An Electrical Engineering Alum Wired for Success

Omar Jaffrey BS’87 went from electrical engineer to Wall Street banker to founder of mission-critical digital infrastructure investing firm.

Mar 04 2024 | By Logan Lee
Omar Jaffrey

Omar Jaffrey admits that he was initially surprised to receive an offer from Bear Stearns for a role in mergers and acquisitions. A 1980s graduate of the Department of Electrical Engineering, Jaffrey had followed the “typical” path of a foreign student at the time, but he had always harbored aspirations of carving out a career for himself in business and finance. 

Back then, Wall Street operated on a foundation of personal relationships and trust, and was somewhat insular in its approach; Jaffrey was the sole analyst on his team of five with an engineering degree. His background raised the eyebrows of his colleagues, many of whom questioned Jaffrey’s qualifications to his face. In uncharted territory, Jaffrey felt like an experimental guinea pig.

That engineering students would later go on to work on Wall Street in droves indicates this experiment’s broader success.

Without Columbia Engineering, Jaffrey is unsure whether he would have had the same opportunities to learn how to learn that the School afforded him—the classes, he says, were intensely difficult and technical, and he was constantly thinking, struggling to find solutions, and trying to “crack” the codes. 

Jaffrey attributes his Wall Street aptitude with his abilities to toggle savvily between the traditional methodologies of early financial experts and the increasingly sophisticated, quickly-evolving demands that have emerged with the advanced technology and computational software now standard in the field. 

Jaffrey’s particular blend of confidence and charisma, meanwhile, were specifically refined by the Columbia Core Curriculum. Placed outside his comfort zone, Jaffrey says the Core taught him how to pivot and think in a more open-ended way. It gave him valuable opportunities to practice effective communication with his classmates and instructors—a skill he would certainly need as he continued to settle in New York City, where Jaffrey knew he could potentially meet and be recruited by someone just walking down the street. 

After returning to school for his MBA and advancing to the role of vice president at Bear Stearns, Jaffrey helped build the firm’s investment banking practice in Asia and various non-Western countries, including his native Pakistan. Then, after a brief stint in the 1990s as the founder of an internet startup, Jaffrey returned to Wall Street and transitioned more fully to investment banking, with a particular focus in the telecommunications sector. “Connecting the many,” as he puts it, became a guiding principle in subsequent roles at Merrill Lynch and, later, UBS. Some of his advisees at the time included AT&T, Google, and Verizon, as well as many entrepreneurs seeking to build the next generation of communication companies.

By 2019, Jaffrey knew he had enough knowledge and experience to embark on large investments of his own. He founded Palistar Capital, an alternative asset manager focused on mission-critical communications and digital infrastructure. Palistar Capital invests directly in operating companies and assets, seeking to provide innovative financing solutions for leading global communications companies in sectors of wireless towers, data centers, broadband, satellites, and related digital infrastructure.

“Columbia Engineering molded me into the person I am today,” he said, “and gave me the tools that I needed to problem solve, grow, and lead.”

Throughout his career, Jaffrey has used his discipline and confidence to constantly learn, proactively spotting opportunities in banking and telecommunications projects to apply the skills he honed as a Columbia engineer. He hopes to inspire others to pursue their passions with tenacity and an open mind, finding ways to apply their expertise in novel and impactful ways.

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