Arun Muralidhar is not your typical corporate type, even if his story starts out that way.
A 1988 graduate of Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, Muralidhar earned his master’s and Ph.D. from MIT, where he studied under Franco Modigliani, a Nobel Prize winning economist. He then went to work managing a $5 billion pension fund for the World Bank.
And then in 1996 he quit. Not to pursue a bigger corporate job, not to advance his education any further. He quit because of a phone call.
Muralidhar was visiting his mother in Bombay when the phone rang. On the other end was a voice asking him to help a woman who runs an orphanage that had run on hard times even for them. His answer? “Sure.”
And so Arun Muralidhar, world-class economist and business bigwig, dropped his life as he knew it and took up a new one teaching kids in India. It was a noble calling and, according to an interview Muralidhar conducted with his alma mater in 2006, was a chance to pay it forward. “Others sacrificed to keep me in school, and that first taste of learning opened my eyes to the potential for much more,” he told the Wabash College alumni magazine. “That’s what I would like to give to these children. I’ve never been more energized by a plan.”
Muralidhar spent a lot of time in India’s rural countryside and feeling as if he had found his calling among the children. The orphanage was poor — up to 60 children slept in a single room, on the floor — and he was there to help.
But, like much of his story, this part of it takes a small twist. Teaching the children and working with the City Mission of India orphanage humbled an already-modest Muralidhar when he was forced to face what his perspectives of himself actually were. Despite feeling the noble call to education, he was confronted by a woman at the orphanage who told him in no uncertain terms that he could help far more children if he went back to his high-powered corporate life. “She said, ‘Your best contribution to what we’re doing would be to raise money and send it so we can do our good work,’” he told the magazine.
It was far from what Muralidhar wanted to hear. But he knew she was right. “Money is hard to come by in India,” he said. And it is even harder to get Americans to contribute money to causes there. “So I didn’t find my calling,” he said. “It was given to me.”
So in 1998 Muralidhar left India and returned to the corporate world, only to have his path obscured by yet another unexpected turn. Giving up corporate work for an orphanage full of children, it seemed, was not just idealistic. It was too idealistic.
Muralidhar interviewed with a high-powered investment firm in New York for a job for which he was certainly qualified. But the woman interviewing him was less than impressed by his service to the orphanage. “She wanted me to admit it was a failure, as if someone doing something so idealistic was either crazy or a loser who was just coming back to his senses,” he told the magazine. “But it wasn’t that way for me. If I hadn’t done that work in India, I would be much worse off today. That work set a balance for me; you do a job, you earn a living, but you also find ways to help other people.”
The idealist found work at JP Morgan, where he was the head of currency research, and at a hedge fund. In 2001 Muralidhar published “Innovations in Pension Fund Management,” then realized he wanted a new way to analyze economic data. In 2002 he and his brother, Sanjay, founded AlphaEngine Global IIIIII Software and its parent company Mcube.
The software, based on Arun’s research, evaluates investment strategies in any asset class, was launched in 2004. It is used by institutional investors around the world as a guide to making portfolio decisions. It also led Mcube to be named “Software Provider of the Year” at London’s Global Pension Awards earlier this year. He was profiled in Money magazine in a July, 2007, article on “How to Get Rich in America.”
Though headquartered in Plano, Texas, Mcube recently opened an office in Princeton, where its staff of four develops and provides decision support products for institutional investment management. Mcube is, however, not an investment advisor. The firm also has offices in the Netherlands, Canada, India, and Japan.
With his calling firmly in place, Muralidhar has made good on his promise to help the children still living in the orphanage in India. He helped build bunk beds and helped the orphanage raise funds and put them in touch with social workers they needed. “We helped them acquire a property just outside of town, where the kids could have their own home,” he was quoted in the 2006 magazine article as saying: “My brother funded construction of a school building so they could have some teachers on site.” He continues his work with City Mission of India Society and Trust.
Before Muralidhar left the ophanage in India, where he had hoped to be able to effect change by working directly with the poorest of the poor, he was humbled once more.
It is customary in India to lavish attention on people they consider important —people like Muralidhar, who had made so much of themselves. On a visit to the orphanage, the children welcomed him with garlands and a celebration in his honor.
It was not the sort of thing he was used to and it embarassed him to receive such attention. The orphanage’s director told him to never be so arrogant as to be embarassed. The celebration was for the children, for them to feel important knowing that an important person had come to see them. Not for him; not for his ego.
Still shying away from the spotlight, Muralidhar, through a representative at his new Alexander Road offices, said he was not interested in being interviewed for this article.
Information on Mcube came from Brian Baker, its spokesperson at the company’s headquarters in Plano, Texas.
— Scott Morgan
Mcube Investment Technologies, 838 Alexander Road, Princeton 08540; 972-608-9919; fax, 469-361-0011. Arun Muralidhar, chairman. Home page: www.mcubeit.com.