Aaras Shah is the Associate Director of Finance at Zeta Charter Schools, an organization whose mission is to build and sustain high-performing schools that forge thriving communities of lifelong learners, problem solvers, and innovators. At Zeta, Aaras leads budgeting, accounting, and financial analysis for the organization. Previously, he worked at Bain & Company as a Senior Associate Consultant where he focused on strategy and cost-work for Fortune 500 clients across a variety of industries. Aaras got his start working with charter schools at KIPP DC as a Strategic Projects Extern supporting their academic team. He graduated from McCombs in 2015 with degrees in Canfield BHP and finance. We caught up with Aaras recently and talked about his experiences at Zeta and how Canfield BHP helped prepare him for his journey.
Tell us a little bit about your current role at Zeta Charter Schools.
Zeta is a startup charter school network in New York City. We opened our first schools this past fall and have a very ambitious growth plan. I came on as the first full-time financial employee to help build our finance function. As part of that, I do everything across the board, from the smallest tasks to helping define our biggest strategic goals. That involves everything from ensuring we have enough money in our bank account and paying our vendors on-time to developing our current year and long-term financial budgets. In real estate – as we look to grow our network – we need to find buildings to accommodate our students, so I’ve been working on a number of real estate deals since I’ve been out here – just generally overseeing all things financially with the organization. Being in a startup, I’m also involved in a variety of different initiatives across the board just because that’s basically how start-ups work. I’ve helped set up our procurement system, developed our data dashboards, assisted with hiring, and even spent time tutoring some of the first graders in math. I basically have the opportunity to help out in many aspects beyond just what my title might imply.
What were/are your inspirations and how did it lead you to where you are today?
Growing up, my family always placed a large emphasis on education. My older sister is also a UT graduate. She went into education for her career and that sparked my interest. While at UT I was involved with Texas Blazers, an organization that worked very closely with a local underprivileged high school. I got to see firsthand some of the disparities in education between my own and others. My interest grew through those experiences, and as I spent my time at Bain – although I didn’t focus on the social impact of education necessarily – I stayed involved through consistent volunteering or pro-bono project work. After a few years at Bain, I had the opportunity to take an externship in that space and that’s how I found myself at KIPP in Washington, DC. There I knew I wanted to jump in full time, both because there was a lot of opportunity and because I felt confident that I could make a difference. I then stumbled upon Zeta, which seemed like a great fit and was actually recommended to me by another former Canfield BHP student. Since I’ve been here, being able to see that we’re making a difference in students’ lives everyday has reaffirmed my interest in working in education long-term.
What do you enjoy most about working for an organization like Zeta Charter Schools?
The most important thing is the mission. That vision is really powerful and inspirational to me and I see plenty of that in what our teachers are doing and in what our school leaders are doing. I think that the opportunity to be working in an organization that’s so focused on such a mission is pretty powerful. Combining that with the team they put together and the level of responsibility that I’ve been able to take on has made it a great role. It’s been an incredible challenge but it’s something that I have felt prepared for thanks in large part to my time spent at Canfield BHP.
How do you think your BHP and Finance degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?
Tactically, just through the finance coursework, it’s brought me a lot of familiarity with many of the responsibilities that I oversee. When building our budget, I’m reminded by what the power of compounding will do to our expenses over time based on my practice with financial modeling from MIS301 with Professor Konana. Those are some of the basics that I got more tactically. Then, there’s the fact that my job is not just restricted to finance. That’s where having that really strong, general business background has made a huge difference because I can go back to the lessons I learned in BA324 when I’m focused on helping out with hiring, for example. I can think about MIS when helping out with our data dashboards, or operations when I’m thinking about procurement, so having a general business background has just been incredibly valuable. Beyond that – the emphasis on teamwork and team projects – that really drove learning how to communicate with others who may have different priorities than you or different backgrounds. Getting that experience in all of my Canfield BHP classes has been so valuable and relevant to working in this type of role.
Any advice for current students?
It’s easy to get caught up in seeing how everyone seems to have what they’re doing “figured out” so early on. Whether that’s the exact professional interest or even something like getting an internship early, I think that you’ll find that with the skills you’re developing and the relationships you’re creating within Canfield BHP – if you allow yourself to explore what you like – you’re going to be able to make a pretty good career out of it and you’ll be able to make a big impact in whatever it is that you do. Don’t stress out so much about how everyone else has their stuff together because you’re going to do just fine with the education that you’re getting right now.