‘You Can Do it Too’ – Secret of Sabeer Bhatiya’s Success

Sabeer Bhatiya an ordinary guy from banglore came to Los Angeles eleven years ago, in September 1988. He was 19 at that time and had only $250 in his pocket and knew nobody in America.

Sabeer intended to complete his degrees and go back to India to work with some Large Indian Company as an engineer. Sabeer did his MS in 1993. Sabeer thought that one should be superhuman to start a company and it was an impossible task for him.

But during his graduation in Stanford, he used to spend his lunch hours in the basement of Terman Auditorium. He listened to enterpreneurs like Scott Mc Nealy MBA’80, Steve Wozniak and Marc Andreesen, they all had a common message – “You can do it too.” Sabeer knew that famous people always says so to inspire others.

After completing his graduation Sabeer dropped the idea of going home. He took up a job with Apple Computers and so did Jack Smith, his friend and co-worker.

Sabeer and Jack had a dream to start a company and they were really working hard on it. They wanted to email notes to each other, but they were afraid of being accused by their bosses of spending their working hours on personal projects. They had personal American Online account, but they could not access it from office network. Jack was frustrated by all this problem. And this gave birth to an idea of free e-mail accounts that can be accessed anonymously over the web – HOTMAIL.

In mid-1995, Sabeer began his business plan for a netbased personal database called Javasoft. Javasoft became the front for Hotmail for Jack and Sabeer in December.

Sabeer knew Hotmail was an explosive concept. Sabeer convinced Imperial Bank to loan him $100,00. Then he convinced McLean Public Relations to represent Hotmail in exchange of stock.

In June the product was ready to launch, at that time they had 15 employees working for them. They launched it on July 4, 1996 – Independence Day – as Sabeer and jack thought free email was a great Independent idea and populist tool. Every body who owned a computer had their own email accounts, but with webmail, they could log on from anywhere in the world. The first users found it all by themselves and then it spread like a forest fire. there were 100 in first hour, 200 in second hour and 250 in third hour. the idea was so intuitively powerful that 80% of those who signed up for Hotmail; learned about it from a friend.

In just 2 1/2 years, Sabeer built Hotmail’s user base faster than any media company in history- Faster than CNN, faster than America Online. By summer 1998, with 25 million active e-mail accounts, the company was signing up new users at the rate of 125,000 a day.

On the New year eve,1997 the negotiations with Microsoft was finalised and the ownership of Hotmail was exchanged for 2,769,148 shares of Microsoft worth $400 million. Everbody in the valley was shocked with the dealing. but 8 months after the New Years announcement, microsoft ‘s $400 million price tag looked like a bargain, considering Hotmail had more than tripled in size since it was purchased. Nobody thinks the price was unjust anymore. Sabeer had a 3year commitment (through 200) to head Hotmail for microsoft.

Being the head of the world’s fastest-growing media company, backed with Microsoft’s financial muscles Hotmail’s Juggernaut appears unstoppable. He feels absurd when people call him ‘Powerful Man’ he is just ordinary flesh and blood like anyother man.

He say – “If something is success, it is wildly successful.


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Dreaming big is the key to success

On June 15, 2008, a fledgling Ahmedabad-based garments and fashion accessories company, Liverpool Retail India Ltd (LRIL) made a splash in the retail space by launching 151 outlets of a new brand ‘Barcelona’ across the country covering 15 states in one day..

Its chairman, 50-year-old Vijaysingh Rathore may well be another retail czar in the making to take on the likes of Future group chairman Kishore Biyani. That’s largely because, like Biyani, Rathore is a man who has unerringly got his finger on the pulse of the consumer.

Recounting his days as a struggling entrepreneur, Rathore recounts how the idea of launching affordable but value-for-money readymade garment stores for the fashion-conscious aam aadmi came to him while visiting a sale in a small town. “I saw how poor quality garments were selling like hot cakes largely because they were at discounted prices. For the rate-conscious lower and lower middle-class consumer, price is a major factor while buying a product. That’s what gave me the idea of trying my hand at selling good quality, readymade garments which would offer value for money at really affordable prices,” he confesses.

What he has also factored in while giving a final shape to his retail dream is the fact that the Indian consumer, apart from being extremely price-conscious, is also a sucker for discounts. “That’s the reason that ours are essentially discount stores which offer hefty discounts for eight to nine months in a year,” reveals Rathore.

An unassuming man from a humble background, Rathore did not learn the fundamentals of launching a business from any fancy B-school. A Masters in Economics from Agra College, Agra, his first job was that of a lowly-paid milk supervisor for Hindustan Lever Ltd in the moffusil town of Etah in Uttar Pradesh way back in 1988. “Even then though I dreamt big. I always wanted to make a name for myself,” reminisces Rathore.

And since Etah was too small and insignificant to accommodate his burgeoning ambitions, Rathore soon left for the country’s entrepreneurial paradise, Ahmedabad, in search of his dreams. But it is not as if he struck gold the minute he landed. The first decade in Ahmedabad too saw him flitting from one insignificant venture to another. “In Ahmedabad,” recalls Rathore, “My first job was again that of a salesman for a stationery marketing company following which I switched over to a small-yarn trading company where I had my first exposure at handling finances as well.”

The job did not last long but what Rathore took with him when he left the company was a friend and partner, Kailash Gupta, who shared his dreams of making it big and with whom he finally created LRIL.

However, Rathore’s first few faltering steps towards carving his own business were doomed for disaster. “Initially, Gupta and I did consultancy work advising small companies on financial activities. Then, in 1995 we started trading and export of medical products and opened offices in Russia and Nigeria.”

The venture folded up shortly leaving Rathore saddled with huge losses. “I learnt a lot from my failure. First, never to get into a business without sufficient knowledge and second, never to base a business model on hearsay, by supposed experts. My venture failed because I had no knowledge of the medical business and the products with which I was dealing—which is why I was misguided,” he confesses candidly.

In 2001, LRIL was incorporated and initially Rathore and Gupta started the garment business by supplying fabric and garments to multi-level marketing companies. Thereafter in 2004, they started working for other branded companies in the areas of networking, location identification and arranging franchises.

