Frank F Islam
Beginnings, Being and Becoming
Mr. District Magistrate, Distinguished guests, students, friends, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I want to express my deep appreciation for your warm welcome. I want to thank the District Magistrate for giving me an opportunity to address you today
Let me say few words about the DM.
He is a true leader. I admire his passion, his vision and his commitment in educating the next generations. He provides the broad shoulder upon which we can stand. Let us give him big round of applause
It is wonderful to be back home again and especially to be here with all of you young people. It takes me back to my youth. I feel a common bond THROUGH shared history, shared heritage, and shared background. Our bonds are STRONGER THAN the differences that, too, often drive us apart.
What I am here talk about is beginnings, being, and becoming. Beginnings is who and where we were early in our life. Being is who and where we are at this point in our life. Becoming is who and what we want to be in the future as we continue our journey through life’s passages.
I will share the story of my beginnings, being and becoming with you. Before I do so, I’d like you to reflect on your story.
Every day, each one of us is adding new pages to our story. Some times we are doing so consciously and with a strong sense of commitment and purpose. Other times we are just going along with the flow and letting the 24 hours in the day define our activities.
As you look back at your beginnings earlier in your life, it is probably difficult to recall whole days. But, I am certain there are times that you remember. As Cesare Paves, the Italian poet said, “We do not remember days…we remember moments.”
Think back on those moments that have meant the most to you as you have been growing up. What is your fondest childhood memory?
Would anyone like to share their memory?
I would like to share the memories of my beginnings that mean the most to me.
My fondest memories from my beginnings are about home and India.
Thomas Wolfe, the famous American author, wrote a book titled You Can’t Go Home Again. I say that title is wrong because the truth is no matter how far you roam – whether you move across India or around the world, home is always with you. You carry it your heart and in cherished memories that cannot be destroyed by distance or time.
I am proud to be standing here, and looking at you today I never felt so blessed. I see me in you. I see the future of India. I see the future of the world.
Growing up in Azamgarh had an enormous impact on the person I am today. It is where my journey began. It is where I grew up. Azamgarh shaped my story and determined my destiny. I have fond memories of Azamgarh. I never lost love of Azamgarh. I feel a strong bond to the past and future of Azamgarh. I remember it all too well riding my bike in hot summer sun. This is where I learned how to catch a kite in brown muddy waters filled with rice paddies. It was an exciting time of my life, memories remain endearing
I grew up in a middle-class family. My parents taught me to: Treat people in the way that you want to be treated. Give dignity and respect to others. Work hard and aim high. Do what you can to serve your community. In the neighborhood where I grew up, all of us from different backgrounds and different faiths learned to work side-by-side because we were bound together in the service of others.
Azamgarh provided me with the basic building blocks to become a successful entrepreneur, to assume serious responsibilities, and most importantly, to become a passionate leader.
More importantly, it instilled basic values that have served me in good stead throughout my adult life. They include:
- A passion and love for education
- Eternal optimism about your hopes and dreams
- Being collegial and candid towards all
- Keeping steadfast to your standard of excellence
- Living in peace and harmony
- Being tolerant & respectful of the dignity of each person.
Those were my beginnings, let me move on to discuss being – the place where I am now and what I am doing.
If you go to my website, frankislam.com, it says Frank Islam – entrepreneur, philanthropist, civic leader and thought leader. Those are my current areas of involvement – what I am able to do today because I went to America to pursue the American dream and achieved it.
For purposes of our conversation, I think it is more useful to talk about what I did to achieve that dream than to highlight my present activities. Before I tell you that, let me get a sense of where you all are in your state of being and what you are doing now.
Let me see a show of hands from those students here today. How many of you are in high school? How many of you are in college?
I am pleased to see such a diversity it gives me a feel for where you are in your life’s journey. Now, let me tell you a little about mine.
When I went to America, I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve my dream. But, I knew even then that being a business owner would be part of it.
I also knew that it would mean being apart from my family and developing my own career track with little parental or professional guidance. This was a daunting challenge. But, it was also an opportunity. That’s the way I saw it – an opportunity to define myself in America, the land of opportunity.
That process of defining myself in America had five stages:
- Getting a good education
- Taking a risk
- Becoming an entrepreneur
- Building a strong and talented team who shared my vison and values
- Moving on to other things
I got my masters and bachelors in computer science at the University of Colorado. That gave me the knowledge I needed to go into business.
