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Risky business

Tejus Ujjani calculates risk when he's at work, jumping off mountains, or swimming with sharks.

Deloitte LifeTejus Ujjani, a corporate finance manager with Deloitte Financial Advisory Services, may not have superpowers, though if you saw him skydive, swim with bull sharks, or BASE (buildings, antennas, spans, earth) jump from a bridge or mountain, you might think he does. At first glance, he may appear carefree, but his activities belie intensive risk calculations and training. If anything, Tejus comes across more cautious than most – he’s quick to acknowledge that he’s still learning about these sports. And really, if you’re going to hang out with sharks, you probably need to take precautions.

Corporate finance professionals like him are known for their ability to remain calm under pressure, but they usually apply this skillset to complex M&A engagements. Ujjani can do that, of course, but shark swimming also showcases his talents far outside the conference room.

Friendly fish

Since childhood, Ujjani has been interested in sharks. “I was the kid who knew where all the shark books were located in the library,” he recalls. “Sharks are amazing, they’re like dinosaurs, but they still exist today. They’ve been on this planet for more than 350 million years and have barely changed; they’re one of nature’s elegant designs.”

While Ujjani never lost interest in sharks, he began swimming with them only six years ago. “It just struck me; instead of reading about sharks and watching others dive with them, I should learn to dive so I can experience them firsthand,” he says. He went on to obtain his initial scuba certification along with subsequent licenses and has now dived in the waters off California, Fiji, India, Mexico, South Africa, and elsewhere. “I’ve dived cageless with tiger sharks, hammerheads and bull sharks among others,” he says. “One of my big goals is to see a great white while I’m not in a cage.”

According to Ujjani, sharks don’t deserve their bloodthirsty reputations. Attacks are almost always a case of swimmers or surfers on the water’s surface who appear as large turtles or other animals to the sharks gliding along below. “If you keep calm and respect their space,” Ujjani says, “they won’t treat you like prey.”

Frequent flier

To Ujjani, skydiving, BASE jumping, and swimming with sharks isn’t about danger and adrenaline; these activities are really about intense interactions with nature. “These sports are about beauty. They’re about seeing the world from a different perspective. You’re an explorer,” he explains.

To date, Ujjani’s made 350 skydives, a couple dozen BASE jumps, and about 80 scuba dives. “The first time you skydive, it seems to be over so quickly that you just think to yourself ‘What just happened!’” he says. “At first, your fear significantly outweighs your awareness. With practice though, your fear and awareness fall more in line and time begins to slow down.”

At this point, while skydiving, Ujjani and his friends can create vertical formations and participate in follow-the-leader type racing maneuvers. “Skydivers have a huge amount of control in the air; we can steer ourselves,” Ujjani notes. “We can do anything a bird can do, except,” he adds ruefully, “go back up.”

One step ahead

These days, Ujjani plans his vacations around outdoor activities. Each year he takes one or two longer trips to places like the fjords of Norway to jump or South Africa to scuba dive. He takes weekend trips to events like Bridge Day in Fayetteville, WV, where BASE jumpers plunge from the New River Gorge Bridge in front of thousands of onlookers, and he regularly travels to Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains to skydive.

“I like to think these sports inform my perspective on work and life,” says Ujjani, who has been with Deloitte for more than six years. “I love my job and it can be stressful at times, but it’s not life or death. The most difficult situations that arise on client engagements are nothing compared to what you go through when standing on the edge of a mountain readying to jump.”

His extracurricular activities have also taught him humility. “There’s no, ‘This is my way of doing stuff,’ when you’re learning to do any activities with such low margins for error,” he says. “You need to respect those with more training and learn whatever you can.”

Leaning back his chair, he says, “People often ask if I ever plan to stop these activities and the answer is quite simply, I don’t know.” He pauses. “I enjoy doing what I’m doing and progressing to greater challenges, but at some point I may change or simply decide the risks outweigh the rewards. I don’t see that time coming anytime soon though.” In the meantime, Ujjani has trips to plan, sharks to see, and cliffs to conquer. Which is why, when asked what superpower he’d like to have, his grinning response is hardly a surprise: “I’d like to fly.”

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