Spotlight on Samar Khanna, Associate director | Research

Tell me a little about yourself:
Hi I’m Samar, and I’ve been working in Willis Towers Watson as a macroeconomist and capital markets strategist for the past eleven years. I recently moved to the Thinking Ahead Institute and I am incredibly excited about this role.

My parents live in New Delhi, India. I have a twin brother, Aman, who’s a software programmer in California and an elder brother, Vikram, who is an Army Officer in India. I’m very close to my family and keeping in touch has always been a challenge because we’re so spread out – but we find ways to make it work across time zones.

Outside of work you’ll find me pootling around in any number of creative pursuits; especially anything related to visual design, music, gardening and reading. Curiosity always gets the best of me – I love to learn about new ways of thinking and how to express that thinking through different mediums. You can check out some of my photographic endeavours here if you’re interested. My friends jokingly call me an encyclopaedia of random knowledge – churning out the most inane and odd facts which, more often than not, have little relevance to anything substantive.

I am also a firm believer and a big advocate of diversity, equity and inclusion – within the firm and in society. I work with an LGBT+ youth organisation called Just Like Us, and am a steering committee member of Willis Towers Watson’s Investment I&D network. I’m constantly looking for collaborative ideas and projects to raise awareness and encourage key stakeholders to take decisive action on issues that matter.

What is your favourite thing about working for TAI? I’ve been in the institute just shy of a month, but the first thing that struck me about the team was their strong sense of camaraderie and ownership. They have built such an open and honest culture that it feels like I’ve been in the team for much longer. It’s pretty inspiring to witness how the team builds up its intellectual capital through thought-provoking debates and discussions. Every point of view is respected and investigated with equal weight. They have a great sense of humour, as well as a strong sense of curiosity and purpose.

What motivates you? I decided to join the Thinking Ahead Institute because I wanted to be part of a team that is at the forefront of steering the investments industry to a greener, more sustainable future. That’s what gets me out of bed everyday – that I have this opportunity to work with such amazing and smart colleagues to drive real change in the things that matter. To be able to investigate complex, adaptive systems and influence the trajectory of the investments industry over the next few decades is such an exciting place to be!

Tell me about a favourite childhood memory: Some of my earliest and fondest memories were from when I lived in Botswana as a child – moments from our safaris, watching tribal dances with their incredible footwork and vocals, visiting Victoria falls. Those were the happy and carefree days of adventure. My mum tells me that I was fluent in Setswana back then, though I don’t remember much of that now.

What is your favourite place to go to unwind? On the streets of London with a camera in my hand and headphones in my ears. To capture the beat of the city, the rhythm in its pace and the chaos of colours is a pretty invigorating and relaxing experience for me.

What do you listen to when you need to relax? I’m a big fan of jazz, so you’ll find me shuffling through Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Joao Gilberto, FKJ, amongst others. It’s so cool to see how jazz has moved through the ages and into different parts of the world. I liken the genre to a character actor, constantly redefining itself based on where it lands up.

How would you partner describe you in three words: Energetic, intelligent, ambitious. (Note: partner was in a good mood)

What is the best advice you have ever been given? I read this quote from Annie Dillard a few years ago and it always stuck with me.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order—willed, faked, and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time; it is a lifeboat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living. Each day is the same, so you remember the series afterward as a blurred and powerful pattern.”

Samar playing piano
Samar Khanna and group