Prem Watsa
(IITM71) now the
largest shareholder of BlackBerry

Called the “Warren Buffet of Canada”, Prem Watsa is a 1971 (B.Tech., Chem) graduate of IIT Madras. He is probably the savviest investor you’ve never heard of. His firm, Fairfax Financial Holdings, now owns a controlling interest in BlackBerry.

Born to an academically inclined family, Watsa was quite ambitious right from the start. His grandfather had been a scholar and the first Indian principal of the Basel Mission Theological Seminary. His father was the principal of the famous Hyderabad Public School. He met his wife, Nalini Loganadhan, during his time at IIT Madras. They would marry soon after their graduation, and now have three children.

After graduating, Watsa migrated to Canada for an MBA at the University of Western Ontario Business School. He did a number of odd jobs at this point, selling air conditioners and furnaces to finance his study.

His first job after the MBA was as a research analyst at an Insurance Firm and by 1983, he was its Vice President.

In 1984, he began his own asset management firm, Hamblin Watsa Investment Counsel. In ’85, he took over an existing Insurance firm, and eventually renamed it Fairfax Financial Holdings. Today, with a stock price north of $400, the company is comparable to the best in the world. Watsa still retains a majority stake in Fairfax.

 Watsa has a history of betting against market expectations, and winning!

In 2007, he joined the likes of Raghuram Rajan by predicting, during a speech at the Ivey School of Business (his renamed Alma Mater), that a huge unprecedented economic shock was imminent. By that point, he was already well on the way to rearranging his personal portfolio, along with that of his company, to ride the shockwave. Due to these actions made prior to the housing bubble collapse, he not only saved his company billions, but also made an immense personal fortune.

For his modest living and savvy investments, he is often likened to Buffett. Like Buffett, Wasta is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Hospital for Children, amongst his other charitable efforts.

For his shrewd insights into the market, his decisive actions, and his recently established control over the iconic BlackBerry, we name Prem Watsa (IITM72) as theIITian of the Week!

For more on the reactions to the surprise BlackBerry-Watsa deal: [Reuters]

For a short, fascinating biography on Prem Wasta(IITM71), the “savviest investor you’ve never heard about”: [Link]

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