January 22, 2018 Greyhound buses and dogged determination paved alumnus’ way to Wall Street

Niraj Shah (BSBA ’09) is fulfilling his dream, living in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood and thriving in his career as a vice president at RedBird Capital Partners, a growth-equity firm that partners with entrepreneurs looking to scale and build their businesses. 

Niraj Shah
Niraj Shah, BSBA '09

His talent and ambition were noticed in 2017 when he landed on the Forbes “30 Under 30” list, a recognition he counts as one of his greatest professional accomplishments.

“I consider myself lucky and was humbled to be recognized on the Forbes ‘30 under 30’ list,” Shah said. “I owe a lot to my experiences at Ohio State.” 

But a lot went into this young professional’s big-city achievements, and it began while he was a student majoring in finance and marketing at Fisher. Although he worked hard and excelled at his studies, Shah was driven by his goal to one day have a career making an impact at a high level and, hopefully, combining it with his passion for sports and entertainment. 

But rather than waiting and hoping things worked out, he took an innovative approach to achieving his goals. Shah cultivated a network by making contact with professionals who worked at the kinds of Wall Street firms where he wanted to intern or work at after graduation. As he grew his network, he arranged to meet his contacts for coffee so he could learn from their perspectives working at the crossroads of the nation’s financial markets.  

But those meetings required getting to Manhattan. 

“As a student, I’d take the Greyhound to New York to meet people for coffee. Oftentimes they’d cancel at the last minute, but I kept at it.” 

Niraj Shah

The combination of Shah’s persistence — along with his drive and academic accomplishments — ultimately paid off in 2009 when he earned a summer internship at Goldman Sachs. He notes that it was a challenging and highly competitive environment, but he brought determination and a level of scrappiness to the position that distinguished him among the other interns, many of whom were from other top-tier universities. 

An avid sports fan, Shah likens his internship experience to professional athletics, when lower draft picks oftentimes become teams’ best players through their hard work and determination. Shah brought that same underdog mindset to his internship. 

“In 2008–2009, during the Great Recession, it was very tough to get internship interviews on Wall Street,” he said. “Goldman was the only firm willing to take a chance on non-Ivy League students. During my internship, I learned that the best way to prove yourself to people is by example.”  

And prove himself is exactly what he did.

After graduating summa cum laude, Shah took an investment banking analyst position at Goldman Sachs, where he worked for two years before moving to the New York office of Apax Partners, a global private equity firm that manages more than $50 billion of assets for investors, particularly pension funds and endowments. Although he found success at both firms, he wanted to change direction and work for a smaller, entrepreneurial company. So, in 2014, he traded in the more-traditional private-equity firm experience for the smaller start-up culture at RedBird, where he was one of the first five employees hired.

Part of Shah’s decision to join RedBird was the opportunity to work for Gerry Cardinale, the firm’s managing partner and CEO, who retired from Goldman Sachs as a partner prior to founding RedBird. At Goldman, Cardinal had been responsible for visionary hybrid investments and new company creations, most notably the creation of the YES Network in partnership with the New York Yankees, and the creation of Legends Hospitality in partnership with the Yankees and Dallas Cowboys.  

In Shah’s role at RedBird, he has focused on sports investing, and he helped lead the firm’s investment and new company creation, On Location Experiences. With On Location Experiences, he saw an opportunity to carve out a small business division within the NFL — NFL On Location — and capitalize the business with money to scale its operations. Within two years of making the investment, the company now manages entertainment, hospitality and ticketing operations for the NFL, Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, the Masters Tournament, and more than 100 additional live sports and music events.  

On Location started with three employees. Two years later it has grown its workforce to more than 500, including a CEO and C-suite management team. Shah takes pride in On Location’s rapid growth and what the company has accomplished in such a short amount of time. 

“It makes me feel good about what we do at RedBird because we help create jobs and build and grow unique businesses,” he said. “It’s a bit of a misnomer that RedBird is a growth-equity firm. It’s more about business building and giving entrepreneurs and CEOs support, with a financial aspect to it.” 

Despite his successes, Shah notes that there have been challenging times during his career when he’s felt in over his head. Whether it was the amount of work on his plate, or the pressure of learning new things he hadn’t been trained to do, he remained mindful of lessons he learned as a college student through invaluable peer interactions. 

“Seeing things other people lived through and overcame during my time at Ohio State was a good lesson for me in my career,” he said. “I’ve always viewed it as every problem I’ve had in front of me is nothing compared to what others have gone through.” 

Shah credits his experience at Ohio State and Fisher with preparing him to thrive in New York City.

“With the size of Ohio State, you get a lot of experience interacting with many different types of people,” he said. “New York is very diverse, and you need to be able to interact with a lot of people with different personalities and backgrounds. 

“My business is a people business, and the outside-classroom experiences I had at Ohio State have helped me to better interact in my career.” 

Reflecting on his time on campus, Shah is hard-pressed to select just one favorite memory, although a few come to mind. 

“Every weekend and every single week during my time at Ohio State had great memories,” he said. “Each week felt like the best of week of my life! But one memory is the Ohio State and Michigan game when it was No. 1 vs. No. 2.”

Shah’s Fisher experience was no less impactful, and he’s still grateful for the support and guidance he received from the Office of Career Management, particularly Margie Bogenschutz, Fisher’s senior director of undergraduate career management and recruitment, and Jeff Rice, executive director of the Office of Career Management.

Shah seeks to pay forward as a steadfast advocate for the college. He frequently returns to campus to hold office hours at Fisher and give students the opportunity to learn about his experience working on Wall Street. No Greyhound ticket required. 

A former Fisher Futures student, he frequently hosts current Fisher Futures students during their trips to New York City, and he’s made himself available for phone calls with current students and recent alumni interested in careers in finance and learning about living and working in New York City. With each interaction, he draws from his personal experience when dispensing advice.

“Be persistent, have a great attitude and work hard,” Shah said. “Those three things will carry you through any challenges you’re faced with.”