Bankrolling ideas, supporting scholars
By Mike Foster
To say that Shawn Singh (BSocSc ’99) wears many hats is an understatement. It’s more like he owns the hat shop.
You’d think that his day job as general counsel and chief compliance officer at a multi-billion-dollar investment firm in New York, ensuring that hedge fund investment advisors stay on the right side of complex regulatory procedures, would provide enough of a challenge.
However, Singh has a parallel career as a film producer. He co-founded Rowish Productions, Jury Box Films and the mKarma Group, the companies behind the feature film Altered Minds. The movie, starring Judd Hirsch, Ryan O’Nan and C. S. Lee, had its world premiere in official competition at the Montreal World Film Festival in 2013. Singh is also executive producer of a documentary scheduled for release later this year about the search for 52, “the loneliest whale in the world.”
“I love the creative process,” Singh says. “But I’m also a different kind of film producer because I understand the language of finance, taxation and law. I bring that business acumen and asset management mentality to the process, making sure structures are in place to minimize risk.”
Singh, who grew up in Ottawa, says he’s always been the type to keep busy 18 hours a day and doesn’t need much sleep. As a political science student at uOttawa’s Faculty of Social Sciences, he co-chaired the 1997 National Student Commonwealth Forum, which brought students from across Canada to hold mock debates on Parliament Hill. He served as race relations commissioner with the student union while at uOttawa. He also owned and ran a live event production company and worked as a personal banking officer with Scotiabank.
Singh's ultimate ambition was to become a diplomat, but he changed course when Brooklyn Law School offered him a recruitment incentive. He went to the Big Apple to earn his Juris Doctor degree.
“It was a spontaneous decision,” he says. “I thought, ‘If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.’ I ended up working at some of the largest law firms in the world and gained expertise in mergers and acquisitions, securities, corporate law, tax structuring, hedge fund practice groups … you name it!”
During that time, he met his future wife, Khush. A news reporter for TV Asia and a celebrity makeup artist who has since started her own line of cosmetics, Khush is also a writer, director and producer, and the power couple often work together. In addition, she is an executive producer on Altered Minds and the production company Rowish Productions, which was named partly in honour of their son, Ishaan.
“One day, Ishi was invited to a birthday party and he introduced me to his friend Rowan,” Singh says. “The kids got along so well that I started talking to his dad, Michael Wechsler. We just hit it off — he was like a long-lost friend. We spent three-and-a-half hours talking that day as our sons ran around.”
In 2009, after many talks about film and finance over several months, Singh and writer–producer–director Wechsler formed Rowish Productions, a hybrid of their sons’ names. Altered Minds — a thriller in which a tormented son accuses his dying father, a former CIA psychiatrist, of adopting his children in order to conduct psychological experiments on them — was the first result of this partnership.
New lecture series
Now well into a successful and multi-faceted career, Singh recently decided to give something back to uOttawa. His generous gift of $575,000 supports the new Shawn and Khush Singh Distinguished Lecture Series as well as the Shawn and Khush Singh Doctoral Scholarship, which will provide two academically outstanding PhD students with an annual scholarship of $25,000 each.
The inaugural lecture on May 4, during uOttawa’s 2017 Alumni Week, featured international relations scholar Charles Doran, an expert on Canada–US relations. Selected to kick off the lecture series by the dean and vice-dean of research at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Doran spoke about the first 100 days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
“The University of Ottawa gave me a great grounding and understanding of the social sciences and international issues, which I still find useful to this day,” Singh says. “The professors were phenomenal.
“If I can now return the favour by helping to bring the world’s best academics, leaders, entrepreneurs and public servants to speak on campus, it’s a great way of saying thanks. I truly believe I would not have fulfilled many of my career aspirations without the foundation and opportunities provided to me by attending the University of Ottawa.”
Shawn and Khush Singh. Photos courtesy of Shawn Singh