Best Buddies 2017

Jacob Mathew and Ramprasad M

The Mape Advisory Group co-founders defy the rules of commonality to thrive on friendship

Jacob Mathew and Ramprasad M, co-founders of Mape Advisory Group, look like the quintessential investment bankers, till the time you start talking to them. Once the conversation starts, they are busy pulling each other’s legs and there seems to be a race to point out who is bad at what. The camaraderie comes from having built a long-standing successful partnership in investment banking — a cut-throat business that has seen many a casualty. After a stint together in DSP Merrill Lynch, the duo started a boutique investment banking firm of their own, by investing Rs. 50,000 each when they saw that bulge bracket firms were only too happy to let go of the smaller deals that came their way. Today, over 180 deals later, Mape has definitely carved a niche for itself in the investment banking world. Mathew and Ramprasad say that the only thing common to them is the fact that they are both from South India. But the similarity ends there. Mathew is a Christian from Kerala, while Ramprasad is a Brahmin from Tamil Nadu. Mathew is a non-vegetarian who loves to drink and prefers reading, rather than spending time watching a cricket match. Ramprasad, on the other hand, is a pure vegetarian who avoids the tipple but loves cricket. It is probably the differences that help them stand apart. As Mape Advisory Group turns 15, the founders speak on the nuances of being different, and still being able to complement each other. 

How did the two of you meet?

Mathew: I met him in 1997. I don’t remember jab we met. (laughs)

Ramprasad: I think I was to meet him on April 9th in 1997. 

Mathew: I had just joined DSP. I was in Bombay and he was in Chennai.

Ramprasad: He wanted to make a pitch to Henkel India management. He took ill. I met him later at DSP office in Bombay. He was always cracking jokes — like how typical Mallus do. I remember you were laughing at your own joke. (pointing to Mathew)

What was your first impression of each other?

Jacob: He was regarded as a very resourceful guy. He was my boss’ blue-eyed boy. I used to think, “Isme itna kya hai?” 

Ramprasad: He was cracking jokes with someone as usual. So, he came across as a carefree and jovial person. 

How would you describe each other?

Mathew: Good question. He’s a very painful guy but, dil toh theek hai! It’s difficult to get along with him. Once he shaves his beard off, he is fine. 

Ramprasad: Jacob is very unpredictable and mercurial. His mood will swing from pessimism to optimism and vice-versa very quickly. But you can blindly trust him. 

What is your idea of a great business partner?

Mathew: That would be someone whom you can trust and who can complement your skill set. We are as different as chalk and cheese in terms of basic personalities and likes and dislikes. If I had to start a business with my best buddy in life, then I don’t think I would have chosen Ram. I am sure it’s the same with him. 

Ramprasad: Yes, it’s true. This is a business where you can start loving your own voice because it makes an impact. But ultimately, this is also a very cyclical business. You also have to understand the cyclicality of the business and your partner must have this ability to call you out  when you start loving your voice a little too much. 

How do you find it working with each other?

Mathew: We speak to each other four to five times a day, and at least one of it ends up in a big fight. But, thankfully, the fight is always on how to do a deal or how to handle a client, and it has never been on fundamental things like trust or money.

Ramprasad: This business is filled with unpredictability. So, you have to figure out a way to constantly deal with it. That’s difficult to do and sometimes we end up having fights, as we try to find a method in the madness. You have to rein in Jacob when he goes berserk and you have to pull him up when he is lazy. 

Can he keep a secret? 

Mathew: Yeah, very much.

Ramprasad: I am not sure if Jacob can. 

What’s the one thing that he hasn’t stopped pulling your leg about?

Mathew: He says that I have a wild personality. He generally keeps making sarcastic comments. 

Ramprasad: About me being a conservative Tam-Brahm! When he is on the optimistic side and wants to push an investment decision, he would say, “Don’t be a conservative Tam-Brahm. Take risks in life.” 

What’s the one thing he talks about for hours on end?

Mathew: About his exercise regime and how to be fit. He can go on forever and I hate that topic.

Ramprasad: It can be about the economy or it can be about politics. 

How have you been influenced by each other? 

Mathew: He is a die-hard optimist. He will never accept ‘No’ for an answer. He will still dig and try to get a ‘Yes’ from the client. I think that is my biggest learning from him. Not to give up. I tend to give up somewhat faster. He has that persistence and it has paid off during various fund raising deals.

Ramprasad: He doesn’t get stressed. That’s a huge positive in him. I’m also more stress-free now.

How do you resolve professional conflicts? 

Mathew: Invariably, we go with one view. One of us manages to convince the other guy. 

Ramprasad: If we are aligned at a strategic level, then, typically, we adhere to the judgment of the person who is leading that particular execution.

What are the personal beliefs that you differ on?

Mathew: We are at the different ends of the spectrum in politics. He is more religious than me. He believes in numerology. He made me change the name of the company. The original name that I had coined was ‘Mape Partners’ but it was not numerologically right. So, he forced me to change the name to Mape Advisory Group. 

How do you know the other person is extremely upset or angry? 

Mathew: We are quite vocal about our emotions with each other. I don’t have to read his body language. Voice is more than enough. I know when to push him, and when not to push him. If he is extremely emotional and upset, I drop the topic. I don’t drop my stance. I discuss it the next day and find a solution.

Ramprasad: He is very vocal. We don’t hide our emotions. But we get over our disagreements quickly. We let it be for the moment. There is no point in creating
more animosity.

What’s the one thing you’d want to change about him?

Mathew: I would love him to get some hair grafting done and cover his baldness so that I can also follow his footsteps. He will be my role model. He can do all the research work and tell me the best place in town for it.

Ramprasad: I don’t want him to change because if I do, then Jacob will not be himself.

What is the one thing that has been newly introduced to you by the other and has now become a constant in your life?

Mathew: I have started appreciating vegetarian food. 

Ramprasad: I have become more of a spendthrift as far as technology goes. It started with him getting me a Macbook. Now, all the technology that I use are from Apple. 

What’s your most memorable milestone that you have achieved together? 

Mathew: We have turned 15 this month. In a business which is riddled with casualities and very few people managing to scale up, the fact that we are alive and kicking is a great achievement in itself. We have worked on numerous deals, but the one that stands out is Jyothy Labs’ acquisition of Henkel India. We have worked for almost five years on it and the the deal has transformed our company.

Ramprasad: That is certainly one. There are many smaller achievements too. Each successful transaction is a victory by itself. 

Do you have any nicknames for each other?

Mathew: I call him Ramu.

Ramprasad: I call him by his name.