The exposure proved invaluable when in 2006, LRIL winged out as an independent retail venture. “By then we had figured out that there was a huge potential in the unorganised garment retail sector. In the country’s Rs 40,000 crore-apparel market, the organised market is just Rs 18,000 crore. Our aim was to tap the remaining Rs 22,000 crore in the unorganised sector,” reveals the LRIL chairman..

The LRIL model is so staggeringly simple that it’s a win-win formula for all concerned. “We saw that the small mom-and- pop apparel shops have limited stocks and a small range of products. That’s largely because they function on small margins and are dependent for supplies on wholesalers and mediators.” LRIL targeted these retailers making them an integral part of its franchise-business model. “We decided to rope in these small retailers as our franchises, outsourced our manufacturing to various locations across the country and evolved the Liverpool brand for the fashion and price conscious customers,” Rathore elaborates.

The franchise model also ensured that overheads required for setting up these outlets were kept down to bare a bare minimum as it did not involve space acquisition by the company itself. But how does he keep a check on the hrs quality of his products with manufacturing being outsourced. “Firstly, we provide the materials used ourselves. Second, we have a central warehouse where everything is scrupulously checked for quality,” Rathore discloses.

In just two years of its existence, LRIL today has a staff strength of 60 employees, 150 labour staff at its godowns and provides indirect employment to about 1,200 people across the country. The company, so far, has 142 Liverpool outlets in many cities and has just launched another 151 outlets under the Barcelona brand catering to the middle and lower-middle segment and also covering the semi-urban population. “That’s because the craze for branded products among the rural population is also huge and this brand will provide them with an easily available and affordable brand.”

On the drawing board are plans for boutique stores for the high-end market of discerning high net-worth customers as are plans of setting up an ultra modern manufacturing unit with a built up area of one lakh square feet at Ahmedabad and also taking the Liverpool brand abroad, all at an estimated cost of over Rs 500 crore. He also plans to foray into other segments of the fashion industry equipping his shops with googles, belts and other fashion accessories. Plans have also been drawn up to to enter the lingerie business. Like the man, his office in a bylane of Ahmedabad is remarkably Spartan. His mantra for success? “Meticulous future planning and anticipating public demand carefully as also studying the market closely,” he says. The company’s turnover has jumped from Rs 35 crore in 2006-07 to Rs 60 crore in 2007-08.


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Striking it big against odds

Ilavazhaki’s life has all the elements of a fairytale. Growing up in a slum in Vyasarpadi, she had to work hard for things that most children take for granted. As a fish-cart puller, her father Irudhayaraj brought home earnings too meagre to feed a family of five. Ilavazhaki had often forgone her meals for the sake of her younger sisters, Ilakiya and Sevanthi. Needless to say, she considered buying school books unnecessary expenditure for her struggling family. And there was no bitterness when she had to discontinue studies after class IX.

But for a square-shaped wooden board, Ilavazhaki’s life would have been totally devoid of hope. She was six when she first tried a hand at carrom. This was not surprising, because the game is an integral part of life in the slums. Often, a carrom board is the only entertainment slum-dwellers can afford. Many of India’s greatest carrom players are from the slums.

Watching his eldest daughter play, Irudhayaraj, a competitive carrom player himself, realised early that his family had an exceptionally talented child. Driven by ambition to make Ilavazhaki famous, he found the energy to train her everyday, after spending tiresome hours on the road.

Dad’s determination

His efforts were not in vain. Winning the junior nationals thrice, Ilavazhaki was well on track for the kind of glory that he wished for her. And she kept his hope alive after graduating to the women’s category, winning three golds in the Asian championship in 2005 and picking up another three in the SAARC championship, held the same year. The moment daughter and father were waiting for arrived in 2006. After striking it rich again in the SAARC championship, she won the World Championship in New Delhi.

Until this victory, Ilavazhaki was in the shade. Winning the world championship made her known beyond the small circle of players and followers, which is the world of carrom. Recognition of her talent did little to change the condition she and her family lived in. Her family still struggled due to the lack of any substantial income. Ilavazhaki has a form of hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating), induced by her anxieties about her family. To her credit, she crafted some of her brilliant victories despite being handicapped by sweaty palms.

The tide turned in the early part of this year. Days before she left for Cannes to compete in the Fifth World Carrom Championship, she was offered a job as sports secretary by the Sri Ramanujar Engineering College (Vandalur), known for its interest in improving the lot of brilliant sport persons battling difficult financial situations.

After Cannes, which saw her crowned world champion for the second time, life has not been the same. Her position as sports secretary in the college meant she could be a student again. To help her make up for the lost years, she is being trained how to use a computer and speak English. She has also joined a meditation programme to help her deal with the psychological problem that makes her palms sweat. The college management is willing to give her father a job as a driver, provided he gets a licence. Having enrolled for driving lessons, the fish-cart puller is working towards it. A seat, in a polytechnic or an engineering course, is reserved for one of her sisters, Sevanthi, who is in class X.

Suddenly, everything seems to be falling in Ilavazhaki’s lap. Following her Cannes victory, the Tamil Nadu Government gave her a cash prize of Rs. 10 lakh. A few companies are keen to have her as their brand ambassador. The All India Carrom Federation is campaigning for an Arjuna Award for Ilavazhaki. If she gets it, she will become the first woman carrom player to be thus honoured. And, what’s more, it will be the perfect culmination for a fairytale.


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A published author at 15, he’s still not satisfied

As a child, Ronen Chatterjee hated to read and was merely an average student. His teachers grew frustrated with his lack of direction, essentially writing the young lad off at an early age. Ronen himself admits, “I was more or less having no aim in life.”

But the otherwise unremarkable young boy began to display two exceptional talents — an impeccable memory and the ability to create narratives in his mind.

This knack for story-telling didn’t take Ronen’s family by surprise, however. His father Bhaskar Chatterjee has authored a book on management, Maruti [Get Quote]: The Indian Experience; and his mother Rupa Chatterjee has written a series of books, including Sonia Gandhi [Images]: The Lady in Shadow.

Urged on by his parents to take up the pen, Ronen started his first story; three years later, he hasn’t stopped.

Now 15, Ronen is the youngest published novelist in India. His debut offering, Fire Within, uses the game of tennis as a vehicle to explore the intricacies of familial relationships. It traces the story of three generations of the Roy ramily – Rohan, his son Rohit and his grandson, Raj – and their dedication to the game they love.

