Giving inspiration to our rising football stars
Here is my speech from the London Challenge Cup football tournament organised by Pathways Sports and London FA on 10 April:
I am delighted to be here with you. I’d like to thank David for inviting me to speak today. I want to applaud him for organising such a fantastic tournament to help build a brighter future for our youth. That is leadership in action. Please join me in giving him a huge round of applause.
I want to congratulate all the winners and encourage them to share this moment with their friends and family. And I also want to congratulate all of you who have participated during the last two days.
I believe in two things: First, what Pierre de Coubertin, the father of the modern Olympic Games said, “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not winning but taking part.
And second, what, Mahatma Ghandi, the father of India, said “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” I follow these two mantras everyday and together they have become the cornerstone of my life.
Today I would like to share with you my journey from India to the UK and you will see that both education and sport have been story of my life. You will hear how they opened doors for me, how I then invested my savings in me, and how they helped me build a global profile.
My story began 7,000 kilometres away from here in India. I grew up the youngest of 11 children and went to state schools in Delhi. There was no playground; no sports equipment and no desks. We all sat on the floor and wrote on wooden boards. Basic as it was, my school 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, which was a sport for us, everyday. We’d shape them into pancakes, slap them on walls to dry and then use for fuel. On most days, I was the fastest and hence the champion dung collector!
Through hard work at school, I won entry to the Indian Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading engineering universities. Over 4 years, I learned the basics of different sports but won only one medal: the Medal for Most Participation.
But participation in sports taught me about teamwork, respecting others and performing under pressure. With the support of my family, I earned my Bachelor’s degree in 1986.
Based on my academic performance, I obtained a scholarship from the US to pursue a Masters’ degree in engineering from Clarkson University. I flew to New York at the age of 22. And so it was education and sports 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. 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 day and night and rest only after reaching to the top. 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 my teachers, 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!
After one year, I saved more than 4,000 dollars which hugely boosted my confidence. And I decided to invest these savings in acquiring higher education rather than buying expensive clothes and gadgets.
At university, I saw a swimming pool for the first time and I decided to use all my free time to learn swimming. I was the only one in the pool on a regular basis with no swimming ability! But I told myself that one day I’ll be a good swimmer, no matter what.
As I got grip on my life, I suffered a brain haemorrhage. After recovering from this setback with the help of my roommates, I stayed focused on my education and graduated with a Masters’ degree in engineering.
Afterwards, I got a job as a project engineer in New York and continued to save 50% of my earnings. I set a goal of saving $50,000 in three years. I worked overtime all the time and kept my expenses to the minimum by enjoying free parks, museums and libraries. I never even thought about going for a holiday.
Not only was I investing my money carefully, I was investing my time wisely too. When not studying or working overtime, I would use my time to volunteer as a fire-fighter and work on my funny accent. By the way, I never had any accent problem in India!
From my fire-fighter mates, I learned about softball and American football. Soon I joined their softball team, not because of my skills but because of my ability to participate!
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 earn an MBA from a top business school.
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. I always say choose textbooks, not facebook!
At UCLA, I became a big fan of basketball and had an opportunity to play pick up basketball with LA Lakers players. But I lasted only for one minute! Over the last 20 years, I’ve made only one three pointer!!
After graduation, I joined Sales and Trading at Goldman Sachs on Wall Street. I immediately set a goal of saving one million dollars in ten years. By the way I was interviewed 31 times before I got that job! From day one, I started working at least 80 hours a week, but I enjoyed the nonstop, intense competition. This is where my participation in competitive sports proved invaluable.
Having worked for Goldman Sachs in New York, I decided to build a profile of a global manager. In the subsequent years, I consulted for Deutsche Bank in London and Tokyo and Citi Bank in Zurich and travelled to more than 50 countries. After working for 80 hours a week for seven years, I achieved my goal of saving one million dollars three years earlier than planned. I always say believe in yourself, not in luck.
My enthusiasm and involvement in sports helped me successfully jump over cultural hurdles and provide me lots of interesting stories to share with high flying global professionals. For example, in Tokyo, I followed sumo wrestling and built a rapport with my Japanese clients in no time. But I couldn’t participate in that sport because I was underweight by 300 pounds!
In Switzerland, I learned skiing and found it extremely useful for growing my global business network. But please remember: Do NOT ski downhill on day one!
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. I am proud that my company has created hundreds of management jobs and has been a preferred consultant of Deutsche Bank, a top investment bank, since 2005.
To recognize my contributions to the UK, I was invited to have a lunch with the Queen on the top table for a Diamond Jubilee celebration event in 2012. Additionally, I was awarded an OBE in 2013.
Furthermore, my significant savings have enabled me to retire at the age of 45 to pursue my other interests, including travelling, community involvement and swimming!
I love travelling. I’ve been to about 100 countries, including far flung places such as the North Pole and the South Pole. Recently I went to Nigeria for holidays and tasted Indomi, the best noodles in the world. Since that trip, Jillof rice and suya have become my favourite food. And I’ve got a Nigerian nickname: Olu.
And I love my community. I’ve raised £150,000 for charities by completing various outdoor challenges, including London marathon – I even surprised myself, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, trekking to the Mt. Everest base camp in Nepal and cycling 500 Km in Vietnam and Cambodia.
I love swimming. Over the last 10 years I’ve been learning swimming. I’m proud to share that I can swim 1,000 meters or more in three different strokes, with tumble turns. I’m learning butterfly as of now.
In conclusion, the bottom line is that everything I’ve experienced and achieved has only been possible because of education and sports. I hope you invest your time and money in acquiring higher education and qualifications from leading institutions, so YOU can choose any employer you want to work for. Don’t you want to be a master of your destiny?
At the same time, I hope that you will participate in different sports from time to time to keep building both personality and character. And you will have a bag full of interesting stories to share with others and have a laugh with your mates too. I encourage all of you to become a champion or win the medal for most participation.
My dream is to provide a promising future for our young people like you. I’m here to help you achieve your dreams and my doors are open to you. I’m determined to use 100% of my savings and time to ensure that you achieve your true potential by reaching to the top.
And on this note, I would like to close with what I tell myself everyday: Make each day count. Just perform today better than yesterday.
Thank you very much