Building the Asian-American Business Community

As a senior vice president and senior portfolio manager in Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s global wealth management division, Kamesh Nagarajan understands what it takes to succeed in business. And with more than 15 years of experience in an executive role, Nagarajan hopes to enhance the presence and influence of current and future business leaders of Asian and Pacific Islander descent.

Nagarajan is New York chapter president of nonprofit organization Ascend and received its High Impact Leaders Award in 2010 for his positive impact and contribution to the Asian-American community. Most recently, Nagarajan spoke at his chapter’s conference, “Inspiring Across Generations,” which allowed senior Asian business leaders to interact with attendees. He believes professional organizations like his can help advance minority professionals, and he told Diversity Executive magazine how.

How can professional organizations help minorities advance?
These organizations are particularly helpful because they show recognition from the community and are a chance to build support among other Asian peers, which in turn helps these business professionals in their ascent and understanding each other’s talent and viewpoints.

Remember, Asians are not from one country or one heritage, so for us to share viewpoints and find commonality and common purpose, we truly need organizations like Ascend. It is vital for us to help mentor each other, give a helping hand to younger Asian professionals and help our corporations better understand and support the Asian community. Morgan Stanley has been very supportive of the Pan-Asian community, among other minority groups, and is aware of the fact that our employees and financial advisers need to look more like our population. The Morgan Stanley Asian Employee Group has significant support within the firm and with senior management, who make it a priority to support and speak at organized events, especially in May, which is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.

What sets Asian professionals apart in the business field?
Asian cultural heritage has a significant emphasis on education and hard work, and our upbringing rewards success and associates failure to a “family shame.” Success and the humility to never feel as if we have learned everything mark Asians continuing the pursuit of knowledge and living up to our capability. Asia will be a very significant player in the next 25 years and Asian professionals who embrace this and can bring this unique value to their companies will flourish. Also, being able to be fluent in languages like Mandarin and Hindi will provide a key differentiator.

What are some of the challenges Asian business leaders face in the professional world and how can they overcome them?
Some of the challenges Asian business leaders face have to do with the Asian upbringing that encourages us to avoid conflict and be quiet and humble in our approach. We tend to work hard and in isolation and do not take assignments outside our comfort area. We also tend not to speak up or want to take credit for our achievements for fear of self-promotion. Sometimes, Asian business leaders, when they reach a senior level, will avoid other Asian professionals for fear of being seen as having a bias. For us to overcome these challenges, we need organizations like Ascend, that help create that sense of community. As senior business leaders, we are creating opportunities for other Asian leaders, and we are proud to do so.

Why is it important for professional and community organizations, such as Ascend, to hold regular conferences?
These conferences are important because they bring together Asian professionals of all levels to hear from global corporate leaders on topics like the global economy, global hiring practices, challenges in the economy and diversity issues. Our goal was to equip attendees with the insight, knowledge and expand their network so they are empowered to successfully navigate today’s increasingly complex, global and interconnected marketplace.

Jessica DuBois-Maahs is an editorial intern at Diversity Executive magazine. She can be reached at