In an interview with rediff.com’s Matthew Schneeberger, Ronen describes writing the book, his struggles with publishers and plans for the future.

When and how did this idea of writing a book originate?

I never dreamt that I’d be an author today. I say this because, when I was six or seven, I didn’t really like to read. I didn’t like to write. I was lazy, more or less having no aim in life.

But, one thing was, my imagination started to kick in. I could make pictures in my mind and move objects around; it was like an escape route from reality.

Stories started forming in my head and I tried to express it to my mother. And I told her, “I have this story and I want you to write it.” But she told me, “If I write it, you won’t get that satisfaction that you want. If you write it, it will be much better, because then it will be the way you want it.”

She told me this around 2003. And then two years later, in November 2005, I decided to put pen to paper.

And it was like a fish to water. I just kept writing and writing. I realized this is what I want to do. This is what I want to write. When I started, it was aimlessly; because I never dreamt that one day it would be a proper book.

And from there it just continued; it just kept growing, and my stories got better and better and better. My parents said, “This is a talent we have on our hands, we should try and have this published.”

So your parents supported you, but how about others? Your peers, teachers…?

I didn’t tell my teachers! I kept it a total secret. Because, at this age, all the teachers, and usually even parents, say, “Just keep studying!” They don’t care about extra activities. And this type of talent (writing), people hardly recognize, no one takes it seriously.

I first gave it to my friends and they said it’s good. I didn’t want to expose it to too many people. And then one day, it suddenly came out in my school. I got very scared, I was wondering what they would say. My teacher took it to the head of the English department, who read it and returned it without a word. Next week, at the PTA meet, the English head told my parents I should focus on my studies.

That was the feedback I got from the school! I got no encouragement. Now that I am published, they have all congratulated me, though.

It took you a year to get the book published. Could you describe that process?

That was the harsh part, because you have to come back to reality. There are hundreds of writers in Delhi, actually God knows how many, and they’re all working ten times harder than I am to have their books published. And yet so many of them are unsuccessful.

The publishers we went to all said good, but you are too young, just 13, a small kid, he is not old enough to enter this competitive world. After every rejection, I told myself it didn’t matter; we simply went on to the next publisher, and the next. Finally, we ended up with Haranand, and they said my age could actually be a selling point, a fact the other publishers failed to recognize. So that was how I got my chance.

Do you have a system, a set target for how much you write every day?

Sometimes I write for hours and hours. Actually, when I was on vacation, the first thing on my mind – after my exams – was that I had to complete the book. It was like the homework I gave myself. It worked, because I really developed a passion for what started off as a hobby. In fact, it is only

But then there are some days when I don’t write anything at all, because I also have to balance my studies. I gave my studies a back seat, but it doesn’t mean I can completely ignore them. In India, marks are everything.

When I was writing the book, there were many school-nights that I stayed up until two and three in the morning writing, and then I had to wake up at six, with very little sleep. At times, I didn’t manage to submit my home work in time, but I never told my teachers the true reason, that I was writing – I only told them I forgot.

So now that you have your first book out, are you 100 per cent committed to being an author?

More than that. Being an author is something I’m never going to give up. Even if it doesn’t become a proper profession, one thing is for sure, I won’t give up writing. My next book is already complete, I am waiting to finish my board exams, it should be out next year.

Writing has gotten me to where I am today. I never thought I would at such a young age do something to make my family proud. I once wondered what I was going to do in life, because everything seemed so boring. Now I have finally found a mission, to be a really good author.

Your stories are about tennis, but they’re also about family relationships. Did you do this intentionally?

There are three different generations in the tennis stories, because I didn’t want to keep just one person as the main character. I wanted to show that being the son of someone great can have really bad effects sometimes, because people, even your own parents, start expecting the same things from you. Some parents – I don’t want to say bad parents — want their children to complete the dreams that they couldn’t fulfill.

Also, I wanted to show the special side of the father-son relationships, because my dad and I are so close. My relationship with him is like this: we have very good times together where we’re best friends, but we can be very serious as well. I tried to depict that special relationship in the book.

Do you have any advice to give other young people wanting to take to writing?

You have to be yourself. If one dream of yours is really within your grasp, just cut out everything else and go for it. Enjoy life. And if you want to be successful, you have to be successful for yourself. You can’t depend on others. You must make your own future.


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At 18, he runs an anti-hacking company

At 18 years of age he is one of the world’s youngest Microsoft Certified Systems administrators. His claim to fame, however, stems from the fact that his organisation endeavours to reduce cyber crime.

He gives lectures to officers of the Indian Army and Indian corporates on how to safeguard their networks and the Internet infrastructure backbone from potential raids by malicious cyber hackers.

As a mark of appreciation, Microsoft Corporation chairman Bill Gates [Images] invited him to the launch of Biztalk servers in India in 2006.

Meet Vineet Kumar, the founder and CEO of the Global Ethical Hackers Association (GEHA) and the National Anti-hacking Group (NAG); the latter is a non-government organisation which 10,000 hackers have joined as members since its inception back in 2003).

Vineet and these NAG members belong to a category of hackers that take pride in calling themselves ‘whitehat hackers‘ These are ethical individuals who are opposed to the abuse of computer systems by malicious hackers known as ‘blackhats‘.

Interestingly, despite his expertise in a field as arcane as hacking, Vineet has had no formal training in his trade. He was attracted to computers as a child and managed to get the hang of surfing the Internet and chatting online. During one such session in an online chatroom, he met his mentor, who he refuses to name.

“He was a ‘greyhat‘ hacker,” reminisces Vineet. “He was based out of Chicago and gave me hacking lessons over IRC (Internet Relay Chat).”

How does Vineet know that his mentor was somebody based out of Chicago?

“I used some of the techniques he taught me on him,” chuckles Vineet, explaining that one can obtain the IP address (Internet Protocol address) of a machine without its owner knowing. “I did it for fun and to know if it actually works.”

It’s hardly surprising, then, to learn that this mischievous streak caused Vineet’s teachers to brand him ‘naughtiest kid in school’ back when he attended the Army High School in Ranchi, his hometown. By his own admission, he misses those school days. Today he is pursuing a four-year course in Information Technology and Infrastructure Management Services, ITIMs, from Sikkim Manipal University.

