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Financial pro Sarat Sethi has advice for next generation of Asian-American/Pacific Islander leaders

Sarat Sethi

Cameron Costa | CNBC

When Sarat Sethi was coming up in the finance and investment advisory industry, there were not a lot of role models of Asian descent.

“It made me feel different,” said Sethi, who moved with his family to the U.S. from India when he was 12.

Sethi, now 51 and a managing partner at New-York based investment advisory firm Douglas C. Lane, said that only made him work harder.

“If I’m different, the only way I feel I can fit in is if I can do really, really good work,” he said.

Sarat Sethi during his time at Lehigh University. He graduated in 1992.

Source: Sarat Sethi

Only a quarter of senior manager roles and higher in financial services are filled by those of Asian descent, including 6% in the C-suite, research by the W.K. Kellogg foundation and McKinsey found in 2020. Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander and mixed-race people held only 2% of those roles, with none in the C-suite.

Fortunately, Sethi found mentors who helped him grow in his career. He worked for JP Morgan after earning his MBA from Harvard Business School and then became a portfolio manager and partner at Douglas C. Lane, which manages $7.8 billion in assets.

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He is also a member of the Board of Trustees Executive Committee for Lehigh University, his college alma mater, and chairs the institution’s investment committee. In addition, he serves on the advisory board for Children’s Hope, a New York-based nonprofit that helps with children’s programs in India and the U.S.

“I feel a duty to give back, whether that is time or money,” said Sethi, a CNBC contributor.

Here’s his advice for the next generation of Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders.

Be your own advocate

In general, Asian Americans don’t advocate for themselves, Sethi said.

“You work hard,” he said. “You let your actions speak louder than your words.”

He, too, deferred to others in the workplace, sometimes standing back and listening — which helps you learn. However, it can also be hurtful because people may feel you don’t have an opinion, he said.

“That has been an important part of my growing up in this industry,” Sethi acknowledged.

When you are confident of what you are doing, you can feel comfortable expressing yourself in a way that doesn’t just explain your ideas but also promotes your abilities, he explained.

Get a mentor

Find a mentor who understands your strengths and weaknesses. They can help you build that confidence and answer any questions you may have along the way.

Branch out

Don’t just stay in your lane, go out and meet new people, Sethi advised.

For instance, being a part of the Lehigh alumni network is very important to Sethi. Attending the university allowed him to grow into the person he is today.

“Experience life and you will find people that you will connect with and they will respect you,” he said.

Work hard

Work hard. Be humble and take the attitude that there is so much more to learn, Sethi said.

Stay true to yourself

Don’t lose your complete cultural heritage as you move up in your career.

“We all try to assimilate so well, but you can lose your own identity,” Sethi said.

“You can be all of it and enjoy all of it.”

TUNE IN: Sarat Sethi will appear on “Halftime Report” on Tuesday at 12p.m. ET.

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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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