When you were a teenager, you were hell-bent on getting into one of the IITs to study information technology, because you knew you could get a lucrative job in that field. You were right, up to a point. Soon after graduation, once you realised coding was not your cup of tea and that even more money could be made in management, you decided to get an MBA from one of the IIMs. Bingo, right again. You landed a plum position at a Bengaluru-based subsidiary of a New York-based company which invests in and arranges financing for start-ups and launches their IPOs.
I am sure you are aware of the many start-ups in India hoping to become unicorns. Since the relaxation of FDI rules in the financial services sector has made India a veritable carpetbagger’s paradise, many an investment house on Wall Street is salivating at the thought of making a killing in India. Not to be left out, you too will be participating in the new economy. However, you will be working in New York City and your compensation is $150,000/year (that is over Rs 1.2 crore!) plus productivity bonuses. Since you know Wall Street is the financial capital of the world and you have always been where the action is, no doubt you will say yes.
Ah, not so fast. Time for some due diligence, okay?
Let us assume you are willing to fork out $5,000 (the average monthly rent, excluding utilities) for a two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, where your company is based. After federal, state and city taxes are deducted from your monthly gross salary of $12,500, your net amount will be $7,500. Once you have paid the rent, there is $2,500 left with you. At the very least, you will still have to pay for food, utilities, transportation, and clothing. If you are married and have children whom you plan to enrol in private school, you will be even worse off. You may decide to commute from neighbouring New Jersey where rents are cheaper, but you just added another 20 hours to your work week, not to mention commuting expenses. You may qualify for productivity bonuses if you are willing to work 80 to 100 hours a week. Since you are expected to generate at least $300,000 in extra revenue for the company, you don’t really have any choice, do you?
You won’t have the time, money or energy to fulfil your long-cherished desire to visit the Empire State Building in Manhattan or Niagara Falls in western New York State, where temperatures can dip down to minus 30 degrees Centigrade in the winter and the right-wing political climate can be equally chilly. Your stress level just went up.
Have you checked out the company you will be working for? Chances are, it would be one of those ‘bulge bracket’ investment banks that basically run the financial world. If that’s so, and you have a strong sense of ethics – though it is a topic hardly emphasized in B-schools or institutes of technology — you will need to reconsider your employment offer. Some of them have been indicted the world over for numerous corrupt practices. Why is it that the red carpet is rolled out for such companies? Well, it must be because they create jobs, and well-paid jobs at that.
Incidentally, did you realise that when you switched from IT to management, you not only threw away four or five years of State-subsidised education but, in the process, also deprived some other student who was actually interested in computer science as an intellectual discipline and not merely as a pathway to a lucrative job? Well, if you have never taken ethics seriously, why would you start now? You would be a good fit at the “leading global investment bank”.
When you relocate to NYC, you will just be another face in the crowd, anonymity guaranteed. The city has a population of nine million. Immigrants account for 40% of the population, and most of them are far less educated or well-off than you. The city is less crowded than Chennai or Bengaluru, much cleaner, and has an elaborate and reliable mass transit system. Owning a car in the city doesn’t make sense since the average monthly rent for a parking space is around $500 and driving in the city is no picnic. And there is a multitude of restaurants catering to every taste, idli and dosa included.
Welcome to NY. You won’t have the time to feel homesick or superior, ever.
(Roger Marshall, a computer scientist, a newly minted Luddite and a cynic.)