Susan Thomas & Ajay Shah | Outlook Business
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Photographs by Tushar Mane

Power Couple

Susan Thomas & Ajay Shah
Susan Thomas and Ajay Shah on their love for cats & reality hacking

Rajesh Padmashali

While he likes to call himself, the Wizard who does not know the answer, she is among the earliest Indian women to graduate out of the hallowed portals of IIT Bombay. Due to their unassuming nature and reticence, they come close to resembling India’s version of Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler, the intensely witty couple in Chuck Lorre’s The Big Bang Theory. Blindingly brilliant with matching Phd’s to boot, the husband wife duo of Ajay Shah and Susan Thomas are unmatched in their understanding of the inner workings of financial markets. It is their work and understanding that led to the creation of the NSE-50 index and from it derivatives such as Nifty futures and options.

Though the benchmark Sensex is more familiar, it is the NSE Nifty that is more liquid and more preferred by investors. In a typical ‘Sheldon’ moment, when asked about the best moment of their married life, Ajay responds, “Watching the lights flicker on the screen when Nifty futures started trading.” Geniuses to the core, for Susan and Ajay, the dividing line between professional highs and personal elation is a blur.

When and where did you meet?

Ajay: We met as undergraduate students at IIT Bombay in 1984. 

What drew you to each other and keeps you together?

Ajay: A certain wackiness, I suppose. The need to guard her dreams and visions motivates me to be with her. 

Susan: I think it is also curiosity about the future that drives us. 

What does your spouse mean to you?

Ajay: She encourages me to think beyond the short term. 

Susan: Ajay is my best friend, because he gets things about me that no one else does.

What was the best moment of your married life? Can you share some anecdotes? 

Susan: There are just too many to pin down. But you should ask Ajay — he remembers specific moments better than me.

Ajay:Watching the lights flicker on screen when the Nifty futures started trading. I have a habit of starting ambitious programmes and petering out halfway through. She has the staying power to debug my code and make it work. 

Do you have any common interests or hobbies? What do you agree or disagree about?

Ajay: We like cats and reality hacking. As for disagreements, she is a puritan about the means while I focus more on the end, leading to clashes. 

Susan: Among other things, we like history, hiking, animals and other people’s children. Though we agree on the big picture, we disagree on the details. 

Who is more patient and what quality do you admire and abhor in your spouse? 

Ajay: I admire her high principles but also dislike the same because often there isn’t much execution. 

Susan: Ajay is very persistent and puts in a lot of hard work into things. But I feel that he gets things done too quickly, sometimes. Neither of us are patient, I think. 

What is the one thing you wanted your spouse to change but they haven’t? What do you feel is the quality that your spouse doesn’t appreciate enough? 

Ajay:Her always keeping her phone on silent irritates me. And I think she doesn’t appreciate my selling skills. 

Susan: I would like him to change his attitude towards people. As for under-appreciated qualities, well, that would be everything. 

What have you learnt from each other?

Ajay: I think we have constantly observed and picked up things from each other. I have learnt to be a little more caring about others.

Susan: I have learnt to be more persistent and hard-working from Ajay. 

How do you resolve conflicts and disagreements? How do you deal with crises?

Ajay: We have a well-established system of conflict avoidance. As for crises, I think life always presents us with opportunities ranging from good to great. So, in that sense, we have never really faced a crisis. There is always an upside if you try harder and that’s what we try to do. 

Susan: I generally yell loudly for 15 minutes when faced with a conflict (grins impishly). But we don’t have clashes as such. Even if there were, he takes the issue forward while I look for the next opportunity.  

Who is the more romantic of the two? What was the most romantic thing that you have done?

Ajay: Neither of us is a romantic, but I think throwing hats off the edge of the Konkan Kada counts as a romantic gesture to me. 

Susan: When we took time off in the middle of a working visit to Europe and visited Gottingen, a place that both of us revered, that was a romantic trip.

Do you celebrate birthdays and anniversaries? Have you ever forgotten any important events? How did you make up for it?

Susan: No, not really. Not being romantic helps.

Who is the better cook? Is there a dish that only you or your spouse makes best?

Susan: I think I am the better cook. 

Ajay: I enjoy baking bread. She makes lovely prawns teeyal. 

Do you have any children? Who is the boss at home?

Ajay: No kids, but we do have cats. And I think she is the boss.

Susan: That, I am.

How are household responsibilities divided?

Susan: I decide what tasks are to be done at any given point in time and Ajay (mostly) finishes them.

How do you unwind/enjoy some ‘me time’? 

Ajay: I unwind by studying statistics and spending time with the cats. 

Susan: We relax with our cats in the evening. But I try to leave him alone in the morning because he is slow, waking up. 

How many holidays do you take in a year?

Ajay: We don’t take many holidays. 

Susan: There’s only one important vacation that I take — Christmas break at home with my father.

What kind of pressure does having a high achiever profile involve? How do you motivate each other during a rough patch? 

Ajay: No, it’s quite cool to have a successful spouse. We try our best to be calm during tough times.

Susan: Yes, we try to be supportive and not criticise each other.

What would you change about your spouse if you were their boss or subordinate? 

Ajay: If I was her boss, I would prod her to test her limits. As a subordinate, I would probably want her to make more time for things.

Susan: As his boss and subordinate, I would encourage him not to be so pushy with ideas. 

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