Vineet spoke to rediff.com’s Prasanna D Zore about ethical hacking, his responsibilities as CEO of GEHA and NAG and the pressure of handling such a career while he is still in his teens.

So you are an ethical hacker. What exactly does that mean and what made you pursue becoming one?

I prefer to be called a cyber/ information security advisor. Ethical hackers are hackers who work for a good cause — in other words, they are security researchers who plug the vulnerabilities and loopholes of online networks.

I do not concern myself with the philosophy of ethics, but with the simple knowledge of right and wrong engrained in my character. I work in favour of national interest, to save my country from cyber criminals who have a personal axe to grind.

You are only 18 now and CEO of the National Anti-hacking Group, NAG. What responsibilities does the position entail?

My responsibilities include managing the team, security projects, conferences, seminars, consultancy/ advisory assignments, taking important decisions and enabling the smooth functioning of the organisation.

You mentioned that you are pursuing a four-year course in Information Technology and Infrastructure Management Services from Sikkim Manipal University. Doesn’t being CEO of an organisation interfere with your academics?

Yes, at times I do feel that my job responsibility interferes with my academic success. However, my ambition to be different from others belonging to my age group gives me the strength and will to work. Nothing worth achieving comes without concentrated effort.

How did you manage to accomplish so much at such a young age?

I think, that old adage holds true — “Where there is a will there is a way”. I also believe that at 18, I am at the most creative stage in my life — I’m young, imaginative, full of positivity and inspired by the potential that the future holds for me.

Who are the people that are benefited by the NAG initiative?

We constantly try to solve social problems that stem from online activities by creating awareness in the field of cyber/ information security. Our efforts serve to protect children, students, families, individuals, and organisations (government as well as non-government) from the unseen criminals of the wired and wireless worlds, because we genuinely believe that social conscientiousness is primary to achieving a peaceful cyber co-existence.

We also voluntarily render our security services on a regular basis to providers who cater to society and the service sectors. The target beneficiaries includes schools, colleges, universities, educational institutions, financial institutions, the government sector, national and multinational organisations.

Our social commitment is to “enable people to use information and communication technology without fear”. Our issue concerns not just our country, but the world — today, a wired or wireless existence is almost as important as the physical.

Can you narrate any incident where NAG helped protect India from a dangerous cyber attack?

We protect many organisations, both government as well as non-government, from being violated. I am, however, bound to keep quiet by my professional commitment and therefore cannot disclose any information, nor the nature of my work. My friend Yash Kadakia and I have created a special security brigade to plug the vulnerabilities and loopholes in websites and networks and to provide them with timely guidance and security advice. According to a recent survey we conducted on Indian websites, 90 percent of them are vulnerable to violation; some of them possess critical information that should not be compromised under any circumstances. I would say that cyber security is still not given a priority in India.

What’s the difference between a white hat hacker and a black hat hacker?

The basic difference is not in the nature of the work but in their objectives and motives. The techniques and strategies used by both are the same. However, whitehats work in the positive interest of online security, whereas blackhats work to disrupt it. A white hat generally focuses on securing IT systems, whereas a black hat will focus on breaking into them.

You are a regular on the lecturer circuit. How did it begin? What kind of lectures do you give and how do they benefit your audiences?

It all started a couple of years ago when I was attending Ranchi’s Army High School. My father is an army officer and his colleagues, my teachers and friends all recognised the hidden potential in me. That’s how I began giving lectures to create awareness on cyber security.

I make the audience aware of the techniques adopted by cyber criminals and provide tips on how they can keep themselves secure. Those who fall prey to hackers are usually victims of ignorance – my mission is to dispel the darkness of ignorance by kindling the light of knowledge.

The audience usually accepts the stark truth that both the wired and the wireless worlds are vulnerable. They exhibit interest in knowing more about security and are ready to pay a price for a secure existence. They also appreciate my social initiatives.

Can you tell us something about your childhood? Who is your inspiration and what are the respective futures of Vineet Kumar the white hat and Vineet Kumar the student?

I was always an average student, but was quite dedicated when it came to computers. Sometimes I spent all night working on my machine and would end up sleeping in the classroom! My teachers branded me naughtiest kid in the school — I was always up to some mischief, but the strong discipline enforced by them ool helped me follow a straight path. How I miss those memorable days!

AS for my future, Vineet Kumar the white hat and Vineet Kumar the student are the same person. As a white hat I provide security to Internet users. As Vineet Kumar the student, I try to increase my knowledge. These two aspects of my life are like two sides of one coin — one manifests work, the other stands for growth and the urge to make a success of myself.


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From College drop out to MBA earning 12 lakh p.a.

Here I am – this is me — there’s nowhere else on earth I’d rather be.”

I can identify with Bryan Adam’s lyrics now, but I wasn’t exactly singing the same tune a few years ago.

I’m 30 years old and come from an upper middle-class family. The only child of my doting parents, sports and music were my passions when I was growing up – as for academics, I loathed the very sight of my school and college books. Still, I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in History from the University of Mumbai, went on to do my MBA and today hold a cushy position in a media company. Regular story, right? With one minor difference – I dropped out of college at the age of 17 and picked up the pen once more only at the age of 24, seven years later. Here is my story.

I passed out of school in 1993, a mere one percent extra responsible for my Class I grade. My parents were reasonably well-off and only wished for me to graduate from college before starting out upon a career — any career – of my choice. Only, at the age of 15, I wasn’t ready to take my future seriously. I attended college for two years and had enough of it. So I did what most youngsters with a foolish head on their shoulders do — I dropped out of college after my HSC examinations, in 1995.

I began to look around for a job, but I didn’t give anything much of a chance before voicing my distaste and moving onto something else. I soon gave up looking altogether and began to spend my days as I chose, hanging out with friends and doing what teenagers do. Looking back, maybe I was a little disillusioned as well, because the two things I loved — sports and music — didn’t seem to be working out for me. A knee injury in my teens had put to rest my dreams of a career in cricket and as for music, if you’re under the Western influence, you can forget about a successful career here in India.

The years wore on and I did nothing with my life — 17, 18, 19 years of age. The teenage years were gone and with their departure arrived a hint of good sense. I slowly began to realise that my parents were supporting me at an age when I should have been supporting them. Going to my mother everyday for a mere 50 rupees for motorcycle fuel translated from a routine into a nightmare. She never ever said anything, but her look was enough. I became desperate to do something, anything, that would allow me the tiniest bit of financial independence.

