Role Models #1
He was jovial, playful, and kind — for a CEO. A fellow South Indian, I took him for more of an excitable uncle than a boss. We poked fun at one another, as everyone did over there.
On Halloween he wore a bald cap, glasses, and a shawl, otherwise topless. It was an obvious joke, his playing Gandhi. Later that year I threw on an Indian accent and tucked in a button-down shirt to mime him in a skit. We hugged one another, got drunk together, shared a fondness for mozzarella sticks. My girlfriend at the time had the same name as his daughter.
When the market looked tough in the wake of 2016’s election, he sat the entire company down and reassured us: “we are in a time of great insecurity. And with insecurity comes opportunity. Let us seize this moment!” I respected him, not for his business acumen of which I understood little, but for his willingness to be a human being in front of subordinates.
In his role as my business uncle, he found it ever important to challenge me on my career growth and goals. No one else at the company received this — though there were no other 22-year-old South Indians either. One day he took me to lunch and insisted that I set up a five year plan. To this day I don’t know if it was right to reject this advice.
After two years at the company, I left to go travel and explore what else life had to offer me. He never told me he was ashamed or uncomfortable, but on my last day, he introduced me to a potential business partner as “Rishi! He’s leaving us to go to grad school.”
The last time I saw him, he was drunk again, and I was in recovery. The company had sold to some Japanese machine and everyone’s job was changing. He was successful, in a way, and he yet he had lost everything he’d built. I felt sad for what uncertainty had taken from him.