10. GANDHIAN HIGH LIFE
Their career chart is the stuff dreams are made of. Vikram Gandhi has risen from being a Harvard graduate with a mere $500 job to CEO of a leading Investment Bank in New York, the orignal city of dreams.
Today, he and his wife own the landmark Eleanor Roosevelt house in New York city. But what is special about their busy lives is their complete devotion to the family and total acceptance of each other’s varied goals in life. “I am what I am because my husband let me be,” reiterates a proud Meera. “Our marriage has worked so well essentially because we give each other space. When Vikram is in office, it is his domain. I never offer an opinion on his official matters till I am specifically asked for it. Similarly, home is completely my domain. I run it just the way I like it. I set up our social schedules, I plan the menu and decide what we have to do and when.”
Vikram, an MBA from Har- vard University continued with his studies and went on to join the Wall Street while Meera switched from an MBA to fashion and worked with Macy’s and Lord and Taylor as a buyer. “I eventually started my own garment business, did a lot of work for Calvin Klein and Oscar De La Renta and also did a lot of beading for couture houses.” All that came to an abrupt halt when the couple moved back to India in 1997. Admittedly Meera did not take the news too well. “We had initially come to New York with the sole purpose of studying and then going back home. We came here with just two suitcases and no money and then we both landed a job that paid $500 a week. It was a lot of money for us and we decided to stick on for a couple of years. The kids happened and we never realised how the ten years just flew by. The posting to India was a rude shock. I had just started my own business and landed a Calvin Klein jeans account where I was doing the distribution for 250 Calvin Klein stores – it was a big opportunity for me.
But Vikram was convinced that it was the right move." And it definitely was because Meera, undaunted by the challenge, came to Mumbai to start the International Playschool that catered essentially to children of expats. “I got involved with Mother Teresa’s foundation as well and we spent a glorious four years in Mumbai.” The millennium year saw them back in New York. “I saw that there was a marked difference in the social scenes here in New York and Mumbai. In India the social scene is very much on one stratosphere. It’s the same industrialists, heads of financial institutions and glamour people at each party and if I invite 150-200 people, I’ve just about covered all of Mumbai!
It could be the opening of a movie or a party thrown by the Ambanis, it’s the same people and I would say that they are very generous but the social scene here is very different. It could be an Asia Society event where you are meeting Kofi Annan or it could be the opening of a film like The Guru where you meet leaders of the Indian community. On other occassions we end up meeting people from Vikram’s Harvard Business School class and then we meet people like John Irving. So it’s very varied here. In India, you end up putting in less and less effort because it is a real comfort zone. There is warmth and you relax so much more. Here it is hectic because you are constantly catering to different people.”
Currently, besides his job, Vikram is also involved with the Gramin Foundation of India and the Micro Credit in India. “We are doing a lot of Gramin work in Andhra Pradesh and we try our level best to promote India here also,” informs Vikram. Meera on the other hand is on the board of Digital Partners and is ” look- ing towards promoting education in India through digital technology. Right now, 25 villages are under the project. We also sent about 600 computers through Fidelity to India. I think that Indians in New York have also come of age and it is important for us to create an identity for ourselves which is possible only through our work.
Eventually we both want to return to India to give back something to our country.” And while in New York there’s work and then there’s other things. Vikram likes to play golf. “I have tried to rope in Meera for the same but she does not seem interested.” “It’s a major handicap,” laughs Meera. “He was supposed to take Yoga classes with me and the Yoga teacher walked in and asked where is Vikram and I told him he has gone to play golf.” The couple might not share the same interests but they are always there for each other – perhaps the most important thing they could have in common.