Bright eyed and bushy tailed I arrived in Smyrna, Georgia some where in the 90s. First Co-op at General Electric, met my direct manager and then his boss and was wowed by all the free Ice cream, this was a time for cultural conflicts, the dotcom craze was making giants like GE uncomfortable. Every one had to use the “Internet” and graduate an entire generation of non tech hard liners in the most manufacturing oriented company in the world on the right side of the digital revolution.
All the Co-ops were assigned housing, swanky corporate apartments and we got a company car rental. What more could a middle class kid want? Right? With this transaction came my corporate buddy, Ajay Singh, a typical East Coast dude. We were all assigned to different Directors and roles but all the Co-ops were basically spending a lot of time on organized activities “the GE way”.
Says Ajay to me, “hey my manager is a Pakistani dude” perhaps the most profound and joyful moment up to that point. Wow a Pakistani guy at GE. This I had to see. Ajay said, “hes some top level shit but really cool guy” I just met him.
Fast forward almost a week, middle class values intact, Friday rolls up, I look up the Directors name in the corporate address book, reach out to him and introduce my self and ask if he knows of a Masjid near by. He says back to me, “see you down stairs in 5 mins, I am headed there, will take you with, I have a red car”
So at the risk of embarrassing him, I will only use his Initials. So I am waiting and rolls up a Red Mustang, top down, it’s the middle of summer in Georgia and the guy says “Are you Faizan” , I am “AD” get in.
I don’t speak to AD every day, I don’t speak to him for months now, most of it is on me. But let me tell you, the single biggest person who impacted my professional life in any profound way has to be him. As I try and mentor folks my self, I always think back to that moment, what does AD have that totally makes him tick.
The answer, real life experiences, completely self made and Zero Bullshit. From humble beginnings in Lahore, to driving a bus in London to working at a tailor and then making it to biggest consulting companies in the world, to GE and probably a half dozen C Suite roles in every imaginable corner of the world with one Fortune 10 company or an other. Whilst picking up an MBA on the way from one of the best schools out there.
Top qualities, he’d offer time, even when I knew 100% he had been traveling weeks on end and just got back home . He would pick you up, drop you off, he donated a car to me some years later, when he recruited me to Tyco. I say donated, because what he paid for that sporty little number I totally didn’t pay him. An other top quality, sharing in his success, a middle class boy from Karachi didn’t even have the aspirational target to be in that 2 door. But he made you aspire, he made you think bigger, want larger, work harder. The massive subsidy helped no less.
Taking interest and helping beyond being tied by a Pakistani bond, to this day, he would do the same for any one who asked. People who worked with him at GE, worked with him at other companies, work with him today… Its not out of any thing besides sheer respect.
Time spent with AD, be it in the board room, on a flight for work, or once upon a time being convinced by him to take up making a new staircase and doing some basement work has been a unique learning experience every time. I realize now or rather many years later that a top Fortune 10 executive didn’t need free labor, he was passionate about doing work around the house, but that left him with no time, and since I sought his time, he’d get me in on what ever activity he was doing. Teamwork, like you wouldn’t believe. Ive never met a person who didn’t admire him or like him.
Amongst other emulation worthy qualities was cooling you down and providing lessons in how to manage corporate rage:). Over the years, I’d find my self at his door step “completely pissed off at some thing or an other” and he’d say, go back “write your self an email save it, re read it. If you still feel the same way in 24 hours, come back and we will chat.” Once I went to see him and he ended up having me open his mail using a letter opener, a good 30 mins not speaking to me in his study as he was busy doing some thing when I arrived and said “yaar sort this out”..
Most importantly every time I had the itch to do a new gig, do some thing crazy or just do some thing different. One phone call later he’d probably talking me into exploring a possibly bigger role etc., advising not limit my self because I was unhappy in any current situation. So seeing through the short term and planning for the long haul, this guy has it down to an art form.
I have a few dozen stories if not more, the guy has the most authentic work ethic, I’ve never seen any one work harder, smarter or with the tenacity he has, hence every word of advice coming from him seemed legit, implementing half or a third of what I saw him do, is perhaps better than all that I could have come up on my own. All the advice seemed legit, hence it inspired a 20 some thing year old to try it out.
Biggest trait, being on time always, without fail, without question, irrespective of who set the time, why it was setup. Ive seen interns setup time with him(my self included) to CEOs. If hes not 5 mins early he is probably 10 mins early. Just like children emulate their parents, good bad or ugly, entrepreneurs or wantapreneurs emulate their mentors.
Only so many of us will ever be this fortunate, I most certainly have been.