We’ve covered Medidata in TLHIT before. This time, we look at the entrepreneurial journey of this wonderful company.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of the journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Tarek Sherif: What you’d hear in my journey is a great example of the American dream. I was born in Cairo, Egypt. My mother is German and my father is Egyptian. He was a criminologist.
I lived in Egypt until the age of six. My parents, at that point, decided to immigrate with me and my sister to the United States in the late 60s. The thought was that there would be more opportunity for their children in America.
We landed in New York City, of all places. When we first came to America, we had just $300 in our pocket. That was all the currency you were allowed to take out, at that time, from Egypt when you emigrated. We had some friends who lived in Massachusetts. We went there.
Eventually, my dad got a job as a professor at a University in Connecticut. We moved to Milford, Connecticut and that’s where I spent a good part of my childhood. We moved a bit. I lived in Germany for a year. I lived in Ohio for a year, but most of my childhood was spent in Connecticut.
When I was in high school, I started a painting business after spending two years working with some teachers who had their own painting businesses. A friend and I decided that we didn’t like working for other people. We started our own business and managed to, by our senior year in high school, hire other students to work for us.
It basically helped fund me through university. My sister and I were both actually lucky enough to go to Yale on financial aid. In part, we also funded our education. I did it through the painting work that I did.
Sramana Mitra: What years were you in Connecticut?
Tarek Sherif: We got there in 1968. I started university in 1980 and then graduated in 1984. In 1985, I moved to New York.
Sramana Mitra: So even for university, you didn’t go that far?
Tarek Sherif: No. But interestingly enough, my parents did. So when I began university, they moved to Germany permanently.
Sramana Mitra: What did you study in Yale?
Tarek Sherif: I studied economics and had a minor in literature. I was a rower. I studied rowing a lot because it’s right where I spent the majority of my time. I got a very good education there.
I was always interested in both the arts and in business in more practical things. So it’s kind of a combination. I think that’s ultimately been a part of my life story.
Sramana Mitra: What did you do after Yale?
Tarek Sherif: When I was at Yale, I decided that I wanted to work on Wall Street, because I was always interested in the financial markets. I came out of an academic household and it was not the path that I wanted to pursue despite my parent’s point of view at that time.
But I was living in the US. They were in Germany. I just decided to stay. My first job was with Brown Brothers Harriman, and I went into a training program there. This is an interesting part of the story that I try to tell to younger people who are just embarking on their careers.
I really had my heart and mind set on Wall Street. Over about four and a half years at Brown Brothers, I had the opportunity to do a lot of different things in M&A, credit analysis, equity analysis, and on a foreign exchange desk. They rotated me through a number of parts of the bank including the money center, how a bank funds itself with repos and everything else. It was a very interesting time.
I never quite settled into a role that I was comfortable or interested enough in. At the time, I couldn’t figure out how all these experiences might be useful. So I was a little bit not as enthusiastic after having gone through it. I then decided to go to business school.
I went to Columbia Business School and graduated in 1991. I had a very good experience there and learned quite a bit. Then I made my one and only foray into working in a large company, GE Capital, for about a year and a half. I decided that large corporations were simply not for me. I had to learn it the hard way.
Sramana Mitra: I completely relate with that.