W Power 2024

Anu Aiyengar: Wall Street veteran

Anu Aiyengar is the first woman to lead JP Morgan's global mergers and acquisitions business, and has advised deals to the tune of $1 trillion over the past 25 years

Neha Bothra
Published: Mar 18, 2024 01:26:34 PM IST
Updated: Apr 1, 2024 03:49:13 PM IST

Anu Aiyengar: Wall Street veteranAnu Aiyengar, Managing director and global head of M&A, JP Morgan

Anu Aiyengar, a prominent name on Wall Street, is the first woman to lead the global mergers and acquisitions (M&A) business of one of the world’s largest banks. The managing director and global head of M&A at JP Morgan has advised deal transactions to the tune of $1 trillion over the past 25 years. In fact, she closed some of the biggest deals in recent years.

“Anu is the consummate professional partner.  Her work ethic and the team she has built are unparalleled. Add in her stellar relationship skills and you have a perfect combination of passion, commitment and drive,” says John Chidsey, CEO of Subway.

Subway was bought by fast-food investor Roark Capital for $9.6 billion last August, and Aiyengar’s team was the exclusive financial advisor to the sandwich chain company for the sale.

The long list of big-ticket mergers, acquisitions, divestitures, and leveraged buyouts includes examples such as French luxury giant LVMH’s acquisition of iconic American jeweller Tiffany for $16 billion in December 2020, Allergan’s $63 billion sale to AbbVie in May 2020, and Walmart’s acquisition of Flipkart for $16 billion in August 2018, to name a few.

Also, Aiyengar is involved with several initiatives to mentor women and is a guest lecturer at Chicago Booth and Harvard Business School.

Also read: Anshula Kant: From SBI to the World Bank

Early Life

Aiyengar grew up in Kerala and excelled at academics, particularly science and maths. She was also a classical dancer and keenly participated in debates and other extracurricular activities in school. Though she wasn’t sure about what exactly she wanted to pursue as a career, Aiyengar was clear about one thing: Having her own identity and wanting to be her own person.

Anu Aiyengar: Wall Street veteran“That translated in my head as being financially independent such that I have my own money, because as I observed society and people around me, I thought if you were dependent on somebody else, then they get to tell you what you should and shouldn’t do in life,” Aiyengar adds.

An encounter with a librarian, in a way, proved to be life-changing as it led Aiyengar to earn a scholarship and persuade her parents to allow her to go to the US to study economics at Smith College. Her stint at the women’s college laid the foundation of her career as a leading investment banker.

Breaking the glass ceiling  

“A central belief of mine is that if you always go back to how it was done before, you will be limited in your creativity and your possibilities,” Aiyengar says.

This approach helped Aiyengar navigate challenges and broaden her horizons. The job in itself was not difficult. The harder part was adapting to the new professional environment. But as Aiyengar climbed the ladder, she found herself at greater ease with some help from mentors inside and outside the firm.

“I moved away from trying to change myself to fit an American mould to figuring out a way to be myself, but within the context of the work I do. The years I was a VP and director was probably the time when I figured that out for myself,” she adds.

Click here for W-Power List 2024

After she assumed leadership roles, Aiyengar developed her own style of management to help her team perform better. She believes that each person has different strengths and capabilities. “As opposed to trying to change them, it’s important to make them become, and help them become, the best version of themselves,” she says.
In February 2020, when she took over as head of the global M&A business, a month before Covid-induced lockdowns, she understood what her team needed from her during a phase of extreme uncertainty. “They were expecting me to be available, empathetic, vulnerable, not pretend that I had an answer, but kind of admit that look, I’m trying to figure this out too… ‘let’s try and figure this out together’, and that was a big learning for me to navigate those three months,” Aiyengar reminisces.  

Anu Aiyengar: Wall Street veteran 
Aiyengar’s expertise and leadership, coupled with conducive market conditions, helped her team to close multi-billion-dollar deals, turning the next 18 months—July 2020 to December 2021—into one of the best periods for JP Morgan’s global M&A business. Similarly, having experienced the dotcom bubble crash and the global financial crisis, Aiyengar was swiftly able to steady the ship when the markets turned choppy and deals dried up in 2022 once the interest rate hiking cycle started.

However, the dealmaker is optimistic that the current calendar year will be better than 2023 for M&A activity. The valuation gap has narrowed and investors are more realistic after the market euphoria caused by an avalanche of liquidity. She believes private equity firms have close to $2.5 trillion available for investments that they are likely to deploy in the coming two to three years. “India is a part of the world that we are very optimistic about,” Aiyengar adds. 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

Post Your Comment
Required, will not be published
All comments are moderated