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Raja Jawad Akram ’95 ’97 is heading to his office in midtown New York City. With a title like deputy chief financial officer and chief accounting officer at Morgan Stanley, you might imagine him in a crisp suit and tie, being driven in a luxury car.

But in this, like so many other things, Akram is not what you’d expect.

Instead, he’s zipping through the city traffic on a red Ducati, the engine revving as he weaves through packs of tourists and taxis on a beautiful autumn day. He’s dressed in black leather and motorcycle boots. Heads turn when he walks into the shiny skyscraper where he offices in Times Square, carrying a helmet instead of a briefcase.

Going his own way, fearlessly tackling tough situations, and moving beyond what’s comfortable and safe are key to his philosophy. Akram describes himself as “a person with above-average risk tolerance.” After all, “no risk, no reward,” he quipped with a smile.

On the Road to Adventure

Akram’s willingness to ride into the unknown and try something new was how he got from his home in Pakistan to Aggieland. He knew he wanted to study business at an American university with a strong sense of tradition. Why Texas A&M University? His high school guidance counselor told him it was “the MIT of the Southwest” and was known for its dynamic campus culture. In those pre-internet days, before prospective students could visit virtually and conduct their own research, Akram took her word for it and enrolled, having never laid eyes on campus.

Raja Akram zips through New York City traffic on his motorcycle, embodying a spirit of adventure and risk-taking in his distinguished finance career.

Luckily, it was love at first sight when he arrived in fall 1992. “I didn’t know anyone, but I never felt like an outsider,” he recalled. “I jumped right in, met new people and tried everything Aggieland had to offer, from Bonfire and Yell Practice to academic organizations. I made a purposeful effort to be outside my comfort zone.”

His original plan to graduate from Texas A&M with a business degree, manage his father’s real estate business in Pakistan and possibly enter politics changed when unexpected opportunities led him in a different direction.

The summer before his junior year, Akram interned at public accounting firm KPMG in Houston and loved it. That led him to pursue Mays Business School’s Professional Program in Accounting, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees as well as his CPA certification in five years of study. The internship led to a job opportunity with KPMG after graduation, and since he had a one-year work visa as an international student, he decided to give it a shot and see what he could learn.

One year in the U.S. stretched to two…then five, then 10. He visited Pakistan often, maintaining his connection with family and especially his Grandma Akhtar, but eventually, he realized he was not “going home” to Lahore anymore. Somewhere along the way, “home” had shifted across the ocean. 

“I remember telling my grandmother my decision and her words back to me: ‘If you’re going to stay in the U.S., make sure you strive for excellence and not mediocrity. You have to be all in or else it’s not worth it to leave your home and family,’” he said.

He was determined to live up to her expectations, make the sacrifice worthwhile for himself and his family, and not lose his connection to his roots.

Leadership in the Fast Lane

After his time with KPMG, Akram moved to New York City for a role with Citigroup, shifting gears from public accounting to banking. “It was exciting to see the bigger picture of the economy,” he said, especially when the 2008 financial turmoil rocked the industry.

Through that crisis, he learned to lead with calm confidence by watching others in the organization. “Every day, we had something to solve,” he said. During the Great Recession, when banks were closing and the market was in a tailspin, Akram realized the importance of his work. “Banks are the fuel that keep economies going. What we do impacts lives.”

He would continue to build his career with Citi over the span of 14 years, including a five-year assignment in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Eventually, he became controller and chief accounting officer for the global bank, responsible for Citigroup’s financial and regulatory reporting, booking model optimization and management, financial reporting infrastructure and the digital transformation of finance.

“It’s important to take the difficult assignment to see if you can do it. That’s the only way to grow. If I’m not willing to bet on myself, then who am I willing to bet on?”
- Raja Akram ’95 ’97

Akram believes one key to his success has been finding the right people for his teams. As a leader, he looks for individuals of diverse backgrounds to drive innovation. To him, this doesn’t mean the obvious distinctions of gender or ethnicity; instead, he wants employees who have studied and lived in different places and had varied career experiences so that his team can approach problems from unexpected perspectives.

