As a partner in PwC Deals, Manoj Mahenthiran evaluates the financial health of companies and works closely with private equity clients to help them decide which firms to buy. Born in Sri Lanka, Manoj immigrated to London for college. His father had hoped he would one day return to Sri Lanka to help run the family business, but the tragic fallout of a civil war led him to stay in the UK, where he started his career at PwC. Manoj currently lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids. While he spends many days helping companies tell their story, he’s also passionate about reinventing education and giving back to his community and homeland.
Manoj’s uncanny ability to assimilate and thrive in unexpected and unfamiliar circumstances has helped him succeed. When he graduated from the University of Warwick in London in 1995, Manoj felt he had to work extra hard to land his first job in the city: “I was a foreign student and unlike in the US where there are programs that encourage foreign students to work in the US, the UK was quite the opposite, at least that’s how it was back then.” Manoj recalls turning to one of the few relatives he had in London for help preparing for his job interviews. “I had to learn how to talk about myself and my accomplishments, which culturally that wasn’t something that came naturally to me because most people where I’m from would see that as being boastful.” Manoj ended up with two offers, one of which was with PwC’s auditing practice.
In a way, Manoj operates like a good detective. He’s keen on building trusting relationships, but also unafraid to ask tough questions to guide well informed decisions. That was his approach when he embarked on one of his first major projects at PwC. A client was preparing to buy a company in Egypt until Manoj spotted major flaws in the business. “I was able to dive straight into the company and ask really difficult questions without putting people on the defensive. When you do that, you can really start understanding the story of a company behind all the numbers. That – I think – is what really attracted me to work in Deals.”
Manoj considers education one of the biggest equalizers between rich and poor, and so he devotes much of his time creating opportunities in the Chicago area for young people to learn and grow. His passion is also a family affair. In the wake of the deadly tsunamis that struck Sri Lanka in 2004, he took five weeks off to return to his homeland and joined his mother to help rebuild a school. The project led his family to create a charity that helps fund war affected kids based in remote parts of the country ravaged by the civil war he fled decades earlier. “I’m very passionate about education given how important it was to me in getting out of Sri Lanka. I want to make sure that I give back.” Once a year, he and his wife and two young sons return and volunteer with the charity.
Between clients and life at home, Manoj, like many of us, struggles to find much down time. He’s an avid tennis player; he’ll try to squeeze in a game or two, even if it means playing late in the evenings. “Tennis is a really important stress relief for me.” When Manoj can’t get to the tennis court, he finds balance and inspiration by reading. “I don’t read much fiction, but I do read a lot of history, as it helps us understand where we’re from and it’s also a great predictor of the future.” One of his favorite books is Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. The book is a favorite among executives and explains how homosapiens have adapted to immense change throughout history. “It’s really important for me to have balance in my life and a lot of things the author talks about helps me find that balance.”