Being a guitar player, I had always wanted to do something in music. Now, with the illusions of grandeur finally vaporised, I began to visit a music studio for advertisement, jingle and radio recordings, earning 500 bucks a day for a gruelling 8-hour shift. It was enough to sustain me then, but it’s not a very pleasant memory now. I was 20 and a cool youngster musician. Nothing could go wrong. I joined a rock band — all of us were focused on making it big, but none of us had a clue as to how we would go about establishing a reputation. We played at college fests, restaurants and corporate parties. We used to make Rs 1000 each per gig and we played two or three gigs a week.

At the age of 20, I was making between Rs 8000-10,000 a month through music. I was glad not to rely on my parents anymore, but a serious career was nowhere on the horizon. I could afford a couple of meals at a nice restaurant and buy a set of imported guitar strings once in a while, but not much byond that.

A few months down the line I was introduced through a friend to someone who owned a recording studio. He was looking for someone to handle assignments at the studio — a recording engineer. I had no sound engineering background, so I was taken aback when I was offered the job – I took it up anyway. I was hired at a salary of Rs 3500 per month, but I could continue my gigs with the band alongside. Still, I was dissatisfied. I couldn’t figure it out — I had a job, was making a little money in music and still had this yearning within me to do something worthwhile.

Then it happened, in the year 2001. I attended a school friend’s wedding and was looking forward to meeting long-lost pals from my boyhood days. That wedding changed my life and my haphazard career — if I can call it that – forever. The friends I met weren’t the ones I knew in school. They had changed a lot. Some had joined their fathers’ businesses and many were studying abroad at world-famous business schools. The internship money that they were making per month was more than my annual salary. I suddenly felt like I was a misfit. Not that they made me feel that way, but they were all educated, grown-up individuaIs — and I wasn’t.

I didn’t know what to do. I got home that night with my mind in a tizzy — was it too late for me? Was I going to be a wasted dropout, making a buck here and a buck there, all my life? When the next day dawned, I was still awake and I had arrived at a conclusion — I was going to try and salvage my academic career. Maybe I would succeed, maybe I wouldn’t. Realistically speaking, it had been seven years since I had opened a book and the thought of studying again curled my toes.

But I did it anyway. I went to Mumbai University and filled out the distance education admission forms — luckily, it was the month of May and I could enroll for the coming academic year. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to pursue as a serious career, but I wanted to become a graduate for sure. “Graduation is a must,” as Mom always says. The two years in college before I dropped out, I was a commerce student. However, subjects like economics and accounts had never been my cup of tea and my favourite subject in school had been history. So I would pursue history.

I kept earning Rs 3500 per month at the recording studio, kept studying and kept pacifying myself — ‘It’s never too late’ became my mantra. I struggled with my books as I had not read one in seven years and now I had a job to balance alongside. But for the first time in my life, I decided I would follow through with something I had taken up. Looking back, I don’t think anyone at home expected me to go through with it all the way, but my parents were supportive nontheless.

The day of the FYBA results was the day of reckoning. When my marksheet was thrust in my hand and I saw that I had passed, albeit with a Second Class, I couldn’t believe it. “One down, two to go,” I thought to myself. With a lot of difficulty, I got through the second year and then, finally, took my final exams for BA. I became a graduate in 2004, a History Major from the University of Mumbai.

When I received my certificate, I was on cloud nine. My parents were overjoyed — it was all they had ever hoped I would accomplish academically. I started applying for jobs in the media industry, lower executive positions. After all, I was now a graduate and no longer a misfit. Or was I?

I soon realised that most company peons were graduates — and an arts background was scoffed at. But I had come so far — I wasn’t going to stop here. If there was anything I had learned from the three years I spent graduating, it was never give up. I began to explore further academic options. I had heard of executive MBA courses offered by leading b-schools for working candidates, but how was I going to get into one of these institutions? I was a graduate, but you needed to be a brilliant student to even be considered and nerve-wracking entrance tests had to be given before any school worthy of mention would accept you.

All I could think of was the 6000 rupees I was earning per month. My girlfriend made more than me and it scared me to think that after three brain-busting years of studying I was only an average candidate among millions, looking for a dream job that would never come at this rate. Finally — and I think that this was a gift straight from heaven, in appreciation of my committment to graduating – I heard of a management course offered by a prestigious institute that was tailor-made for me. You didn’t need to give an entrance exam, all you needed was to be a graduate and to have four years of work experience at a junior position.

Moreover, this was only the second year that the course was being offered — it hadn’t existed up until I was in my last year of college. A two-year post-graduation diploma in management, recognised by the country’s leading companies. The fees were hefty, but I took a loan from a bank — I wasn’t about to burden my parents with paying for something I didn’t know I could accomplish. Graduation was one thing — a management diploma from a leading b-school quite another. Accounts and economics were compulsory subjects in the first year! How was I going to do this? But I knew I had to try.

With my arts background, I had to sign up for tutorials in accounts. Through the week I would attend early morning lectures at the institute before heading off to my job, then weekends I had my tuition. I’ll never forget the first day of the course. I walked into class in jeans and a tee-shirt, only to find 50 students in formalwear, complete with jackets and ties, awaiting the professor! There was no one there without a laptop — the syllabus stipulated that you had to have one. If you didn’t own one, the institute would loan you a laptop for a fee, for the duration of your course. This certainly wasn’t Mumbai University!

“All this just for a post-graduate diploma?” I wondered. It wasn’t even a degree course. My friends later explained that many private b-schools didn’t offer degrees for the simple reason that they are not recognised by Mumbai University. But the diplomas are recognised by companies and that’s all that matters. A diploma from a reputed private b-school is equivalent to a degree from a university-recognised institute .

To say that I worked hard for my exams would be an understatement. This time around, I was determined that I wouldn’t just scrape through — I would do my best. And I did — each semester saw me pass with a Class I grade and last year I obtained my PGDBA, specialising in marketing.

Today I have a job I love with a well-established media company. My days in the studio and my music also paid off — I help prepare jingles, promos and advertisements for corporate giants. My package is Rs 12,00,000 per year. I often wonder where I would have been on the corporate ladder if I hadn’t dropped out of college, but I regret nothing. I’m earning well, my parents are happy and I’ve done what I set out to do — study hard and pursue my dream career.