The benefit of starting his career as a CPA was that he was entrusted with a team very early on, Akram reflected. As his influence increased and he led greater numbers of people and teams, he realized that he was no longer a subject matter expert. Though it was uncomfortable at first to not have all the answers, he recognized that his job had less to do with knowledge and more to do with equipping his staff and relying on their expertise. Now he focuses on setting direction, providing resources and letting his team be the experts.

Whenever he sees talent, he is intentional about mentoring those individuals and moving them up—even if it means moving them beyond his immediate team setting. “Early in my career, I was so happy to be promoted,” he said. “Now I get great satisfaction from seeing other people succeed.”

Navigating a New Path

After nearly a decade and a half of advancement within Citigroup, Akram was confident in his role. However, when the global financial services firm Morgan Stanley approached him about an opportunity in 2019, it piqued his interest. It would be a chance to learn something new in an unfamiliar organization, but it would also mean leaving behind a team that felt like family.

Akram embraced the challenge of transitioning from Citigroup to Morgan Stanley, hoping to thrive in a new territory despite the risks. Photo taken by Adam Lerner.

He was at a familiar fork in the road—a choice between a predictable path to success or the unknown.

Making a major change at this point in his career felt somewhat risky, but he had taken up challenging assignments before. He was drawn to Morgan Stanley’s core values, among them, “Do the right thing,” which reminded him of Texas A&M’s core values. He also liked the company’s strong culture of collaboration and its emphasis on excellence and innovation.

As he was wrestling with his decision to leave Citigroup, one of Morgan Stanley’s most senior leaders said to him, “Everyone knows you at Citi. At Morgan Stanley, you’ll have to prove yourself all over again, but the potential reward is high. So, the question is, do you want to bet on yourself or not?”

That question reframed the decision. “It’s important to take the difficult assignment to see if you can do it. That’s the only way to grow,” he said. “If I’m not willing to bet on myself, then who am I willing to bet on?”

He said yes to the new challenge at the beginning of 2020, not knowing just how much his life, and everyone else’s, was about to change. While his onboarding experience was 100% virtual and his leadership of new teams came at a time of unprecedented, worldwide turmoil, Akram said his first few years at Morgan Stanley have been very positive. Just like the leadership crash course he took during the 2008 financial crisis, the challenges of the pandemic created an opportunity to reinvent business as usual and accelerate growth. 

Shifting Into High Gear

“No one is going to move Texas while you’re away. It will still be there when you want to go back.”

This is the advice Akram has given students at Texas A&M repeatedly as he encourages them to consider careers outside the Lone Star State. Exchange comfort and predictability for opportunity and growth, and be willing to bet on yourself, he advises. Akram has mined his corporate experience to share important lessons from Wall Street as well as his personal philosophy in the classroom at Mays Business School as a visiting professor. For the duration of a six-week course last fall, he flew to College Station weekly. “Our most finite resource is our time, not our money. So, what’s the biggest impact I can make? Being there in person,” he said.

Akram teaches and mentors students at Mays Business School, advocating for seizing opportunities in finance and education outside of the Lone Star State.

In addition to teaching, he also serves on the Dean’s Advisory Board and the James Benjamin Department of Accounting Advisory Council. Akram said his motivation for this investment of time and talent is simple. He wants to raise the reputation of the business school to match that of coastal schools and the Ivys by strengthening the pipeline for Aggie grads working in finance in the Big Apple.

He is also a supporter of the Aggies on Wall Street program, which brings students to New York City to tour financial firms and meet with other Aggies involved in banking. It’s an opportunity for networking, interviews and learning about life outside Texas.