I always wanted to start my own business but I knew that I needed experience first. So, I worked with two major information technology firms in the Washington DC area for a number of years. That gave me the skills and real world grounding that I needed to be a business owner.
Then, in 1994, I started my business. Within 13 years, along with my management team, we took that firm from a workforce of 1 employee to more than 2,000 employees and approximately several hundred million dollars in revenue.
The team of talented managers was central to everything. Success in business is a team sport. So, when you ask me how I became successful, it was not me but we who made it happen.
Finally, I sold my company to Perot Systems in 2007. That sale allowed me to establish a private foundation that supports educational, cultural and artistic causes here in India, in the United States and around the world.
That sale in 2007 also gave me time to reflect on my life, what I wanted to do in the future and where to invest my time now that I was no longer the owner of a large business. Who and what did I want to become in the next phase of my life’s journey.
And, here is the critical point that I want to make as I move into the last part of my discussion with you.
That is no matter where we are in our life’s journey each one of us – no matter what age – is in the process of being and becoming. We are who we are today and can shape who we will be tomorrow if we have a clear vision for what we want to achieve in the future and the plan in conjunction with passion, perseverance and patience to get there.
Here are mine related to Azamgarh. I recently received the UP Ratna award.
In accepting that award I stated that I am really glad that the UP has instituted a mechanism to engage the diaspora in a serious and meaningful way for the development of the state. And pledged that I would be happy to help on that initiative – especially in the area that is near and dear to my heart: education.
I am convinced that the best way for Azamgarh to realize its vast potential is by empowering people through education and economic mobility. I firmly believe Education is the gift that keeps on giving. Education empowers the mind and uplifts the soul. It is a powerful equalizer for opening doors to lift themselves out of poverty. Education is the best investment we can make to build next generations of leaders and innovators.
In closing, although it is a bit contrary to my nature, let me offer some advice regarding those plans as you move forward in your process of being and becoming.
That advice is:
- Make no little plans
- Be a lifelong learner
- Never give up
- Write your own legacy
- Be the change that you would like to see happen
Make no little plans. Architect and Chicago city planner Daniel Burnham said that in the late 1800’s when the great city of Chicago was little more than a village. Let me continue that Burnham quote: “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work…Think big.”
Be a life-ling learner. Study hard but remember life’s lessons are taught inside and outside of classroom and they are never ending. So, commit to learning at least one new thing every day. Use the new things you learn to continue to reinvent yourself
Never give up. Winston Churchill said to the school boys at Harrow school in 1941 near the beginning of World War II “Never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. That was good advice more than seventy years ago. It is good advice today
Write your own legacy: Realize that, whether wittingly or unwittingly, we are writing the narrative for our legacy in the way we conduct ourselves both personally and professionally. Professor Clayton Christenson from Harvard put it this way, “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.
Be the change that you would like to see happen. As I am sure all of you know, our national hero Mahatma Gandhi said that. What he meant is that while planning and thinking matters what matters more is action. Talking a good game is not enough. Rolling up your sleeves, getting in the arena and leading the charge to bring about the desired end is what counts in all walks of life from peaceful protests to success in your chosen profession.
Let me also add the following advice to you.
- Do not forget your heritage and roots. Dedicate your selves to draw upon your selves upon the values, ingenuity, decency, dignity, and spirit that has been the greatness of this community
- Be the leader for the next generations
- Never be frightened of the future but you need to build the future
- Do well but do good
- Invest in others by sharing and giving back
- When you are successful provide ladders of opportunity to others to succeed
- Be the best you can be
- Exploit your fullest potentials
Thank you for coming here today and for engaging with me in this dialogue about beginnings, being and becoming.
As a son of Azamgarh, it has been educational, motivational and inspiring to be here with you sons and daughters of Azamgarh. I hope the same holds true for all of you.
In summary, let me say that all of us do well remember no religion and no race and no culture and no nation has a monopoly on wisdom or on human dignity. Wisdom belongs to all who are willing to work hard, who aim high, and who get the right education and who can pursue their dream.
With that thought and spirit in mind, let us extend our hand, hope, help, and heart to those who are less fortunate and those who are socially and economically disadvantaged and those who are underprivileged and those who are voiceless. Let us empower them with education and economic mobility. When they succeed, ALL of us succeed. India succeeds, world succeeds
Let us together change the face of Azamgarh. One life- one family- and one village at a time
Good luck as each of you moves forward in your process of being and becoming.
Thank you. God bless you all.