Source: redif.com

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The inspiring rags-to-riches tale of Sarathbabu

When 27-year old Sarathbabu graduated from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, he created quite a stir by refusing a job that offered him a huge salary. He preferred to start his own enterprise — Foodking Catering Service — in Ahmedabad.

He was inspired by his mother who once sold idlis on the pavements of Chennai, to educate him and his siblings. It was a dream come true, when Infosys [Get Quote] co-founder N R Narayana Murthy lit the traditional lamp and inaugurated Sarathbabu’s enterprise.

Sarathbabu was in Chennai, his hometown, a few days ago, to explore the possibility of starting a Foodking unit in the city and also to distribute the Ullas Trust Scholarships instituted by the IT firm Polaris [Get Quote] to 2,000 poor students in corporation schools.

In this interview with rediff.com, Sarathbabu describes his rise from a Chennai slum to his journey to the nation’s premier management institute to becoming a successful entrepreneur. This is his story, in his own words.

Childhood in a slum

I was born and brought up in a slum in Madipakkam in Chennai. I have two elder sisters and two younger brothers and my mother was the sole breadwinner of the family. It was really tough for her to bring up five kids on her meagre salary.

As she had studied till the tenth standard, she got a job under the mid-day meal scheme of the Tamil Nadu government in a school at a salary of Rs 30 a month. She made just one rupee a day for six people.

So, she sold idlis in the mornings. She would then work for the mid-day meal at the school during daytime. In the evenings, she taught at the adult education programme of the Indian government.

She, thus, did three different jobs to bring us up and educate us. Although she didn’t say explicitly that we should study well, we knew she was struggling hard to send us to school. I was determined that her hard work should not go in vain.

I was a topper throughout my school days. In the mornings, we went out to sell idlis because people in slums did not come out of their homes to buy idlis. For kids living in a slum, idlis for breakfast is something very special.

My mother was not aware of institutions like the Birla Institute of Technology and Science, Pilani, or the Indian Institutes of Technology. She only wanted to educate us so that we got a good job. I didn’t know what I wanted to do at that time because in my friend-circle, nobody talked about higher education or preparing for the IIT-JEE.

When you constantly worry about the next square meal, you do not dream of becoming a doctor or an engineer. The only thing that was on my mind was to get a good job because my mother was struggling a lot.

I got very good marks in the 10th standard exam. It was the most critical moment of my life. Till the 10th, there was no special fee but for the 11th and the 12th, the fees were Rs 2,000-3,000.

I did book-binding work during the summer vacation and accumulated money for my school fees. When I got plenty of work, I employed 20 other children and all of us did the work together. That was my first real job as an entrepreneur. Once I saw the opportunity, I continued with the work.

Life at BITS, Pilani

Sreeram SelvarajA classmate of mine told me about BITS, Pilani. He was confident that I would get admission, as I was the topper. He also told me that on completion (of studies at Pilani), I will definitely get a job.

When I got the admission, I had mixed feelings. On one hand I was excited that for the first time I was going out of Chennai, but there was also a sense of uncertainty.

The fees alone were around Rs 28,000, and I had to get around Rs 42,000. It was huge, huge money for us. And there was no one to help us. Just my mother and sisters. One of my sisters — they were all married by then — pawned her jewellery and that’s how I paid for the first semester.

My mother then found out about an Indian government scholarship scheme. She sent me the application forms, I applied for the scholarship, and I was successful. So, after the first semester, it was the scholarship that helped me through.

It also helped me to pay my debt (to the sister who had pawned her jewellery). I then borrowed money from my other sister and repaid her when the next scholarship came.

The scholarship, however, covered only the tuition fees. What about the hostel fees and food? Even small things like a washing soap or a toothbrush or a tube of toothpaste was a burden. So, I borrowed more at high rates of interest. The debt grew to a substantial amount by the time I reached the fourth year.

First year at BITS, Pilani

To put it mildly, I was absolutely shocked. Till then, I had moved only with students from poor families. At Pilani, all the students were from the upper class or upper middle class families. Their lifestyle was totally different from mine. The topics they discussed were alien to me. They would talk about the good times they had in school.

On the other hand, my school years were a big struggle. There was this communication problem also as I was not conversant in English then.

I just kept quiet and observed them. I concentrated only on my studies because back home so many people had sacrificed for me. And, it took a really long time — till the end of the first year — to make friends.

The second year

I became a little more confident and started opening up. I had worked really hard for the engineering exhibition during the first year. I did a lot of labour-intensive work like welding and cutting, though my subject was chemical engineering. My seniors appreciated me.

In my second year also, I worked really hard for the engineering exhibition. This time, my juniors appreciated me, and they became my close friends, so close that they would be at my beck and call.

In the third year, when there was an election for the post of the co-ordinator for the exhibition, my juniors wanted me to contest. Thanks to their efforts I was unanimously elected. That was my first experience of being in the limelight. It was also quite an experience to handle around 100 students.

Seeing my work, slowly my batch mates also came to the fold. All of them said I lead the team very well.

They also told me that I could be a good manager and asked me to do MBA. That was the first time I heard about something called MBA. I asked them about the best institution in India. They said, the Indian Institutes of Management. Then, I decided if I was going to study MBA, it should be at one of the IIMs, and nowhere else.

Inspiration to be an entrepreneur

It was while preparing for the Common Admission Test that I read in the papers that 30 per cent of India’s population does not get two meals a day. I know how it feels to be hungry. What should be done to help them, I wondered.

I also read about Infosys and Narayana Murthy, Reliance [Get Quote] and Ambani. Reliance employed 20,000-25,000 people at that time, and Infosys, around 15,000. When a single entrepreneur like Ambani employed 25,000 people, he was supporting the family, of four or five, of each employee. So he was taking care of 100,000 people indirectly. I felt I, too, should become an entrepreneur.

But, my mother was waiting for her engineer son to get a job, pay all the debts, build a pucca house and take care of her. And here I was dreaming about starting my own enterprise. I decided to go for a campus interview, and got a job with Polaris. I also sat for CAT but I failed to clear it in my first attempt.

I worked for 30 months at Polaris. By then, I could pay off all the debts but I hadn’t built a proper house for my mother. But I decided to pursue my dream. When I took CAT for the third time, I cleared it and got calls from all the six IIMs. I got admission at IIM, Ahmedabad.

