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My ‘Three Secrets of Success’ speech

On 11th May I delivered a keynote speech at the Tayo Situ Foundation Awards. I shared my ‘three secrets of success’ with the predominantly young audience, which also included many community and political leaders.

Tayo Situ passed away while serving as Mayor of Southwark last year. His family and friends set up the Tayo Situ Foundation in his memory to cement his legacy and realize his vision of fostering youth leadership in Southwark.

The evening recognised young people making a real difference in their community and was the first such event hosted by the organisation. And what a superb job the organising committee did!

As a Patron of the foundation, I was asked to make a 20-minute motivational address. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience and it seemed to go down well with both young and old. Sonia Sutton, the Mayor of Southwark’s secretary, commented, “That speech was truly inspirational not only for the youths but for us older heads too – thank you Prem and well done.” Leader of Southwark Council Peter John also told me he kept going over the three secrets in his head again and again!

Here’s my speech in full:


Thank you Michael for your warm welcome

Distinguished guests, Ladies, Gentlemen and all our future leaders, I’m thrilled to be here with you tonight.  We’ve gathered to recognize and celebrate the achievements of young people in Southwark.

I feel deeply honoured and humbled to have been asked to speak at such a meaningful occasion.

I’m proud to be a patron of the Tayo Situ Foundation and would like to congratulate every young person who’s been nominated for a Tayo Situ award.  You should all be proud of what you have accomplished in your lives so far.  I’m looking forward to meeting with you later tonight.

As you know, Tayo passed away last year while serving as the Mayor of Southwark.  Even when he was bravely fighting cancer on his deathbed, his top priority was to serve the borough.  Only six days before his death, he signed the Memorandum of Partnership between the London Borough of Southwark and Osun State Government of Nigeria.

The leader of Southwark Council Peter John beautifully summed up Tayo’s spirit to serve when he said:  quote, Tayo fulfilled the role of Mayor of Southwark with real dignity.  He was so proud of the opportunity to serve his constituents and our borough as the first citizen. Unquote.

Tayo always wanted to support young people in Southwark and the wider area.  To preserve his legacy, his family and friends set up the Tayo Situ Foundation last year.  This foundation works to foster leadership among our young people through engagement, recognition and mentoring.

As some of you may know, Tayo was born in Iwo city in Osun State, Nigeria in 1952.  After completing his primary education at the age of 13, he worked for seven years and saved every penny to enrol in a high school at the age of 20.   In 1985, at the age of 33, Tayo and his family moved 5,000 km away to England with a dream to reach for the stars.

Shortly after coming to England, he moved to Southwark and lived there for more than 20 years.  To support his family, he worked and studied 70 hours per week for years.  He invested all his free time wisely to participate in and organize activities in the local community, church and businesses.  In 2002, we elected him as a councillor and in 2010, we elected him as the Mayor of Southwark.

Tayo was able to connect with everyone in the borough because he had become a global citizen by mastering two cultures, two languages and two socio-economic levels.  He possessed a vibrant mix of talent, energy and hope.  A trailblazer he was!

Most importantly, through his experiences, Tayo recognized the importance of equality and diversity in building sustainable societies and cohesive communities.  He fought for these two values throughout his life.  No matter how hard life seemed, and no matter how his strength was zapped, his faith in equality and diversity sharpened his resolve to succeed.

How did he accomplish these great feats in London after growing up 5,000 km away in Iwo?  The truth is I don’t know the answer.

But I do know that he deserves our highest accolades and I invite you to join me in giving a standing ovation to Tayo Situ.

Now I’d like to tell you three secrets that have transformed my life and enabled me to be with you 7,000 km away from New Delhi where I grew up.  The first is to create your own learning, earning and saving model.  The second is to make yourself a celebrity rather than making others celebrities. The third is to acquire a global profile.

Secret one – create a  learning, earning and saving model, similar to the one I built for myself many years ago.  This model made me a multi-millionaire in twelve years after moving to New York in 1986.

Having grown up in a business family in India, I saw poverty but never experienced it.  However that changed immediately after I arrived in New York to pursue a Masters’ degree in Engineering on a teaching scholarship.