“Students are much more likely to apply for jobs on Wall Street when they can see what that opportunity looks like,” he said. Seeing an Aggie who has done it, as well as having a mentor who lives and works in New York City, makes it seem possible. Since he began teaching at Mays in 2022, he’s had several students intern with his company and regularly receives calls and emails from students who have questions about life and opportunities in the city. “I get a lot of pleasure from being on campus, but I am really there for the students,” he said. “I believe in changing the lives of the next generation through education.”

This personal investment in others’ education was a value Akram learned from his Grandma Akhtar. “I always saw her taking care of others,” he said, recalling how she emphasized access to education for all who worked for their family’s business in Pakistan. She modeled for him how to be a servant leader, looking out for the needs of those who are part of your team, community or staff.

Akram honors his grandmother's legacy through a Texas A&M scholarship for members of the Pakistani Students Association. He credits her with teaching him the habit of giving back.

In 2018, with those values in mind, he established an excellence endowment for Texas A&M’s accounting department, and a few years later, he created the Begum Akhtar Akram Endowed International Scholarship for members of the Pakistani Students Association in honor of his grandmother. “She taught me the habit of giving. She believed that if you can increase your standard of living, you can increase your standard of giving,” he said. His hope is that others from his home country will consider attending Texas A&M because of this scholarship opportunity.

“Legacy was very important to my elders. I want to instill that in the next generation as well,” he said. “No one will live forever, but through this scholarship, her legacy will continue.”

All Roads Lead Home

Though he no longer calls Pakistan home, Akram has been intentional about remaining connected to his roots there. He grew up in the bustling metropolis of Lahore, but his family also owned an estate in the mountains of Murree, six hours away, where he spent summers. The estate, called Dingley Dell, was the perfect retreat from the heat. Akram, his siblings and a large cohort of cousins would spend the days relaxing in the cool mountain air and enjoying the tranquil country setting.

He still enjoys occasional visits to Dingley Dell, but the family does not reside there as regularly as they once did. Instead, Akram and several other family members are working to transform the residence into a boutique hotel. He wants to keep the place active not so much for financial reasons, but because he wants to continue providing employment for the staff that has served his family for many years. “You should never forget where you come from,” he said, noting that he also dreams of one day building a hospital in the village where his father grew up.

“My grandmother taught me the habit of giving. She believed that if you can increase your standard of living, you can increase your standard of giving.”
- Raja Akram ’95 ’97

Just as he honors his connection to Pakistan and his history there, he is purposeful about staying connected to Texas A&M to honor the role the university played in his success. His biggest influence at the university was Dr. Austin Daily, the program director for the Professional Program in Accounting at the time, who was instrumental in setting him on the path to career success. Daily had a similar impact on Akram’s two brothers, who followed in his footsteps and became Aggies too. “I still look him up when I’m in College Station,” he said.

His continuing involvement at Texas A&M as well as his professional success have earned him recognition. He was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Department of Accounting in 2019 and named an Outstanding Alumnus of Mays Business School in 2023.

While he’s a little young to be dreaming of retirement, Akram said he envisions doing more teaching at Texas A&M in the future when he’s ready to leave the financial services industry. He is also hopeful that his two children, Sofiya, age 9, and Mohammed, age 15, will choose to study at Texas A&M one day so that he will have more reasons to visit campus.

In the meantime, Akram is pleased to be shaping the future of the profession through his teaching and advisory work with Mays. “I’m not interested in maintaining the status quo,” he said. “After I left Mays and came to New York, I had this notion that I needed to make sure other people understood what a special place Texas A&M is. I like to think we are moving the needle in the right direction and making Texas A&M a destination of choice for Wall Street.”

You can prepare future leaders in the financial services industry by funding a scholarship for students in the Aggies on Wall Street program. Endowed excellence funds can also create networking opportunities with corporate partners in the Big Apple and support the travel of industry leaders to College Station. Learn more by contacting True Brown ’04, senior director of development, at the bottom of this page.

  • True Brown

  • Senior Director of Development
  • Mays Business School
  • Call: 979.862.4531

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Prepare future finance leaders with a gift to the Aggies on Wall Street Excellence Fund.