dream. With the wealth of experience he gained in trading power across a variety of wholesale energy markets in the US, Bahi returned to Toronto and founded Northstar Trading in 2013 using his life savings. Today, Northstar employs five people and operates in three US electricity markets. Bahi is the trading director of this privately held company, which takes a highly quantitative and technology-based approach to trading while placing a strong emphasis on risk management and controls.
What Northstar does is similar to stock investment, but within the wholesale electricity markets that operate in the United States and parts of Canada. Strategists employ mathematical and statistical techniques to identify patterns within the electricity market, which they then use to build trading algorithms. Northstar stands apart from other trading companies by only investing their own capital and taking a very rigorous quantitative approach. Since the United States has deregulated the energy marketplace, companies such as Northstar can analyze the market and find strategic opportunities to buy and sell, providing liquidity to the market and acting as a check against monopolistic utilities, thereby lowering prices to consumers. This makes the market much more efficient.
Although Northstar focuses on a niche market, there is extensive room for expansion within the energy market as well as through different synergies, such as natural gas. Right now, Bahi and his partner are intimately involved in the daily workings of his company, but as he hires and mentors employees, his eventual goal is to grow the company into a beacon for savvy financial risk-taking in Canada — the kind of entpreneurial and meritocratic firm that he was hard-pressed to find when he began his career.
This entrepreneurial venture is a perfect fit for Bahi in many different ways. Northstar is in the business of trading risk in the energy market, based on mathematical calculations — and this is driven by Bahi’s skillset, having earned his Masters of Mathematical Finance from the University of Toronto and currently pursuing his PhD in Finance at EDHEC Business School. His business has allowed him to apply what he is passionate about and also good at, into a math-related career that is both challenging and interesting. He credits his graduate program for the exposure to tools such as MatLab & R that he is able to use on a daily basis at Northstar. His graduate degrees and mathematical educational background have provided him with confidence and credibility when it comes to interfacing with clients, while also differentiating him from other candidates throughout his career.
Growing up in a Tamil Canadian household, Bahi was expected to complete his engineering degree in order to procure a steady career and achieve stability in his life. However, as his job exposure increased, he realized that his personality was better suited to something else. Now, as CEO of his own company, the best part of his job is possessing flexibility, freedom and total control of his life and schedule. His attraction to the trading industry stems from the fact that it follows a straightforward ‘Profit and Loss’ formula that clearly determines his personal success.
Although it was apparent that it would be risky to put his life savings into a company, especially so soon after his wedding, Bahi knew that the one thing he could not afford was to look back with regret. It is important to note that what allowed him to take a greater risk is the fact that he had his varied educational degrees and many years of successful corporate experience to fall back on. Bahi’s advice to entrepreneurs is simple; make sure that you have conviction and an unwavering belief in what it is that you are doing because this is what will get you through the tough times that inevitably arise when running your own business. It is also extremely helpful to partner with someone who possesses a complementary skillset.
In addition to his financial career, Bahi has had a longstanding interest in contributing to the welfare of the war-affected Tamil people of Sri Lanka and has worked closely to support a number of organizations in the Canadian Tamil diaspora. He is one of the founding members of an organization known as Comdu.it whose aim is to create an independent network of students and professionals interested in facilitating direct participation in sustainable development efforts in Sri Lanka.
Comdu.it facilitates the placement of skilled and experienced individuals in Sri Lanka to strengthen community-based organizations that primarily assist those living, working and studying in war-affected regions of the country. Comdu.it closely vets the programs and partners that they work with for credibility, so those that wish to give their time volunteering back home have access to safe resources. The organization also enables a direct channel for targeted micro-gifting to beneficiaries as investments in education and local economic development with the goal of empowering vulnerable communities to break free from cycles of poverty and dependency.
As an entrepreneurial role model who is well known for possessing a brilliant mind, many young aspiring professionals have openly admitted that they look to Bahi for guidance as a mentor. His caring and approachable demeanor, impressive accomplishments and elaborate social network make him a valuable resource and pillar of success in the Tamil Canadian community. For these reasons, it is clear that Bahi Kandavel was an easy choice for our 2014 Influential Tamils list.
When asked what Tamil Culture means to him, Bahi immediately referenced the elements and qualities upheld in our culture which have allowed Tamils to be historically successful. Bahi believes the values of hard work, competitiveness and drive are interwoven in the fabric of the Diaspora. These values need to be upheld as we move forward. And with inspirational paragons like Bahi Kandavel paving the way, much like the trajectory of Northstar, the future of our community looks very bright.
Here are some of the other TC’s Most Influential Tamils of 2014:
photo credit: Vipoo @ovyian photography