Breaking records is almost a way of life for 30-year-old Mumbai boy Ashish Goyal. He was the first blind student to make it to Wharton Business School, Philadelphia, four years ago. If that isn’t enough, Ashish cleared his MBA with honours and went on to win the Joseph P Wharton award, given to one student every year who symbolizes Wharton’s way of life. Ashish, who now lives in London, is the first blind trader at J P Morgan, and possibly in any bank anywhere in the world. His near-impossible feat has earned him the National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, 2010, an honour that he will receive at the hands of the president of India this week.
”I hope this award helps the world recognize that, given the right set of opportunities and encouragement, people like me can live out their ambitions and lead ordinary lives,” says Ashish. In his case, though, he’s achieved more than most ordinary people do.
Ashish, who was born with perfect vision, suffers from a disease called retinitis pigmentosa, which robbed him of his sight after the age of 15. He did not lose his vision at one go, but gradually went blind over a period of three years. By18, he couldn’t see anything at all.
”His disability would normally be a barrier that would make it almost impossible to be a successful trader. Ashish’s determination and extremely strong will have helped him overcome this barrier completely. Apart from a few technological enhancements at his desk, Ashish is totally independent in all aspects of his job and does not require, nor has he requested, any extra support,” says Ray Eyles, who runs J P Morgan’s commodities business in Asia, and was Ashish’s first manager. Eyles is struck by Ashish’s modesty, despite the magnitude of his accomplishment in dealing with his disability. ”He is an inspiration to all employees at the bank,” says Eyles. Ashish’s pursuits in life aren’t purely academic. He’s a theatre enthusiast who loves travelling and music. He also does his best to catch the latest film releases, and is quick to critique both Hollywood and Hindi cinema. His infectious enthusiasm and zest for life have ensured that he is well liked wherever he goes. ”It’s a real pleasure to have him around. He’s always got a smile on his face, and is forever surrounded by a pack of people,” says Brian Marchiony, head of communications for Europe at J P Morgan.
Ironically, while Ashish will return to India to receive his award, this country has been a trifle hostile to him during his first attempt at entering the job market. He had a tough time getting a job in India, despite standing second in his batch while doing an MBA at NMIMS.
What does this award mean to you in real terms. Do awards make a difference at all?
This award means a lot to me, it’s special to be recognised and I am really humbled. Frankly it has not sunk in, meeting the President, meeting other award winners, I am really excited. The difference that this will make, well, the most important thing is that encouragement works wonders for everyone I would think.
We get lost in this race called life so much, that a special moment like this makes you take a step back, acknowledge the recognition and thank God for all that has happened. It’s reinvigorating to keep doing the best you can. Also, if this award helps spread awareness and helps change people’s attitudes towards people with disabilities… that will be the best outcome.
Describe what you do for a living and whether it has enriched your existence and vice-versa
I work for J.P. Morgan’s Chief Investment Office and we help manage the banks exposure in various markets across different geographies. It’s a very significant and satisfying role at a bank like J.P. Morgan, which has a huge balance sheet and large exposures. Proper balance sheet management can make a tremendous impact to all stake holders from depositors, clients to share holders and employees.
Vice-versa, well all I can say is that I am happy that I have been able to live up to expectations and hope to keep doing the same going forward. Also being a student of macro-economics and geopolitics, my job keeps me sharp and interested in this every changing dynamic world.
Do you think Indian b-schools are responsive to people with mental or physical challenges. There is this physically challenged boy fighting a long legal battle with IIMs after being denied admission.
My answer will be a little dated, as I have not lived in India for 5 years now and I applied to Indian business schools back in 2000. The main difference in my 2 experiences is this, abroad there is a clear process and system to deal with students and applicants with disabilities, of course helped by regulations. Internationally, as with Wharton, it was pretty easy when it came to following the process and providing a level playing ground. Whereas in India, the process was not streamlined and a lot of adhoc decision making would need to happen on the basis of perceptions even though regulations exist.
This was not just the case in B-Schools, I would say that was true of most institutes. What Wharton did, was it gave me a level playing field to compete and learn on merit… and that’s all we require I guess… the rest is up to ability.
Is there anything that you are doing or would like to do in the sphere of helping those visually challenged?
I have fleetingly been in touch with this organization called Enable India. It’s a great model, training disabled individuals to become independent and acquire the right skill sets for a job, then working with companies to get them to hire these people, and finally making sure that the first few months the transition goes smoothly.
I am also involved with 2 other issues, education through Pratham which reaches out to the poor and educating kids for free, and the Akshay Patra Foundation, which is Asia’s largest mid-day meal program.
Is there a better sense of concern for those ‘challenged’ abroad than in India. Here, even getting a ramp made in a housing society is a big hassle.
