Shaleen Baweja (Photo: Quona Capital Management LLC)

Inspired by vision, driven by data: Meet Quona portfolio manager, Shaleen Baweja

Quona Capital

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With a leading role in overseeing portfolio management and investor reporting for the firm, Shaleen Baweja marries big-bank experience with a true appreciation for impact investing

When Shaleen Baweja got his first paycheck, he did what hardly any 21-year-old would do: he bought life insurance. Born and raised in New Delhi, Baweja had seen his parents, like many middle-class Indians, struggle to maintain financial footing. His father was self-employed, and his mother was a teacher — two career paths for which it was challenging to get credit given the rigid lending requirements held by Indian banks. “There was a phase of financial trouble in our lives where getting access to credit was impossible or at really really high interest rates,” says Baweja. “I’ve seen very clearly how so many individuals and small businesses can’t get access to traditional credit and are left with undesirable options to borrow money which can lead to financial distress. My background provides me with tremendous empathy for people faced with these situations, and I bring that perspective to my impact work with Quona.”

Today Baweja is portfolio manager at Quona, where he has worked for more than five years. As a leading member of the firm’s portfolio management and investor reporting functions, he oversees operational and financial performance reporting of portfolio companies globally across 15 countries. “When I joined the firm, Quona had less than 20 portfolio companies,” he says. “Now it has 75+ companies and the work has grown multi-fold. In the middle of all that, I have an eagle-eye view of how the global portfolio is doing.”

Working in impact investing has long interested Baweja, who studied finance as an undergraduate at the University of Delhi, then took his first job as a consultant advising HSBC Saudi Arabia on how to activate new customers and get more people to access credit cards and personal loans in Saudi Arabia.

In 2012, he gained experience in private equity as he worked as an extended team member of a UK-based real estate-focused private equity fund, where he worked for two years before deciding to pursue an MBA in finance from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies in Mumbai. Influenced by a friend from his undergraduate studies who was then working at Goldman Sachs, Baweja went into the program with the singular vision of coming out with a Goldman Sachs job. In 2015, after a successful internship with the investment bank, he was offered a full-time job with the firm.

At Goldman, Baweja was part of the technology, media, and telecom (TMT) team for Asia where he worked on several tech and fintech-related assignments as well as the IPO of Sea (NYSE:SE), which was one of the biggest listings of a Southeast Asia company on the New York Stock Exchange. He worked at Goldman for almost three years. “The entire experience of working with a high caliber team on some notable transactions teaches you a lot,” he says of his time with Goldman.

At the end of 2018, he saw a job posting for the opportunity to work at Quona. Baweja was drawn to the impact focus and relationship-based approach of the firm. “In investment banking, you work with a client for three or four months and you move on to the next assignment,” he says “At Quona, you invest with these founders and you’re with them for the next seven to ten years. You see them at their lowest. You see them at their highest. It’s a real journey.”

In his five years working at Quona, he’s watched companies that started small grow and establish themselves over the years. For someone known by his colleagues as the “data guy,” Baweja is drawn to the early promise of startup founders. “We invest at such an early stage that there is not enough historical data to support them,” he says. “It’s the vision, the hunger, and the drive of founders that we look for and that excites me.”

As global portfolio manager, Baweja has a gamut of responsibilities including portfolio data management, impact measurement, financial valuation, and working closely with a handful of Asia-based companies. Because Quona has portfolio companies operating in ten different currencies around the world, it’s his job to make sure all data is presented in a consistent and defensible way.

“Shaleen’s analytical brain makes him exceptionally good at portfolio management,” says Quona’s platform and impact manager, Kristin Sadler. “He can look at the numbers and find a story there. Shaleen is the backbone of our ability to understand performance from an impact perspective and also an operational and financial perspective. He’s also very collaborative.”

David Mathewson, partner and COO of Quona, adds, “Shaleen epitomizes a key strength of Quona, which is the ability to glean key insights from companies operating across differing regions, differing sub-sectors and at differing stages.”

Over the last two years, Baweja and his colleagues have implemented a platform to automate tracking of all portfolio companies and deal transaction data. He credits his experience at Goldman Sachs with helping to inform the design of this work. “At Quona, we work with very early-stage companies and need to adapt continuously to a fast-paced and rapidly evolving environment. Given my experience, I am now in a position to help these young companies design their critical KPIs so they can stay on top of the most important aspects of their businesses.”

Because of the many hats he wears, Baweja works with team members across the firm, giving him a strong sense of Quona’s culture over the years. “It’s easier to work in a big firm and survive there, but it’s almost impossible to work in a small firm if the people are not right,” he says. “One of the key things that works really well at Quona is the culture, the team, and the talent we’ve been able to attract over the years. I’m really proud to be part of this team.”

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Quona Capital

Quona Capital is a venture firm specializing in financial technology for inclusion in emerging markets. Learn more at quona.com.