18-06-12

The Man with the Money and the Heart

Despite being the Managing Director of Bain Capital and a board member of Tata Sons Limited, Amit Chandra’s business acumen and knowledge of banking and equity is not what awed the Rotarians last Tuesday; it was Chandra’s incessant drive to give and better the world that brought the assembly to applause throughout the meeting.

When asked about where his inspiration stems from, Chandra emphasised the importance of starting young, “Giving in many ways should begin before one has got a lot.” He began his noble endeavours when he got married to his partner (and support system): funding education for children even when their income was just about enough to cover rent and daily expenses. Chandra stated, “It is not about giving when you have a lot. You should start giving as a habit when you have whatever you have.” As they progressed in their careers, they started contributing in terms of a percentage of their income along with absolute amounts.

By the age of thirty, Chandra had hit his career goals of becoming a managing director and a millionaire. This brought forth a period of contemplation and reflection within him. He started questioning his purpose, how he should be using wealth more purposefully, started reading more, did a course of vipassana, and contemplated deeply upon Guru Nanak, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffet’s philosophies to understand what the purpose of wealth and time was. That was when he started engaging even more in social causes.

One of the many defining moments in his life transpired when he realised he needed a reset. Thus, he made the shift from banking to equity, giving himself more time to work on his social endeavours. Many of his contemporaries and mentors did not agree with the decision, but Chandra was determined to take control of his time and gave his former workplace, DSP Merill Lynch, a two-year notice. Chandra realised that the rush he felt while helping the less fortunate was similar to what he felt when closing deals at DSP. Consequently, he started building teams to lead projects, get on the field, and interact with the people he was trying to help, rather than just sitting behind the desk and signing cheques. From dedicating a mere twenty-five percent of his time to the social causes he was passionate about, to going to the office only twice a week, he had completely redesigned his life to focus on social wealth.

In this journey that he calls ‘evolution’ came a time when Chandra and his wife practiced an exercise. “Let’s actually define how much wealth we really need to live our lives without expanding our material needs,” they had said. Completing this exercise with a friend and a financial advisor, they transferred the decided amount to his wife’s account. From this point on, the income was divided into small amounts that would go towards daily expenditure – and the rest was donated to social causes. This gave them the ability to start building universities, schools, and hospitals, giving away over a hundred crores. Chandra elaborated, “Once you cap your financial needs, and the rest of it you start giving away, you can just give endlessly. Whatever you earn, whether someone gives you X, you can give away X, someone gives you 10X, you can give away 10X. It doesn’t matter, it just becomes a number.”

In closing, the Rotarians saw the very reason that Chandra believes in donating with a name rather than anonymity – it is inspiring. People are often amazed by fancy cars and shiny diamonds. However,  occasionally, someone inspires you by sharing their story of generosity and compassion. And that’s exactly how he left the audience: inspired!