I come from a long line of entrepreneurs – but never thought I’d continue the line. Having gone to business school, I thought I’d be happy working for a big corporation with a big name with a defined job. But then, one night in 1993, I had a conversation with my dad that changed everything.
First, a little bit of background. In 1983, at the age of 42, my father Kanti decided to leave his comfortable job at a big chemicals company, and join a nearly bankrupt paint company – to fulfill a dream he always had: to have his own business. The new company’s prospects weren’t exactly golden. They promised him only to match his salary, and warned him about the health of their struggling enterprise. My father explained his vision – to create a competitive product to DuPont’s Teflon non-stick coatings for cookware and bakeware. They responded to his pitch by saying, “Great.You’ve got one year to make it work. If you do, we’ll stay open, and if you don’t, we’ll turn the lights out….permanently.”Talk about high-stakes pressure! He worked tirelessly, was super ambitious, and started to turn it around. It took more blood, sweat and tears that he would tell us about – and he was never happy to miss graduations, Christmas, but did what he had to do. A short eight years later, he was giving a DuPont a real run for their money, and had become the second largest supplier of non-stick coatings to the US cookware market. Not a bad outcome for a guy armed only with the dream and the energy to see it through.
Flash forward to 1993 – I graduate from the University of Illinois in Urbana with two degrees: Finance and German Language. I got the plum job most U of I business grads wanted:a position at a “BigSix” consulting firm. I started the job in 1993, and knew within the first half-day that I was a fish out of water. I am a textbook extrovert – but spent my days sitting in the cube, working on Excel spreadsheets. I felt like a flower with no sunlight. My Dad astutely realized how miserable I was, and one night starting peppering me with invitations: “Why don’t you come and work for me?” This had become sort of a theme with him. Whenever he saw an opening, he would urge me to work with him. My response as always was, “Dad, I took one high school chemistry class, and wasn’t very good at it. What on earth would I do for you?” With an intense look in his eyes (very typical of my dad), he said something that changed the course of my life forever: “You will only be limited by your own ambition. Don’t ever ask me that question again.” And with that, he turned around and walked out of the kitchen while I just stood there.
That night, my father’s words kept rolling around in my head, echoing, and the thought of only being limited by myself was beyond intriguing. Two weeks later, I jumped –and left my desk job and the depressing world of cubicle life forever. I joined his company called Coatings and Chemicals Corporation, or CCC as we were known.
Professionally, it was the best decision I ever made. I became immersed like a student in a new world, absorbing facts about Polytetrafluoroethylene, Poly Amide Imides, and so many other things that eventually became second nature to me. I worked day and night because I wanted to. Like my father, I couldn’t get enough. I learned to drive a forklift, visited clients onfive continents twice a year every year, closed big deals, and became a partner in the business we ultimately sold in 2001 to a large Dutch multi-national firm. The rest of the family (Dad, Mom, brother) retired then, but I stayed on, to became sort of the “EVP / Global Ambassador”– helping to integrate the business I helped build. I finally decided to leave the business in 2006 with no idea of what I wanted to do – but I had the feeling that something better was coming for me. There was actually one idea that no matter how hard I tried (and believe me I tried) I just couldn’t shake.
Starting way back in college, I started to have these “feelings” about people – and “knowing” that they should be together. In 1997, (much to my husband’s chagrin), I told two friends of ours that if they went out on ONE date, they would, with 100% certainty, get married. This was my version of telling other people they were only limited by their own ambition, I guess…. When they called me in 1999 and said they got engaged, I put the phone down, and had this unforgettable feeling at that moment — that I had found my life’s work: I was supposed to do this. And so, following my instincts, I kept doing it, and set up more and more couples that are married and have kids.
Flash forward to 2008. I had a dream to start my company as a professional matchmaker. People would tell me that matchmaking and dating is a terrible business, blah blah blah. This of course was merely a restatement of my greatest insecurities and fears — and it was demoralizing. Then, one warm night in June 2009, the words, “You’re only limited by your own ambition” came roaring back. I had been pondering this idea for so long, and was doing absolutely zero about it. For some reason, that evening, the light bulb went off (or maybe it was the 2 glasses of Malbec I had consumed). I was limiting myself again (how could I just become a matchmaker, how would I be received, what if I fail?), and the normal insecurities again I was prone to. The words kept ringing. I was getting inspired. I decided that evening that if I could put together a plan, I could make it work.
In the fall 2009, I put together that plan, and on a wing and a prayer, I opened my business called Smart Dating Academy. It is one of the best things I’ve ever done, and I couldn’t be happier with my life. It is growing to be the company I’ve dreamed of.
On this Father’s Day, I reflect on my many blessings as a daughter. I have been so lucky to have an influence like my Father has been on my life. And so I’d like to say to him:
Dad, you might not even remember the kitchen incident in 1993, but you inspired me in ways that I could never have imagined. Thank you for teaching me that in many ways, I was the only thing holding me back. You freed me, allowed me to jump, and taught me more about business than Harvard, Yale, and Stanford could have combined. In fact, I proudly hold an advanced degree from the University of Kanti Gandhi, and it’s the best education I could ever receive. I am grateful to you in so many ways, but wanted you to know how much you’ve impacted me – and changed my life forever.
*Original article posted at AskAmyDaily*
Posted on Wed, July 11, 2012
by Bela Gandhi