Aeronautical engineering got Hanif Mamdani's blood flowing when he was an undergrad at Caltech. He interned with professors who were working with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "I love complex mathematical problem-solving, and space offered some awesome challenges," says Nairobi, Kenya-born Mamdani. He went on to earn a master's degree in mathematics and applied science at Harvard in 1988.
But another universe, Wall Street, offered its own mathematics problems—along with the prospect of a better paycheck than most academics can only dream of. On graduation, Mamdani put his skills to work, first for Salomon Brothers and later Credit Suisse, devising ways for companies to make better use of their capital structures.
After a decade, though, Mamdani was eager to switch to money management because he felt it would give him "greater control" of his "own destiny." He also wanted to be closer to his mother, who lived in Vancouver, where he had grown up. So he took an offer from Phillips, Hager & North, one of Canada's oldest independent investment firms, and moved back across the continent to Vancouver to run PHN's corporate-bond operations. As he says, it has proved to be a "good fit."