Distinguished Guests, Friends, Students, Members of the Faculty, Ladies and Gentlemen:
I want to express my deep appreciation for your warm welcome. My special thanks to Reshma for inviting me to deliver this address. Please give Reshma a round of applause.
I am humbled and honored to be here at Saboo Siddik College of Engineering to share my life’s experience and the lessons that I have learned in the journey along life’s highway.
It is my distinct pleasure to be here with you students because like you I am a Muslim and I was born in India. So, I feel a common bond and a personal connection as we are linked by shared history and shared heritage and shared background and belief. Let me take it one step further, as I look around, I see me in you, I see the future of India, and indeed I see the future of the world.
I hope that that the story of my journey and my thoughts will be of some relevance for your journey. I share them not because I expect you to imitate my path or adapt my perspective but because I hope they will be useful as touchstones and frames of reference as you define what will matter for you and chart your own course for the future.
I will make my presentation in three parts and conclude with a request of you students. The three parts are:
- Lessons from India
- Lessons from America
- Lessons from Life
Let me begin with Part 1: Lessons from India:
As I said, I am a Muslim. I grew up in a religious family. Lived in Azamgarh and Varanasi and attended Aligarh Muslim University. All of those forces had a tremendous impact on me during my formative years. They shaped my character and my destiny and influence the person who I am today. Let me tell you how.
Being a Muslim has taught me many things – but the most important is that the whole purpose of religion is to provide justice and a path to justice for all of us.
That includes animals and nature itself. According to the Holy Qur’an, God asked “Who will take care of all of my Creation. The mountains said the task was too great; even the angels declined to take on the challenge. But then Man jumped up and said ‘We will take care’. So we made a contract with God to protect his Creation.”
I have learned as a Muslim to believe in the unity of all creation and that everything and everyone is a reflection of God on earth. Because of that I have also learned that there are just people and that just people do just things.
I treasure our faith – my faith. My faith firmly believes in equality, dignity, concern, compassion, respect, tolerance, justice and peace for other faiths. My faith keeps me calm and provides me with a sense of optimism that gives me peace. With my personal peace, I can work with others of different faiths for peace.
Growing up in India had an enormous impact on the person I am today. It’s here that I learned lessons from my family, this country, my home city of Azamgarh and Aligarh Muslim University.
I grew up in a middle-class family. I cherish, nourish, and nurture my family’s finest tradition- that is sharing and giving and be compassionate and concerned. 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 and pursue your dream. 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.
I love India. I love this country because I was born here and because of its art, history, music, culture and rituals. But most of all I love India because it stands as an international beacon of democracy, diversity and peacemaking.
I treasure the City of Azamgarh – my home town. No matter where I am, the memory of Azamgarh lingers in mind. It is a beautiful city and a tolerant one. It is there that I learned about the richness of different religions and respect for other religions.
Last, but not least of course, is Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). My days at qAMU have had a profound effect on me. Aligarh provided me with the basic building blocks to become a successful entrepreneur, to assume serious esponsibilities, and most importantly, to become a passionate leader. Aligarh provided me with an excellent education. More importantly, it instilled basic values that have served me in good stead throughout my adult life. They include:
- A 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 by being tolerant & respectful toward the dignity of each person.
I hope each of you share and carry these values that Aligarh has imprinted on me. You need to do your part to extend these values and support and invest in the education of the next generations. By investing in the education of the next generations, you will keep the hope alive. My fondest hope and expectations is that in the future there will be persons whom you have made investments who will make similar investments in others. When that happens, it will make your investments sustainable and on-going source for renewing their dream and aspirations.
Now, let me turn to Part 2 of my story: Lessons from America.
I went to the United States from India when I was young to pursue the American dream.
At that young age, I wasn’t quite sure how I would achieve that 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 vision and values
- Moving on to other things
I graduated from 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.
Through hard work and initiative, within 13 years I was able to build an information technology company from one employee to several thousand employees and a revenue of $300M per year. Let me tell you starting business are about taking risks, and about being focused, and about being passionate and committed It is about getting out of comfort zone , and venturing into new horizons and experimenting new environments.
The team of talented managers was central to everything. Success has taught me how to move forward, but failure taught me to never look backward. Remember 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 in the United States and around the world.
That sale also gave me time to reflect on what were the important takeaways and advice that I could give others as they contemplate how to structure and take their own journey.
It is my sincere hope that you find inspiration in my story so that you can achieve greater success in your life.
This brings me to Part 3 of my presentation – or what I call Lessons from Life.
I have to say that I am not a big one for giving advice and am somewhat uncomfortable in doing. As those of you in this audience can understand, it’s kind of contrary to my upbringing.
Nonetheless, let me share some thoughts that I have seen or heard and leaven them with a few insights of my own. My advice or lessons from life are:
- Stay true to you
- Be something special to someone in particular.
- Be a life-long learner.
- Never give up
- Create your own legacy
Stay true to you. Steve Jobs in a commencement address at Stanford University, advised the graduates, “Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”
Be something special to someone in particular. I think it was Ted Leavitt from Harvard University who said that. Know who your target customers are. Develop your product or service to delight them. Exceed their expectations. Don’t be satisfied with being a me-too or doing something just good enough.
Be a life-long learner. Study hard but remember that life’s lessons are taught inside and outside the classroom and they are never ending. So, commit to learning at least one new thing everyday. Use the new things you learn to continue to reinvent yourself.
Never give in. Winston Churchill said that to the school boys at Harrow School in 1941 near the beginning of World War II “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never – 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.
Create Your Own Legacy. Realize that, whether wittingly or unwittingly, we are writing the narrative for our lives 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.”