Life at IIM, Ahmedabad

My college helped me get a scholarship for the two years that I was at IIM. Unlike in BITS, I was more confident and life at IIM was fantastic. I took up a lot of responsibilities in the college. I was in the mess committee in the first year and in the second year; I was elected the mess secretary.

Becoming an entrepreneur

By the end of the second year, there were many lucrative job offers coming our way, but in my mind I was determined to start something on my own. But back home, I didn’t have a house. It was a difficult decision to say ‘no’ to offers that gave you Rs 800,000 a year. But I was clear in my mind even while I knew the hard realities back home.

Yes, my mother had been an entrepreneur, and subconsciously, she must have inspired me. My inspirations were also (Dhirubhai) Ambani and Narayana Murthy. I knew I was not aiming at something unachievable. I got the courage from them to start my own enterprise.

Nobody at my institute discouraged me. In fact, at least 30-40 students at the IIM wanted to be entrepreneurs. And we used to discuss about ideas all the time. My last option was to take up a job.

Foodking Catering Services Pvt Ltd

My mother is my first inspiration to start a food business. Remember I started my life selling idlis in my slum. Then of course, my experience as the mess secretary at IIM-A was the second inspiration. I must have handled at least a thousand complaints and a thousand suggestions at that time. Every time I solved a problem, they thanked me.

I also felt there is a good opportunity in the food business. If you notice, a lot of people who work in the food business come from the weaker sections of the society.

My friends helped me with registering the company with a capital of Rs 100,000. Because of the IIM brand and also because of the media attention, I could take a loan from the bank without any problem.

I set up an office and employed three persons. The first order was from a software company in Ahmedabad. They wanted us to supply tea, coffee and snacks. We transported the items in an auto.

When I got the order from IIM, Ahmedabad, I took a loan of Rs 11 lakhs (Rs 1.1 million) and started a kitchen. So, my initial capital was Rs 11.75 lakhs (Rs 1.17 million).

Three months have passed, and now we have forty employees and four clients — IIM Ahmedabad, Darpana Academy, Gujarat Energy Research Management Institute and System Plus.

In the first month of our operation, we earned around Rs 35,000. Now, the turnover is around Rs 250,000. The Chennai operations will start in another three months’ time.


I want to employ as many people as I can, and improve their quality of life. In the first year, I want to employ around 200-500 people. In the next five years, I hope to increase it by 15,000. I am sure it is possible.

I want to cover all the major cities in India, and later, I want to go around the world too.

I have seen people from all walks of life — from the slums to the elite in the country. That is why luxuries like a car or a bungalow do not matter to me. Even money doesn’t matter to me. I feel bad if I have to have food in a five star hotel. I feel guilty.

Personally, I have no ambition but I want to give a house and a car to my mother.


I did not expect this kind of exposure by the media for my venture or appreciation from people like my director at the IIM or Narayana Murthy. I was just doing what I wanted to do. But the exposure really helped me get orders, finance, everything.

The best compliments I received were from Narayana Murthy and my director at IIM, Ahmedabad. When I told him (IIM-A director) about my decision to start a company, he hugged me and wished me luck. They have seen life, they have seen thousands and thousands of students and if they say it is a good decision, I am sure it is a good decision.


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Noel Sequeira – Unsung Hero

Call them geeks, techies or whatever you feel like. The truth is that for most IT professionals their world revolves around the computer. But then there’s more to the story. Many of these professionals use their skills to make a difference to o ther’s life. And recognition of this effort is Heroes Happen Here, a programme for the IT community in India launched by Microsoft, which showcases their achievements beyond work.

With nearly 900 entries already registered on the website, the competition to find the top 10 stories is getting tougher. While three winners will be eligible for a fully-paid trip to Microsoft Headquarters at Redmond, Seattle, all the 10 winners will receive a Dell Laptop each.

So what does it take to become a hero? Well, you should have shown the willingness to go beyond the call of duty and used any version of Microsoft’s products to fulfil it. Take the example of Noel Sequeira, a third year engineering student at Vivekananda Educational Society’s Institute of Engineering, Mumbai. Along with his doctor friends, Noel decided to create the website, www.mumbaiblooddonors.org, with the aim of creating a directory of volunteer blood donors who can be contacted in time of need. He says, “The idea stemmed from an incident when a friend required blood for a platelet transfusion but couldn’t get blood from the bank because he couldn’t find a replacement donor. Later we came to know that 500 to 800 people need blood everyday, we wanted to find a solution. I was the only one with web skills.”

On the other hand, Yamini Arora, manager with a telecom firm in Pune, wanted to make everyone’s life in office easy by creating an intranet system to fill forms, an idea that came after she was fed up of filling the same HR feedback form repeatedly. How many of us can boast having created a graduation project that can actually help someone? Pursuing his M. Tech at IIIT Gwalior, Mayur Gupta developed a regional language voice enquiry system for Indian farmers. “It will provide farmers with pricing details, medical, educational and local news over the internet through speech recognition. Successful experiments have already been done in Hindi and Telugu. We are in talks with villagers to implement it at the ground level,” he explains.

Says Pallavi Kathuria, Director, server business group, Microsoft India, “Over the last few years, we have seen that technology experts have evolved from being mere facilitators to frontline business contributors. Heroes Happen Here is our way of acknowledging their work.”


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Bhavna becomes World’s first graduate using ‘eye – pointing’ system

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Bhavna Botta is how full of smiles she is. Not surprisingly, she was voted Miss Smiley — and Miss Final Year — at her B.A. Corporate Secretaryship department farewell party in Ethiraj College this year.

It has been a remarkable journey. Bhavna was born with Athetoid Cerebral Palsy, which means she is unable to walk, write by hand, or communicate verbally. Yet, she has defied all odds to complete her Class XII exams from a mainstream institution, Lady Andal Venkatasubba Rao Matriculation Higher Secondary School, and now her Bachelor’s degree from Ethiraj, all using a unique system of communication by ‘eye-pointing’.

