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Saurabh Suryavanshi Award invests in perseverance

March 18, 2024

Liana Pedersen receives inaugural Saurabh Suryavanshi Award in 2023

A new award for students of UVic’s Applied Portfolio Management Program is named for one of the program’s most beloved instructors—the legendary Saurabh Suryavanshi.

By Stacey McLachlan

The Applied Portfolio Management Program (APMP) may be one of the most challenging programs in Gustavson’s course catalogue…but it’s also one of the most beloved, thanks, in large part, to the iconic instructors who make the program possible.

Saurabh Suryavanshi is the teacher who responds to every email, who always makes time for coffee chats or Zoom calls and can often be found working with a student on a problem until they get the ‘nut cracked’. A portfolio manager with Dixon Mitchell Investment Counsel Inc.’s Vancouver office by day, Suryavanshi blends his career wisdom with his natural knack for coaching and goes above and beyond to ensure students are supported—even after hours, or late into the night.

“He’s all in, and he’s excited to be there,” says Jordie Hutchinson, program director of the APMP and financial advisor at Edward Jones—and beloved of students in his own right. “If you ever want to see a clean sweep of five-star reviews, look at the emails that I get,” says Hutchinson. “Saurabh is really what makes the program tick.” (Says Suryavanshi: “They come as students; they leave as friends.”) He’s been alongside students and alumni as they celebrate important life milestones—landing a great internship, securing that first job post-graduation and for the personal moments, like engagements and weddings.

Suryavanshi teaches the APMP’s pre-requisite course, the Applied Investment Management Course, or AIMC, which is open to students studying economics or business at UVic. After completing AIMC, students apply to become portfolio managers or analysts in the APMP. The APMP brings real-world experience to the students involved: the chance to get hands-on with a living $1.8 million portfolio, which they call the shots on under industry mentorship. Students make decisions about how the money is invested, analyzing returns and generally spending their days eating, sleeping and breathing finance.

In his approach to the AIMC, Suryavanshi creates an environment where students are ultimately graded against themselves. “I grade every student from scratch,” says Suryavanshi. “Where were they at when they came in? Where did they leave? In preparing to enter an extremely competitive field, they must first compete against themselves.” It’s tough, but fair—and students love Suryavanshi for it.

After seven years of UVic’s APMP, there are more than 50 graduates now working in the financial sector and bringing these values and their hard-earned lessons into new environments. Only a few students, mostly BCom and Economics, are selected to join this prestigious, highly demanding course each year. As a result, each cohort becomes incredibly tight knit. Those students then become part of a wider community of APMP alums, all of whom share a special bond and passion.

APMP alumni have a deep-rooted understanding of just what it takes to make it through this financial gauntlet and emerge on the other side even more passionate about investing. It’s a community of high achievers and self-professed finance nerds who truly love what they do. “Finance isn’t rocket science,” says fourth-year BCom student Jade Prezeau, calling from her exchange in Milan. “I think you just have to care to do it and show up. It’s really about determination and interest”—and, perhaps, the influence of a once-in-a-lifetime instructor.

All too often, instructors aren’t given the credit they deserve for the wide scope of work they do outside the classroom. Despite his efforts to duck attention, APMP alumni decided in 2023 that it was time to really show Suryavanshi just how much his leadership has meant over the years and acknowledge how all-consuming Suryavanshi’s role has been.

Graduates of the program came together to establish an award to be presented to a student in the AIMC who best represented work ethic and perseverance: the Saurabh Suryavanshi Award.

This award—a surprise to Suryavanshi—represents the collective spirit of the APMP and reflects the life lessons imparted by him to each and every student. Although still early in their careers, alumni contributed what they could with the goal of making a combined impact and paying forward the good-will they received in the program in honour of someone integral to their academic journey. 

With nearly 100 percent participation from alumni, the peer-to-peer fundraising campaign for the Saurabh Suryavanshi Award generated an impressive $5,000 in a little over three weeks. These funds were generously matched dollar for dollar by Dixon Mitchell, whose leadership team proudly acknowledged how uniquely special Suryavanshi is.

