By John J. Hogan, CHA CMHS CHE CHO
This should be either a required or recommended reading for hospitality and business development courses in Universities, as it sheds a different perspective on what should be important to define and achieve success.
Each of us feels we walk our own path and face our own individual struggles in life, and it is startling at times to realize how much we as people have in common regardless of our place of birth, our religion and our livelihood.
This 236 page book by Dr. Bharat Shah covers approximately 50 years in his journey and is an excellent example of the many life challenges we all face, whether the same or similar.
AMERICA – MY DESTINY contains a series of surprising contrasts in one family’s journey in India and the United States as they worked diligently to identify and embrace the best of both countries. The story takes place during a time when letter writing was the normal method of communication. Email, texting and cell phones were all in the future. The loneliness endured through separation of time and distance is expressed with such emotion as to be palpable for the reader.
Stories of the father’s successes and failures in business are detailed with examples of the bribery and corruption that was part of the everyday business world in the 1940s and 50s in India. The detailed descriptions of education in both countries reflect the sometime extreme efforts in learning new languages and new subject matter. The author shares the experience of adapting from a small village to a large city with the difficulties of trying to fit in. Education often comes from the classroom, but the author shares the life knowledge acquired in the street while moving to new cities, new states and finally a new country.
Discrimination is unfortunately real throughout the world, and the author relates heartfelt stories of intolerance felt at times in both countries. Some of the prejudice was based on religion, some on race; some appeared in business while other incidents were more personal.
The book offers insights on how life and personal relationships based on trust, integrity and honor were built over time. Dr. Shah explains how he came to study in America, because his bachelor’s degree earned in India was not enough of a basis for continued Indian education to become an engineer or doctor (the preferred paths for Indian men at the time). His stories of interacting and gaining knowledge about life in the US are touching and filled with many ups and downs as he first earned a Master’s Degree at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and then a PhD at the University of Utah in Logan.
The story continues in the late 1960s when the Vietnam War is still ramping up, jobs are scarce and the American dream is not quite as clear. Dr. Shah is recruited by Nabisco and sent to Parsippany New Jersey where he uses his degrees in food science . Several years later, he moves to Winston Salem NC to work for RJ Reynolds Foods where he continues his professional development in research and quality assurance.
Dr. Shah shares human interest stories of cross country drives to new jobs in a 1954 Pontiac or a 1971 Plymouth Duster – both without a radio or air conditioning, as these were options not in the budget. He tells of his three year courtship, which was conducted totally by mail. The reader can feel the challenges of religion and finances that the two families had to address, which was not easy in the 1960s in India.
The author’s father had an entrepreneurial spirit in India, and Dr. Shah apparently inherited it. He shares stories over a ten year period of ventures from gift shops to imported shoes. Some involved life time friends, while others unfortunately included partners who became greedy and broke the trust. Dr. Shah did not lose faith in himself or America, but continued to grow professionally. He did not want to enter the motel business as his brother-in- law did, but he did earn a commercial realtor license in North Carolina. This led to his first unintentional entry into the lodging industry, which became a life changing event.
He discusses learning about the workings of the political systems in North Carolina and how he discovered that business people can make a difference in their communities and states regardless of their place of birth.
Bharat is quite open about the mistakes he and his wife Milan made in their early days in hospitality, and how their belief in themselves combined with a focused dream gave them strength to move forward as they fine-tuned their business skills. They dabbled in apartment ownership, but recognized that working with honest partners could allow them to acquire or develop profitable hotels and achieve successes not possible in India.
Many businesses in America are family businesses and Dr. Shah describes how his family business came to include his two sons. Today, the Noble Investment Group is an exceptional example of how to achieve this on a larger scale. There are more than two dozen photographs in the book – some of family, some of business and all contribute to the flow of the stories shared.
Bharat devotes several chapters on the value of leadership and communication. He shares the values he found in working with others as an early leader in the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), which was created to provide Indian hotel owners a united voice in the industry. His stories of the early days with no staff, donated office space and an uncertain future all contribute to the overall story of how many Indians sought to overcome obstacles by cooperative efforts rather than confrontation. His comments on the insights and values provided by Mike Leven (then president of Days Inns) add to the authenticity of the 25 year history of AAHOA in 2014.
There are narratives of sibling sickness and contrasting healthcare systems. Dr. Shah relates personal medical issues that he has dealt with in the last 15 years without complaining, but solely to help readers appreciate the evolution of medical care over time.
The final chapter is directed at the new generations of Indians whose families have migrated to America. He offers his insights on family, education, leadership and values to those who may or may not be involved in what became his industry.
While I did not work directly with Bharat, I have met him several times and had the opportunity to interact with him about his journey. His family’s story is one of courage, of being able to adapt and of self belief.