“She is definitely the first person in India — and possibly in the world — to have finished a college degree using the eye-pointing system,” says Kalpana, her mother. With this system, Bhavana communicates — and writes her exams — using a chart of alphabets in numbered columns, spelling out what she wants to say by pointing at the columns with her eyes. The chart was developed specially for her at Vidyasagar (a voluntary organisation that works with children and young adults with cerebral palsy and other neurological disabilities), where she studied until Class X. That’s what she uses during this interview as well, spelling out her answers so rapidly at times that Kalpana can’t keep up.

Foremost on her mind is her emotional parting with M. Thavamani, her principal at Ethiraj College who retired recently, and whom she went to college to say goodbye to. “It was a very unique feeling,” says Bhavna, “something I’ve never experienced before.”

Thavamani describes the meeting in touchingly similar terms: “It was a very emotional moment for both of us; I can’t begin to express the kind of affection Bhavna’s shown me, the department and her classmates.”

She adds: “When I first met the child, I did wonder if she would be able to manage. But today I can say that having been Bhavna’s teacher — I taught her accountancy in her first year — is something I’m truly proud of in my career of 35 years.”

Like any youngster, Bhavna’s fondest memories of her three years in college are of the friendships she formed and of all the fun she’s had. The word she spells out most often is ‘fun’, amidst plenty of laughter, as her mother talks about her adventures in learning to wear a sari and her insistence on going to the beach even though the salt water plays havoc with her wheelchair.

Is she signing up for a postgraduate degree? Her family is trying to convince her to do so. But her mind’s made up and it has been since she was in Class VIII — Bhavna plans to start her own business. “She’s geared all her decisions towards this, whether it was taking accountancy in Class XI or choosing Entrepreneurial Development as her elective in college,” says Meenakshi Subramanian, member of Vidyasagar’s Disability Legislation Unit (DLU), and Bhavna’s close friend and scribe.

She’s already decided on the sort of business she’s like to do — a socially responsible venture selling organic cotton and ahimsa silk saris and dress materials — and she has friends and family collecting information for her on different aspects.

But when Kalpana talks about family funding the venture, Bhavna protests vehemently — she’s determined to start her business with a loan from the National Handicapped Finance and Development Corporation (NHFDC) instead. Her answer to my question “Why business?” was simply to spell out “independence”.

“What’s the next step?” earns a similarly simple response: “Launching the business.” With this plucky young woman’s track record, you’ve got to believe it will happen, sooner rather than later.


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Inspiring story of Ashish Goyal, World’s First Ever Blind Trader

As a trader at JP Morgan Chase in London, Ashish Goyal helps manage billions of dollars of the bank’s exposure to risks like foreign exchange fluctuations. In his spare time, he takes tango lessons, plays cricket and goes clubbing with friends. Goyal is also blind.

Watching him in the middle of the trading floor as he switches back and forth between computer screens, that is not apparent at all. But to check his e-mail, read research reports and look at presentations, Goyal uses a screen-reading software whose speed is so high that it sounds like gibberish to the untrained ear. When he needs to read graphs, which the software cannot do, Goyal goes through the data and tries to imagine the graph in his head.

On his desk, two computer screens show the usual flashing Bloomberg messages and spreadsheets of constantly changing numbers. Two keyboards are linked to headsets through which the information and figures are read out to him at rapid speeds. The same technology reads out text messages he receives on his cell phone.

Tolga Uzuner, executive director of JP Morgan’s chief investment office and Goyal’s boss, said he hired the 30-year old Wharton graduate because he was one of only a few candidates he interviewed who knew about Asian interest rates, had excellent risk management skills and knowledge of foreign exchange.

Vladimir Aleksic, who now works with Goyal, said: “We walked out of the interview room and just said wow.” Many people on the team analyze historical data and use comparisons to make decisions about risks, Aleksic said, but “Ashish looks at where things are now and just follows the news flow. He’s not blinded by the graphs.”

But as someone who can make out only light and shadows, Goyal also knows his limits. “I told people, ‘You can put me on the spot trading desk, but I’d be too slow,’ “ he said. “The challenges are to realize where I can add value and where I don’t. You need to find your niche.”

Soon, in pursuit of a career in global financial markets, Ashish came to Wharton in 2006.Not only did he excel in academics by graduating with honours, Ashish became an inspiration in the campus. He was known for leadership and extra-curricular activities.

Ashish became a staff writer of the Wharton Journal, member of a Brazilian drumming group, and chair of the ‘Wharton Leadership Lectures Committee’, among other things. At graduation, Ashish was voted by his peers for the Joseph P Wharton Award for Leadership and Innovation.

Goyal says he always wanted to work in financial markets. But despite a résumé that includes a top business degree from a university in India, another from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a three-year stint at an Indian subsidiary of ING bank, finding people who would hire him was not easy.

After gaining his first business degree, Goyal said he had made the short list of candidates for jobs at several firms, but once they realized he was blind he was turned away. When it was ING’s turn, Goyal recalled, he was so frustrated that he just blurted: “I’m blind. Do you still want to talk to me or not?”. “They asked whether I could do the job. I said I think I can, and I was hired,” Goyal said.

Years later, when he applied to Wharton with the goal of getting a job in New York or London, Goyal said, the university’s director of admission signed off on his application with the words: “I have never seen a blind trader on Wall Street. I can’t guarantee you’ll get a job but you’ll definitely be better off with a Wharton degree.”

Still, even after Wharton, many Wall Street firms rejected his applications because they could not find anybody else on Wall Street using the same screen-reading software. JP Morgan was the only bank to offer him a summer internship, which led to an offer of a permanent position.

Goyal was not born blind. Growing up in Mumbai, Goyal said he had a normal, happy childhood. But when he was about 9 years old, he noticed that he could not immediately recognize some people and could not see the lines in his notebooks at school. One night he walked into a ditch, later he crashed his bicycle, and then he started to miss the ball during his tennis lessons.

Goyal was told he had retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic condition that damages the retina, and would gradually become blind. By the time Goyal was 22, he had completely lost his eyesight.

The loss of his eyesight left Goyal “scared and confused” and with fewer friends, he said. “I was ready to just give up and not take my final exam and just go and work for my dad,” a real estate developer, Goyal said. But his mother forced him to sit for the exam, and to his surprise he not only passed but received good grades.

Despite his achievements, which this year also included a national award from India for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, Goyal speaks modestly of himself.

Ashish is the first blind trader to work for a bank and is also the first-ever blind MBA student at The Wharton School in the United States.


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