Feature Stories

Pursuing His Passion

Gurinder S. Ahluwalia

"Decide what you're passionate about and pursue that passion to the very best of your ability, always keeping the goal of excellence in mind." That's the advice Gurinder S. Ahluwalia offers to young people contemplating the path ahead in life.

For Ahluwalia, following his own path to the post of president and chief executive officer at Genworth Financial Wealth Management included a 1990 master’s in electrical engineering from NJIT. The undergraduate experience that led to NJIT – where his father, Daljit, chairs the Department of Mathematical Sciences – was a dual degree in electrical engineering and computer science earned at Cooper Union and New York University.

Although he did well academically as a graduate student, Ahluwalia says he wasn’t as happy as he felt he could be at that point in his life. “I knew that I needed a PhD for a career in college teaching or research, but that meant spending a lot of time more or less alone doing work that just didn’t appeal to me. However, I really enjoyed being a teaching assistant, which helped me realize that I wanted to be much more engaged with people on a daily basis. I decided that I had to move in a different direction.”

Ahluwalia found that direction when, with MS in hand, he left academia for a manufacturing-management position in the aerospace field with GE in Boston. A subsequent move to GE Medical Systems also meant a move to Wisconsin and assignments as far afield as Tokyo. It was the mentoring relationship Ahluwalia had with his GE plant manager that motivated a very direct question about the future: “How do I get your job?” His manager’s answer: “You need a financial background. You should join the GE Audit Staff.”

No problem. Auditing applicants just had to pass an intellectually and physically grueling one-month test of their ability to acquire and apply the knowledge essential for resolving a complex business challenge. In Ahluwalia's case, this rite of passage involved sorting out a problem in “transfer pricing” – a dense provision of the U.S. tax code pertaining to allocation of manufacturing value added and income.

Ahluwalia's impressive results on his real-world test marked the starting point of a career which, through corporate evolution, has taken him from auditing to positions of increasing executive responsibility in the financial world. At Genworth Financial Wealth Management, he heads an investment-management and consulting firm that oversees over $25 billion in assets and is helping some 6000 independent advisors build their individual practices.

Now living in California with his wife and children, Ahluwalia has definitely found a satisfying degree of engagement with people in his position of leadership. “I love being able to build an environment that brings out the best in each person when it comes to working together on solutions for the problems we have to solve.”

Has Ahluwalia's education in science and technology been relevant to his achievements in finance? Definitely, he says without hesitation. “I really learned how to break a problem down into its component parts, and to use the resources available to come up with the best possible solution. Studying science sharpens your analytical skills and bolsters self-confidence; these are requisites for success in any field."