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Q&A with Indur Shivdasani

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-01-24

Indur Shivdasani is such a ubiquitous presence on New York City's arts and social scene that it's tempting to ask him how he finds time to make his money. And make money he does at MASI, the company he founded 14 years ago to promote supplies of dyes and other chemicals used in the manufacture of textiles. Holder of a graduate degree in management sciences from London's Imperial College, Mr. Shivdasani worked as a systems analyst in Canada and also for IBM before starting his own company. It now does business in more than a dozen countries. He spoke with The New York Sun yesterday.

What does it take to make it in New York?

A total commitment to excel. Many people survive and do adequately. But in order to be the biggest and best, you simply have to have a burning desire to succeed. New York has a way of bringing out the best in you. Whole worlds can be conquered out of New York.

What are the disadvantages of not being a native New Yorker?

Frankly, I don't ever think about this. Maybe I'm being naive, but I haven't encountered stumbling blocks just because I wasn't born in the city. Had I grown up in New York, perhaps I would have had a better support system. In my business you cannot succeed without access to funding. So maybe I would have had a stronger network of financial support had I been born and raised here. But fortunately, the State Bank of India provided me with good credit early on.

What's been your approach to wealth creation?

Maybe some people can make it big in a hurry. Those are few and fortuitous instances, flowing from serendipity. You cannot build a fortune on bolt of lightning. You need a steady approach on investment. If you are a young person, I think that 3% to 10% of net income for investment -- not just savings -- is the soundest policy for ensuring a comfortable life. You might want to increase that to 6% to 8% percent later. The compounding effect is terrific. Both real-estate and stocks are terrific. But it's important to view this as a long-term payoff. It's important to start building equity early in your professional life.

So why do people screw up?

Greed by and large screws up a lot of people. If an investment is too good to be true, it probably is. Only after building up a nest egg, can you afford to take a flyer. I fully support taking a risky step in starting a new business. But if you're building an investment portfolio for life, you've got to take a long-term approach. Wealth cannot be created overnight.

What's your advice for young professionals?

It's clear that world is far more competitive than when people of my generation grew up and came out of college. It's also clear that the big winners get paid far more than the also-rans. It's important to find the role that you enjoy and then seize it with everything you've got. It's really paramount to find a function where working is enjoyment -- that you become the best at what you do. Anything else, and life becomes too much work and too much stress. Don't do things for money. If you find a job that turns you on, then work becomes thrilling. But you need to excel because life is more competitive now.

What explains your zestful enjoyment of the arts?

I believe that my contemporaries were mostly unidirectional. We were so focused on our own success that most of us rarely saw beyond our own field. I must give credit to my wife Aroon, who helped me develop our art collection and who forced me initially to get out and try and become a "Renaissance Man." Now I also cook -- that's my own dimension. The journey must be enjoyed. If you're really going to succeed, you must enjoy the journey. It's not just the destination.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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