Everything I’ve experienced and achieved has only been possible because of education
Here’s my speech that I gave to Southwark Headteachers at their Conference on 10 October 2013
I am delighted to be here with you. I want to thank Yolanda for inviting me to speak today.
This conference is the result of Yolanda and her team’s hard work, leadership and dedication. They want to make a positive difference in education, empower you and to help our young people get ahead in their life and future career. I am inspired by them.
So I want to pay tribute to them for organising this conference to help young people reach their full potential and achieve their dreams. Let us give them a huge round of applause.
Before I begin my talk, I would like to share a quote with you from Mahatma Ghandi which I believe sums up not only my speech, but also the theme of today. He said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” It is a mantra that I follow everyday in my own life, and I am sure you do too.
Today I would like to share with you my journey from India to the UK and you will see that education is the story of my life. You’re going to hear how education opened doors for me, how I invested my savings in learning, and how I built a global profile.
My story began 7,000 kilometres away from here in India, where I grew up the youngest of 11 children and went to state schools in Delhi. Those schools were a lot different to the ones you’re probably used to. There was no playground; no musical instruments; no desks. We all sat on the floor and wrote on wooden boards. Basic as it was, my education there taught me the importance of self-discipline.
During my summers as a child, I would stay at my sister’s house. Her place had no bathroom, no running water and one electric light – when it worked! I remember collecting five buckets of buffalo dung everyday, which I’d make into pancakes and we would use for fuel.
Through hard work at school, I won entry to the Indian Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading engineering universities. With the support of my family, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 1986.
Based on my academic performance, I obtained a teaching scholarship for a Masters’ degree in engineering from Clarkson University and went to New York to purse higher education at the age of 22. And so it was education that opened my door to the rest of the world.
But my excitement of flying for the first time was very short-lived. The second I stepped off the plane I dropped to the bottom of society. For the first time in my life, I was a fish out of water: a different culture, a different language and a different socio-economic level. I was dirt poor.
Having grown up in a business family in India, I had seen poverty but never personally experienced it. The worst was that no one had heard about my university or my town. I had an identity crisis.
I remember telling myself that I had not come to New York to settle at the bottom of society. I would work hard and invest in myself to reach to the top, and I would do whatever it took to create business opportunities for myself, rather than relying on others. So it was then I built myself a model to boost my self-esteem. This model I called the learning, earning and saving model.
After getting encouragement from local my professors, I started saving every dollar and valuing what my parents had provided for me in India. I decided to save 50% of my monthly scholarship, which was no easy feat, I assure you. I never ate out in New York for the first 12 months, but still I had the most delicious food everyday… because I cooked it myself! I bought used clothes from a church sale. And I cut grass for $4 an hour.
After one year, I saved more than 4,000 dollars which hugely boosted my confidence. And I decided to invest these savings in building my future rather than buying expensive clothes and gadgets.
As I got grip on my life, I suffered a brain haemorrhage. After recovering from this setback with the help of my roommates, I continued working hard and graduated with a Masters’ degree in engineering. So it was education that pulled me through hardships.
Afterwards, I got a job as a project engineer in New York and continued to save 50% of my earnings. I enjoyed free parks, museums and libraries but never even thought about going for a foreign holiday or seeing a sporting event or music concert live.
Not only was I investing my money carefully, I was investing my time wisely too. When not working overtime, I would use my time to volunteer in my community as a fire-fighter and paramedic. As a result, I made several friends from whom I learned how to deal with my funny accent. By the way, I never had any accent problem in India!
I can’t tell you how happy I felt when I had saved 50,000 dollars, enough to pursue my next dream, that is, to get a Masters’ in Business Administration degree.
In 1992, I graduated with an MBA from University of California, Los Angeles with the Dean’s Outstanding Student Award, the highest honour given to any student. And I had no outstanding student loans. So again, it was education that lifted me higher.
After graduation, I joined Goldman Sachs on Wall Street and continued to save at least 50% of my earnings – by the way I was interviewed 31 times before I got that job! My job provided me work experience in New York, London and Hong Kong. I worked with top professionals from more than 25 countries. This was my worldly education on the job, which gave me a global profile.
Armed with my global profile, my education and my savings, I launched Global Markets Consultants, a management consulting firm, in London and New York in 2002. And I’ve continued to save at least 50% of my earnings since then. I am proud that my company has created hundreds of UK jobs and has been a preferred consultant of Deutsche Bank, a Fortune Global 100 company, since 2005. And my savings have enabled me to support numerous charities and launch various initiatives to build a cohesive community in Southwark. I love my community.
The bottom line is that everything I’ve experienced and achieved has only been possible because of education.
I hope that our young people invest their time and money wisely, so they can fulfil their dreams too.
I hope they build a global profile, so they can thrive in our increasingly more inter-connected world.
I hope they invest in acquiring higher education and qualifications from leading institutions, so they can choose any employer they want to work for.
Do we want your students to become the next Barack Obama, the next Oprah Winfrey or the next JK Rowling? Absolutely.
We share a common dream. We want our young people to excel in their lives and realise their true potential. To fulfil this dream, I’d like us to work together and form a lasting partnership. My door is always open to you.
I am willing to financially support your school events where I can.
I am willing to invite your students to the City of London to experience the business world.
I am willing to inspire your students to aim higher.
And on this note, I would like to close with what Henry Ford said,
“Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.”
Thank you very much.