Yes, as mentioned, there is a difference in terms of infrastructure and facilities, but hopefully that is changing, as the government and a lot of non-profits organisations are working towards that change. But most importantly I feel individuals like you and I need to be more receptive and accepting.
One important thing that needs to be mentioned is people with disabilities are individuals who have gone through various circumstances and are very different to each other. It’s not fair to club all of them as the same… and even less fair to club all kinds of disabilities as the same. I have no idea what I would do or how people cope with in a wheel chair or what
about people with not obvious disabilities or challenges like learning or mental disabilities.
With regards to the job scenario, what kind of vocations would you advise physically challenged persons take up. The Indian government has gone only as far as the PCO.
In India and abroad, I have met disabled individuals like me doing all kinds of jobs. I believe it comes down to ambition and practicality combined. When I was going through recruiting from NMIMS, I was shocked when one of the companies told me that I should begin my career in a government organization as they have quotas and that they would not interview me. I could have given up hope then and there, but I really don’t see a lot of issues for disabled people doing various things. There are lawyers, media professionals, bankers, IT professionals, teachers, you name it…
Have you thought of designing products, furniture or gadgets for those with disabilities and challenges.
I have offered to be a tester for a couple of products and whenever I have any idea, I speak to my friends who work in a similar field. There are people and companies across the world working on this.
Have you learnt cooking? That’s what you said you wanted to learn, the last time around
Yes, but do I cook? No, I hate the entire cleaning process that follows.
Where do you see yourself five years down the line?
I want to definitely do something for the country. Don’t yet know in what shape or form. The way my life has evolved, I think 5 years is a long time, but hopefully I will have discovered my calling by then.
Is there something you’d like to say to those who think their lives are always on the downturn.
I don’t feel any issue is too small or too big. I think one can make it small or big. If there is an issue, finding a solution and working through it is the best approach because only we can affect that change instantly or attempt it. If we feel there is no hope and don’t see a solution it will be difficult for others to help. Its most important not to run away from those issues, but work with them and take them head on.
What do you do when you get depressed?
Eat chocolates. Nope, kidding. I guess I call up my closest friends and talk about it… go change my mood… ponder… and sleep… its depressing being depressed, so I try and limit it
You are one lucky guy to have your family with you? Not all physically-challenged people are as fortunate.
I can’t even imagine my life without my Guruji and my family . I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support system, blessings and some great friends. I don’t know if I can advise anyone here, but I would say for others, when you see someone like this, please lend them your hand. Being nice to people doesn’t cost anything and your simple act could change someone else’s world. I can’t even enumerate the number of times living alone in a foreign land, absolute strangers, who I will probably never meet again, have helped me or made life easier for me.
What do you do in your free time?
I love meeting people. People are fascinating to me, amazing people all across the world. I also like writing and watching theatre, trying out different cuisines and traveling. I have been lucky to have travelled in 4 different continents, especially in the last 4 years… soaking in cultures and stories from different parts of the world. in I enjoy learning different things and enjoy a lot of different things, over the past 3-4 years have learnt Bateria (brazillian drums) and performed on stage and in a club, Argentine tango, am learning boxing, have taken a few
writing workshops… I feel learning different things is very fulfilling… I also love sports, can watch sports and play sports forever… last year represented London’s Metro club in the domestic blind cricket league, and guess what we won… and yes… last but not the least… am always up for a challenge on the Nintendo Wii – tennis is one game I can play without seeing..
Who is your ideal date?
Too personal a question (don’t wanna spill the beans actually …haha… ). Well I enjoy the company of intelligent and interesting women in general..
Would you have achieved so much had fate not been cruel to you when you were in your teens when you lost your vision to retinitis pigmentosa after being born with proper vision.
My guruji Dr. Balaji Tambe has been my guiding force and I would have crumbled without him. I have pondered at length about this question and about the saying – everything happens for the best. If I had regular sight, I could easily see myself being a very average spoiled kid, doing nothing with my life and living an inconsequential existence. Well, that would be taking the worst case scenario for sure, but this disability made me focus and work hard for everything, and most importantly it made me believe in myself and gave me an attitude to keep trying , giving my best, and enjoying every experience..
Do you think your MBA degree has got you where you are today? Or you believe you had it in you to circumvent every obstacle
The people I met in MBA years, the opportunities I got have been overwhelming. I would relive my MBA experience anytime. An MBA can make a major difference in your life in case you know what you want out of it. There are so many things you could choose from and so many ways in which you can shape yourself… and your career/ social life… It’s easy also to not do anything sometimes.. but believe me that would be such a waste of opportunity.
References : http://www.pagalguy.com/2010/12/whartonnmims-grad-and-worlds-first-visually-impaired-trader-ashish-goyal-to-rec-presidents-award/