For the first time in my life, I was a fish out of water: a different culture, different language and different socio-economic level.  After getting encouragement from local church leaders, I started saving every dollar and valuing what my parents provided for me in India.

I decided to save 50% of the 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 surprise surprise, 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 building my future rather than buying expensive clothes and gadgets.

After graduation, I worked 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.  I served as a volunteer fire-fighter and paramedic, giving back human capital as I was saving material capital.

I enjoyed free parks, museums and libraries but never even thought about going for a foreign holiday or seeing a sporting event or 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 the financial services industry and continued to save at least 50% of my earnings.  My savings 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.  My savings have played an instrumental role in supporting my company during the credit crisis.

So I strongly encourage you to build a learning, earning and saving model for yourself to fulfil your dreams.  And keep Wonga.com out of Southwark!

The second secret is to become a celebrity yourself rather than making others celebrities.  This capability has given me five more hours daily to pursue my own dreams.

Every day a lot of activities continuously demand our time.  These include watching television, surfing the internet and using social media.  Did you know that people spend six hours every day to make others celebrities?  This is how much time each person in London spends on watching television and on 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.  As a result, they’re millionaires and billionaires and we’re not fully realizing our own dreams.

I do enjoy myself, but I have limited it to one hour per day on average.  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.

I capitalise on my free time in three ways.  First, I’m passionate about community involvement and take an active role.  I serve as a magistrate at Stratford Court and as a governor at Tower Hamlets College.  I love these opportunities as they not only help me strengthen my community but also hone my leadership skills.

Second, I participate in many challenging activities and regularly raise money for charities.   For example, I completed the London Marathon in 2000, raising more than £5,000 for Get Kids Going.  And I take my hats off to Peter John, Mary Faulks and Michael Situ who ran fantastic marathons this year and raised huge sums for charity.

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 Pole and the South Pole.  This year in March, I visited Ghana and loved it.  Ete-sen (hello) to those who know the language Twi!  And my next destination is Nigeria! After that I’ll enjoy saying:  Bow O Ni

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.

By the way, I’m sure Sky television will blacklist me now!

The third secret is to acquire a global profile.  This has greatly boosted my emotional intelligence and warmth.

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 Apple, yes, the iPhone and iPad company, its American staff work with suppliers in China, sell products in Brazil and collaborate on projects with offices in Germany.

Therefore, it is essential for you to gain a global profile and credentials.  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.  And remember university education in many countries is not as expensive as it is here.  Global education has enabled me to 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 climbed to the Mount Everest base camp; to Tanzania and climbed Kilimanjaro; and to Vietnam and Cambodia and cycled 500 km.

Third, live a global life in London.  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.

Recently I attended the Holi Festival organized superbly by Cllr Sunil Chopra.  To learn different countries and languages, widen your social circle to include people from different parts of the world, including China and South America.

How many of you try a new cuisine on a regular basis? Just last month Councillors Amino and Emanuel introduced me to Nigerian food for the first time and since then, Nigerian Okra Soup has become my favourite soup!

So I strongly suggest you to acquire a global personality.

On this note, I’d like to conclude by congratulating, again, all the nominees.

Remember Tayo reached great heights in his life because he believed in himself, not in luck.  He realized that no one would do it for him but himself.  He invested his time, energy and money to enrich his life and the lives of all people in Southwark.  He’d have wanted you to reach for the stars also and in doing so bring more glory to the borough of Southwark.

The Tayo Situ Foundation is here to help you achieve your dreams.  We’re willing not only to teach you how to fish, metaphorically speaking of course, but also ready to provide the fishing equipment to make sure that you reach the sky.

I urge you to create a learning, earning and saving model to boost your confidence, invest time wisely to make yourself a celebrity and acquire a global profile to increase emotional intelligence.  Your journey must never be one of short-cuts or settling for less because your life is certainly worth more.

I’d like to close by saying what I tell myself everyday: Ask not what others can do for you – ask what you can do for yourself.

Thank you very much

Written by Prem Goyal