Sometimes the way a person grows up is so upsetting, once they have success, they prefer to forget the experience. Others, however, grow up humble and when they achieve some success, they look back to that time when they were growing up to find the underpinnings of what made them so successful. There are lessons learned from growing up in a less-than-ideal situation and Vinod Gupta, one of India’s famed self-made millionaires, looks back on his upbringing with pride. He regards the period as having made him what he is today.
Educated at India Institutes of Technology, he went on to get a Master’s degree in agricultural engineering in the United States at the University of Nebraska. He worked for a mobile home manufacturer post-graduation, and although he did very well, what he found was that the marketing essentials for that industry were just not there. There were no lists of manufacturers upon which he could call for sourcing materials. He made one from phone books and that marked the start of his first solo venture. With a $100 loan from a local bank, he started a marketing company.
Saying he made a huge success of that business is a sizeable understatement. He sold the company in 2010 for $680 million. Armed with lots of dollars from that sale, he started a single-office venture capital firm. He now helps others get a start. Even more important than that, he valued his own educational experience so much, he built schools in outlying areas in India where the residents might not otherwise have an opportunity to be educated. He went on to donate $1 million toward the development of Ram Rati Gupta Polytechnic. This was built in his hometown of Rampur Manhiharan and this school is for women only.
Vinod Gupta never forgot his experience in Nebraska either. He set up a generous scholarship fund to help minority students. In addition, he suffered a huge loss when his son passed away and in response to that tragic loss, he set up scholarship funds to commemorate his memory. Vinod Gupta believes in karma and realizes that he was given lots of opportunities, so he tries to do all he can to give back.
About Vinod Gupta: phy.princeton.edu/people/vinod-gupta
James Reese spent 25 years in the U.S. Army. He worked his way up the ranks, before retiring as the Lt. Colonel from the U.S. Army, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta. This unit is colloquially known as the ‘Delta Force.’ Years of being in the army gave Reese a massive dose of self-discipline. In addition to this, the sensitive and dangerous nature of the missions he led gave him the expertise he needed to start his own business: TigerSwan.
TigerSwan is a private security company and a service-disabled, veteran-owned business. Currently, TigerSwan employs over 300 people and has interests and opportunities in over 50 countries. James Reese describes owning a business like this as both incredibly stressful and rewarding. Jobs for TigerSwan are often dangerous, meaning that Reese’s decisions could literally mean life or death. Beyond this, he is also responsible for paying and taking care of all his employees. While this seems less scary, Reese knows that a steady paycheck is a livelihood of another type. Despite this, he is grateful for the freedom and opportunity to run a business. He finds the process rewarding, despite the challenges behind it.
When James Reese commanded the Delta Force, he didn’t have to worry about paying his soldiers, it wasn’t part of the job. His superior officers would give him the best of the best because the missions were sensitive. At TigerSwan, he still wants to work with all the best people. The caveat? He must be able to pay all of them fairly. Oftentimes, sacrifices must be made as Reese can’t afford to hire the best people in every single field. Instead of hiring people with experience, in some areas, Reese looks to hire people that he thinks can grow into the role. By mentoring them and helping them he can create fantastic employees over time.
Many people today feel they have to specialize in a field to get ahead. Author David Epstein recently released a book which makes the case for generalists. He wrote that, in most occupations, especially those that are very complex, it is generalists who get ahead rather than specialists. To write this book he studied successful people in multiple industries and saw that those who have several interests make connections that are invisible to specialists.
Max Salk falls more into the generalist mold, although he does have a specialized role in the financial industry. He is interested in more than just investing, though. He’s also an accomplished landscape photographer, for instance, and has a website displaying some of the photos he has taken around the world on his trips. He also posts these photos on Instagram.
For his college education, he attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He majored in both finance and history, once again showing his generalist streak. It was while in college that Max Salk began to explore investing. He spent some of his free time researching individual stocks and investing in them.
His love of landscape photography also began while he was in college. He spent a year studying in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. This city’s harbor is foggy in the morning. Max Salk made it a habit to walk around the harbor during that time with his camera in hand. One of these photos is on the main page of his photography website.
His first job was at PPM America in Chicago. He made investment recommendations to clients. A few years later, Max Salk moved to New York City as he had been hired by Blackstone. Still working there, he is a vice president. He is also a research analyst focused on U.S. credit.
Max Salk says knowing things besides investing has helped advance his career. Knowing about landscape photography, history, and other subjects makes him more well-rounded and able to piece things together. He says the world is full of possibilities and people should keep their options open rather than just following the prescribed career path of a specialist.