Valery Heckel, part of the first-ever APMP cohort, was thrilled to learn of the award in his name, and particularly happy about the fact it’s not based on academic merit.

"Saurabh invested himself in our success, and that kept us engaged and focused. To succeed in both life and finance, you have to have grit. Rewarding students for that is really refreshing."

—Valery Heckel (BSc Economics ’19), first APMP cohort

Heckel now works in Toronto for CIBC doing equity research. She calls the program “fundamental” to her current work.

“Saurabh made the whole program a rewarding process. He was instrumental in giving me that strong foundation of knowledge,” Heckel says. “It’s a program that really professionalizes you and prepares you for a career in finance…but the professors are a huge part of that.”

Travis Wellman, BSc Economics ’19, was part of the second year of the APMP program. He reached for his wallet the second he heard about the award.

“Saurabh put his heart on his sleeve for this program,” he says. “I had to contribute. It’s such a great opportunity to give back to something that gave me so much.” Through internships and job applications and yes, even Wellman’s wedding, Suryavanshi has been there.

Today, Wellman works for Meg Energy in Calgary as a strategic planning analyst, but his career trajectory wasn’t always clear. He’s the first to describe himself as “a quiet guy,” and in those early days of the program, he wasn’t necessarily confident in his own ability. Suryavanshi saw something in Wellman, though, and pushed his student to realize just what he was capable of. “He was a hype man,” laughs Wellman. “He had my back and let me know I was better than I thought I was.”

The inaugural Saurabh Suryavanshi Award was presented in April 2023 at the end-of-term celebration for students who had just completed the AIMC. Recipient Liana Pedersen persevered through a challenging AIMC final presentation—carrying on through tough questions and even some tearful answers.

“It was a nice feeling to know my hard work throughout the term didn’t go unnoticed,” says Pedersen, a BCom student who is currently doing her fourth-year co-op placement at Fidelity Canada. It’s a lesson that will stick with her: “Even if you face adversity, keep going; it’ll pay off in the end.”

Pedersen will tell you she wasn’t the program’s strongest student. But, according to her peers, she was the student with the most heart. And that’s ultimately what the Saurabh Suryavanshi Award is about. That commitment, that drive, that ability to power through and not give up—beyond the practical skills of finance management, these are the qualities that really make the foundations of a winning career.

They’re qualities that all the grads of the Applied Investment Management course and Applied Portfolio Management Program share. It’s proof, perhaps, that making it through the rigorous, challenging, mind-expanding program alongside your peers isn’t just an investment in your career, but an investment in yourself.

Investing intensive

The Applied Portfolio Management Program at a glance.

What is it? A real-life financial management opportunity. Students handle a $1.8 million (and growing) investment fund and work as a team to manage investments.

Who’s it for? Third and fourth year UVic students passionate about finance, who have completed the non-credit Applied Investment Management Course. There is an application process to get in.

How long is the APMP? APMP runs for a full 12 months to deliver an ongoing, hands-on experience.

When was it founded? APMP was offered for the first time in 2017, a partnership between UVic Economics and the Gustavson School of Business, made possible by practising finance professionals Jordie Hutchinson and Johann Kuntze.

The man behind the money

This modest instructor brings a quiet influence to a new generation of finance professionals.

For Saurabh Suryavanshi, teaching isn’t a job: it’s a chance to contribute. “I’m an immigrant and I always wanted to give back,” he says. Though his day job is at investment firm Dixon Mitchell, he’s fully committed to his students too. He was heavily involved with Jordie Hutchinson and Johann Kuntze in developing the APMP, and remains intimately involved as an AIMC instructor and mentor for each new group.

Advice for students: “If you want to give back to the program, be successful. It’s the number one thing. Success builds an environment of belonging.”

Greatest teaching moments: “It’s special to me that I get ‘the call’—someone saying ‘I really need to talk to you…I got the job!’

His own educational hero: “Andrew Sweeney: the way he taught, the way he treated me, it changed how I am today. My whole thinking about teaching came from him.”

 Feature image: (L-R) Liana Pedersen, inaugural Saurabh Suryavanshi Award award recipient, and Saurabh Suryavanshi in 2023.