Since graduating from the American University of Armenia (AUA) in 2006, Karen Dallakyan (MBA ‘06) has excelled in the field of finance and successfully built a career in the financial services sector, currently holding the prestigious position of Executive Director of the Global Credit Risk Audit arm at Nomura. As a recipient of the Stepan Karamardian Scholarship during his graduate studies at AUA, he is filled with gratitude for the generosity of the Karamardian family for facilitating his education during the early years of the University. The tremendous opportunity he was afforded then has inspired him to give back and create new opportunities for the next generation of deserving students who aspire for an AUA education.
Recently, the AUA Development team spoke with Dallakyan about his experiences, the significant impact his education has had in his life, and how he was able to multiply his gift to the University by engaging his employer’s contribution through the Nomura corporate matching gift program.
Please tell us about your background.
KD: I was born and raised in Armenia during a time when the country was going through a colossal transformation, culturally as well as financially. I can say I have seen it all: a war; a city without lights; crowds staging protests against the Soviet government and those that followed; tanks and soldiers on the streets at various times; and above all, the amazing resilience of the Armenian people to endure, to come together to help one another, and to move the country forward with each passing day.
Describe your academic journey at AUA and your professional endeavors upon graduation.
KD: I graduated from AUA in 2006 with an MBA degree, majoring in Finance. AUA was a truly transformational experience for me. For the first time in my life, I genuinely enjoyed learning and was absorbing every bit of information. Professors Roy Dodge, Janet Cox, Purusottam Sen, and Alex Simonian have truly impacted and shaped my way of thinking, then and now. After AUA, I joined HSBC Bank and took part in its first European Management Training program with participants from Armenia. It was an invaluable opportunity to practice my knowledge in finance and work in different regions of the world. After HSBC, I attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia to pursue a second MBA. Upon graduation, I worked for PWC and Barclays Bank. Currently, I live in New York City, where I head the Global Credit Risk Audit arm of Nomura Bank.
How did your education at AUA contribute to your professional success?
KD: As I noted earlier, AUA has had the most profound impact not only on my career, but also on the way I think in my professional as well as personal life. AUA has helped me enjoy learning in all the subjects I studied and apply what I learned in the real world. I still remember my classes with Professor Dodge in accounting; Professor Sen’s lectures in finance; Professor Simonian’s voice every time I work with statistics; and everything I learned about emotional intelligence from Professor Cox. If not for AUA, my career path and journey in life would have been rather different.
What inspired you to give back to the University and enable other students to receive an AUA education?
KD: At the end of my first semester at AUA in 2005, I unexpectedly received a letter. Inside the envelope, there was a note from the Karamardian family thanking me for my service in the military and my hard work at AUA. Much to my surprise, they were offering to cover my tuition for the rest of my studies at the University. I was speechless. What touched me most was that the award was from people who had never met me, and yet, they were willing to support me without expecting anything in return. I was doing very well academically, and that award made me work even harder. I made a promise to myself then to pay it forward one day.
Why have you specifically decided to support veteran students at AUA with the Karen Dallakyan: Hero in Transition Scholarship?
KD: I had a fairly busy life after AUA: lived and worked in several different countries; got married; had three remarkable sons; and maintained a busy professional schedule. I had always planned to give back to AUA, but setting one goal after another kept delaying me from taking action and so the years flew by.
I was living in New York City when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out the world over, followed by the Artsakh war months later. I felt completely helpless. With the war, I experienced one of the hardest periods in my life, as was the case for many other Armenians. For me, one of the takeaways from that experience was the decision to take immediate action.
Thus, when I learned about the opportunity to support an AUA student, I reminisced about my years at AUA as a young college student and the pivotal moment of opening that envelope back in 2005. That was a unique instant when a true sense of joy washed over me and a new feeling of gratitude replaced the old: how blessed am I to be in a position to help someone else?! That was the point of immediate action. I hope to continue to support AUA students for years to come, especially the military servicemen, our heroes who transition back to civilian life and continue their education at AUA. This is just one of the ways I can give back and support our AUA community.
You are also one of our donors who utilizes a corporate matching-gift program – please explain the steps you took to augment your gift to AUA and maximize its impact.
KD: Today, many companies are involved in corporate social responsibility, in helping and supporting the communities around them. And what better way to support causes that are near and dear to the hearts of the people who help run those companies than by matching their donations? My current employer, Nomura Bank, runs a corporate gift matching program that matches, dollar for dollar, the contribution made by employees to the charity of their choice. I am thankful that Nomura is supporting my cause and matching my gift to AUA, which helps magnify the impact.
As AUA celebrates its 30th anniversary, please tell us what role you see higher education playing in advancing Armenia.
KD: Since Armenia is a small, landlocked country with limited natural resources, education is the single most important factor that will help us advance and achieve sustainable and innovative developments. It is not an option. It is not a choice. It is a must! For the future of our country and my children, it is imperative for Armenia to be home to a world-class educational ecosystem that will secure our country’s competitive advantage and further advance our beloved homeland.
As a successful alumnus, what advice would you give to AUA students currently studying at the University and trying to figure out their professional path?
KD: My mom always said, and still says today, that I “can do and achieve whatever I want.” I am sure every parent believes this to be true about their child, as I do about my own. This is an important confidence booster! So, I advise AUA students to first and foremost, believe in themselves: your journey to AUA is just the beginning! Keep exploring and never stop learning. Explore different countries, cultures, careers, and learn more about yourself in the process. I assure you that what you believe to be your career path today will completely change, so it is important to be flexible, listen to yourself, and know your own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. It takes time and patience to hear your inner self and understand what motivates you most and what type of career path might be suitable for you. Those drivers might also change as you go through the various stages of life, so it is important to never stop exploring and listening.
Many people only see the glamorous side of a profession, but they ignore the daily hard work and grind that comes with it. Many might think they want to become a dashing entrepreneur like Elon Musk, but when faced with the realities of entrepreneurial life, they quickly realize it is not for them, while others may find the unpredictable, nail-biting lifestyle the best fit for their personality. Some may work in computer science half their life only to stop and realize that what they truly want to do is be a chef. Others may want to become artists, but then realize the only satisfying art they really enjoy is making the accounts balance on a screen.
All that being said, take the time to really understand what drives you, and keep exploring different options with an open mind. The world is massive, with plenty of unique opportunities for everyone.