Inspiring our young leaders at Empowerment Summit
I was delighted to join around 75 young leaders, entrepreneurs and budding business leaders in Southwark as a keynote speaker at the Empowerment Summit.
In my keynote speech I started by recognising the efforts of Ope and her team for organising this summit. After sharing my journey from India to the UK, I revealed three secrets that enabled me launch my own business, Global Markets Consultants. I told them that these three secrets would help them create job and business opportunities for themselves and others. In particular, I emphasised that they needed to live a global life in London and widen the social circles with people from across the world and especially the emerging markets in China, India, Indonesia and Brazil (see my speech below).
I ended by taking questions in a Q&A session. I was humbled to get a standing ovation after my speech and lots of positive feedback.
My sincere thanks to Ope Alimi for inviting me and to everyone in her team for organsining such a fantastic event. I hope we can do more events like these for our young people across London.
Here is my speech in full below:
I am delighted to be with you at this Summit and I want to thank Ope for inviting me to speak today.
Today’s summit is the result of Ope and her team’s hard work, leadership and dedication. They want to make a positive difference in our community 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 summit to help young people reach their full potential and achieve their dreams. Let us give them a standing ovation.
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 have tried to follow in my own life, and I hope you do too.
Today I would like to share with you my journey from India to the UK. I will also tell you three secrets that have transformed my life. The first secret is to create your own learning, earning and saving model. The second is to make yourself a celebrity rather than making others celebrities. And the third is to acquire a global profile. These three secrets made me a multi-millionaire in 12 years after I moved from Delhi to New York in 1986.
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.
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 excellent academic performance, I obtained a teaching scholarship for Masters in engineering degree from Clarkson University and went to New York to purse higher education at the age of 22.
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 in India 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 is my first secret – create a learning, earning and saving model.
After getting encouragement from local church leaders, 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.
Afterwards, I got a job as a project engineer in New York and continued to save 50% of my earnings. I worked overtime all the time and managed spending money by volunteering actively in my community as a volunteer fire-fighter and paramedic. As a result, I made several friends from who I learned how to deal with my funny accent. By the way, I never had any accent problem in India!
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. 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.
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. My savings then enabled me to launch 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 since 2005.
So I strongly encourage you to build a learning, earning and saving model for yourself so you too can fulfil your dreams. I urge you to invest in higher education and qualifications from leading institutions. If you do this, I guarantee you, you will choose who you want to work for rather than asking or waiting for an employer to choose you. By the way, Wonga.com hates this model!
This brings me onto my second secret which is to become a celebrity yourself rather than making others celebrities. This capability has given me five more hours every day than everyone else to pursue my own dreams because I invest my free time in myself.
I capitalise on my free time in three ways.
First, I continue to be passionate about my community involvement and still take an active role. I serve as a Magistrate at Stratford Court, a Patron of Tayo Situ Foundation and a Trustee for Connection at St Martins homeless charity. I love these opportunities as they not only help me strengthen my community but also help me create business opportunities.
Second, I participate in many challenging activities and regularly raise money for charities. For example, I completed the London Marathon, raising more than £5,000 for Get Kids Going. I can’t tell you how many successful business leaders I’ve met by participating in these activities.
Third, travelling to different parts of the world is a great passion of mine. I’ve been to more than 75 countries and to far-flung places such as the North and South Pole. Recently, I visited Ghana, where I tasted the most delicious mangos; Nigeria where I enjoyed Indo Me – the best noodles in the world and got my Yoruba name: Oluwadara; and Jamaica where I saw the most beautiful mountains: blue mountains and drank the best coffee ever. By the way, you can call me Olu from now on!
Using my free time in these ways I have got plenty of stories to share with others. Believe it or not these stories have helped me stand out from the crowd and find new job opportunities.
I know a lot of activities continuously demand our time on a daily basis; whether it’s watching television, surfing the internet or using social media – but these activities do not help us build a solid career. Did you know that people spend six hours every day to make others celebrities? This is how much time each person in London spends watching television, texting, emailing and surfing social networking sites!