Those are the three parts of my presentation: Lessons from India, Lessons from America, and Lessons from Life. Now it’s time for my request to you students which is also three parts. That request is:
- Don’t think anything is impossible
- Make it your journey
- Do well but also do good
Don’t think anything is impossible. If you would have asked me more than 40 years ago coming from a middle class family in India could I achieve and accomplish what I have, I probably would have said no. I was not certain about where I would end up when I went from India to the United States. But, I knew absolutely that working hard, aiming high and getting the right education was the key to success.
I am confident that the same will be true for you no matter where you or your family are currently on the economic ladder.
The greatest gift you can give is the gift of education. You should develop a culture that reinforces the values and importance of education. Education helped to create higher aspirations. Education provides a ladder of economic mobility. Education is the tool that can transform ones’ destiny. Lack of education is a breeding ground for failure and despair. A quality education has been the great equalizer, opportunity creator and liberator for Indian citizens of all religions and for Indians at the bottom rungs of the ladder. For those on the other rungs of the ladder, a quality education has helped to cultivate the creativity, compassion and commitment to make the economic ladder stronger, to put more rungs on it, and to enable more people to make their way up it.
That is why I ask you to don’t think anything is impossible. You need to make impossible as possible. You need to make irrelevant as relevant. There are numerous stories here in India of the successes of Muslim graduates of modest means from your institution, Saboo Siddik, and my alma mater, AMU. There are numerous success stories in the United States as well.
Make It Your Journey. Even though I have shared information about my journey with you, you will succeed by making it your own journey.
Frank Islam’s journey was Frank Islam’s journey. Just as Bill Gates was Bill Gates. Steve Jobs was Steve Jobs. And, the journey of Satya Nadella, the new chief of Microsoft who was born in India and educated in engineering at Manipal University, is his journey.
Nadella’s success is testimony to the fact that any thing is possible if you make it your journey. He is an example of entrepreneurship and innovativeness. His story tells us that future belongs to those who can envision and create it and not those who can define themselves by limits rather than potential and possibilities. His story will encourage you to excel in your chosen fields. His story shows the inclusiveness and openness of America. All of us should proudly and truly embrace these values of America.
Do Well But Also Do Good. In making it your journey, I am encouraging you to succeed but to not forget those who have been less successful. I encourage you to embrace the compelling vision of Saboo Siddik College of Engineering which is:
To bring out the whole Muslim Community from a quagmire of poverty and educational backwardness and encourage, enlighten and prepare all its members to be useful citizens who will contribute to make a prosperous, healthy and strong nation and to promote national integration by giving equal opportunity to all communities for their promotion and progress.
The statistics on Muslims in poverty and without education in India are stunning. They see dark and desperate and hopeless world. They share a city but not a community. They share a common dwellings but not in a common effort. The sparks of frustration, desperation, and discontent are still burning among Muslim Youths. There is a deep reservoir of anger among Muslim youths because they confront hostility and deep-seated discrimination and open prejudices in addition to lack of education. The situation for many Muslims especially youths are heartbreaking. It is the lack of education and poverty that breeds violence and it is the lack of education and poverty that fuels frustration and desperation. I ask you when you are successful to not forget your heritage and your roots. Look back and extend a hand and heart to your Muslim brothers and sisters who need assistance. Make a commitment to making things better for them. You should be guided and reminded by the phrase: To whom much is given much is expected.
You should dedicate yourselves upon the values, decency, dignity, and the spirit that have always defined the greatness of this college. Your bonds are stronger than the differences that drive you apart. All of you should weave into the fabric of our society a sense of hope, a sense of optimism, and a sense of positive energy, and a sense that we are in this together.
All of you have role and responsibility to shape your fate and future. Remember as long as you believe in yourselves, the future will always be yours. Future is not an accident but it is built on planning. Future is promised to those who create it not to those who live in the past.
I want you to be the best you can be and exploit your fullest potential. You should define and shape and determine your own destiny. I firmly believe no hope for you should be high enough and no dream should be too far out of reach to achieve. You should commit yourselves to renew your determination, your courage, your strength, and your hope and your dream. All of you will do well to remember no nation, no race, no religion and no culture has a monopoly on the values of freedom, justice, and human dignity. You should commit yourselves to working together and learning from one another and listening to each other. You should commit yourselves to set aside your differences to work for shared goals with shared responsibilities and shared sacrifices. I know all of you are strong, vibrant, responsible, and resilient. Therefore I am confident that if all of you work together to provide opportunities, I can say your best days are ahead of you and not behind you. If you come together you will endure and thrive.
In closing, let me return to my opening comments where I said, I see me in you, I see the future of India, I see the future of the world.
I see those things because I know there are other like me in this college. I know there are those among you who will be central to bringing India and the Muslim community to greater heights. I know there are those among you who will work with others from many nations and all denominations around the globe to make the world a better place.
Let me leave you with a quotation from Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, the founder of Aligarh Muslim University. His thoughts is very much applicable to your college. Near the end of his life, he said:
“You have reached a particular stage and remember one thing when I undertook this task, there were criticism all around against me, life has become so difficult for me that I aged before my age, and I lost my hair, my eyesight, but not my vision. My vision never dimmed, and my determination never failed. I built this institution for you and I am sure, you will carry the light of this institution far and wide, darkness will disappear from around the world”.
There is still much darkness all around and that is why we are gathered here to acknowledge and fulfill Sir Syed’s and your founder Haji Sabot Siddique voice and vision. These men were visionaries who saw the world not through religious binders but through an expansive view of what strong and inclusive faiths can do to unite rather than divide us. You should carry the torch handed to you by your founder. You should work together to ensure his dream shall never die and his cause will endure
Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you. It has been inspiring and reaffirming for me to see the future first hand.
God bless you.