By spending huge amounts of time and energy on these activities, we’re willingly playing into the hands of Hollywood stars, sports celebrities and social media owners like Mark Zuckerburg. As a result, they’re millionaires and billionaires and we’re not fully realizing our own dreams or our true potential.
I do enjoy myself, but I have limited it to one hour per day on average – this includes weekends! Before I spend more than seven hours per week on entertainment, I always ask myself whether I can put the experience on my CV or talk about it in an interview.
So, I urge you not to spend more than seven hours per week on activities that make others money rich and you time poor. Instead invest your free time to make yourself a celebrity. Go make stories for yourself, a least one every month, that you can use them in interviews to get your dream job. Soon people will be following you rather than you following others. By the way, please don’t tell this secret o Sky TV? Otherwise they will cancel my subscription now!
This brings me onto my third secret – to acquire a global profile.
Building a global profile has greatly boosted my emotional intelligence and has allowed me to hire intelligent staff for my company from different countries. As you know workplaces are becoming more and more global, so working with people around the world is a requirement, not an option. Did you know that 37% of the people working in London were not born in England?
If you take a look at Samsung, the maker of your Galaxy mobile phones, they employ 88,000 people across 46 countries. This means that whilst Samsung’s headquarters are in South Korea and Korean is their first language, they manufacture in India, have offices in Brazil and collaborate on products with staff in Germany. Therefore, it is essential for you to gain a global profile and credentials if you are going to create top job opportunities for yourself.
I must point out that acquiring a global profile is a journey, not a destination. But you can achieve it in three ways.
First, studying abroad is the easiest way to gain international experience. I had an opportunity to study in India, New York, California and London. Remember, university education in many countries is not as expensive as it is here. Global education has enabled me to work in Tokyo and Zurich and start my business in London and New York.
Second, raising money by taking on challenges abroad is a wonderful way to build your international personality. For charity, I went to Nepal and trekked to the Mount Everest base camp; to Tanzania and climbed Kilimanjaro; and to Vietnam and Cambodia and cycled 500 km across the countries.
Third, live a global life in London. As you know, London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Here you can learn about different cultures, people and cuisines. To learn about different cultures, enjoy different international festivals. Who here has been to Chinatown to celebrate Chinese New Year? Who here has been to Tate Modern museum this year? Who participated in the Nottingham carnival to enjoy samba dance and music? These are great ways to learn about and appreciate different cultures. For those who haven’t, I encourage you to go and celebrate Diwali with your friends next month.
To understand different people, you must widen your social circle to include people from different parts of the world, especially from China, India, Mexico, Indonesia and Nigeria. These are the markets that are going to explode economically in the coming decade. If you make friends with citizens from these countries in London, then next year you can visit them in Shanghai, Mumbai, Mexico City, Jakarta and Lagos. Just imagine, you could be among future millionaires every minute!
Afterwards, going out of your comfort zone will be a pleasure, not a pain, for you. And you can start right now also. How many of you try a new cuisine on a regular basis? My Nigerian friends introduced me to Okra soup, suya and jilof rice last year. Now Okra soup is my favourite soup; 805 Old Kent road, a Nigerian restaurant, is a hangout of mine. Let me tell you, eating kebabs, burgers and fish and chips everyday will not generate stories for you.
So I strongly suggest that you become global in everything you do and acquire a global personality.
On this note, I’d like to conclude by telling you that you can reach the sky too in your life if you believe in yourself, and not in luck. Don’t let yourself limit what you can achieve.
I urge you to create a learning, earning and saving model to boost your job opportunities, invest time wisely to make yourself a celebrity and acquire a global profile to create international business opportunities.
Your journey must never be one of short-cuts or settling for less because your life is certainly worth more.
And on this note, I would like to close with what I tell myself everyday: Ask not what others can do for you – ask what you can do for yourself.
Thank you very much. And I’m happy to take any questions you have.