He may pass by. You may not notice him. He is one among many. But only when you get to know him, you understand the power of the man. When I say power, I surely do not mean the physical power or the power which comes with position. Nor do I allude to money power. It is the power of self in this man, known as HR Shah which attracts attention and wins admiration.
This charismatic Indian is a well-known entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader who endeared himself as a close friend of who’s who of the world. Mr. Shah has rubbed shoulders with Heads of states – from Bill Clinton and Obama to Narendra Modi, and celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan.
When I sat down to interview him in his conference room, I saw dozens of pictures of Mr. Shah with who’s who of the world. Let me give a picture of the wall decorated with lovely photographs over the decades.
But behind the seemingly high profile HR Shah is a Hansmukh Shah whose life story will need a whole book or a documentary, and. I found myself at a loss as to how I could do his profile in a page or two of 11″ X 15″ size in the Indian Panorama. His story may be like the story of many others. It may be another rags to riches story His story from a remote village in Gujarat to the US may appear to be another success story. His story of being a penniless young man, looking for employment in his home state and then venturing out to the US, with financial assistance from friends and relatives may just be another story of another man from Gujarat. But it certainly is his unique story.
In an exclusive interview with The Indian Panorama, Mr Shah revealed the journey of his life like an open book.
Mr Shah was born in a poor family. His father had two wives and seven kids and died when HR was only 2 years old. He had a difficult childhood with enormous financial problems. After completing high school he did his bachelor’s degree with honors in Chemistry but missed first class for just few numbers.
He went door to door for a job but did not get any. But at that situation how could someone think of coming to America?
“In 1967, one of my cousins came to America. That gave me the courage. I started thinking that if he can do it why not me? At that time, there were jobs here for two classes of people – highly educated or labor class. I had no issues to opt for a labor class job in USA as there was no future for me in India.”
But coming to the land of opportunities was not so easy. He ran from pillar to post to make his dream true. Even people were joking at him for his dresses or English speaking capacity. But he was determined to achieve his goal and finally achieved it when he landed in USA in 1970.
“For getting success in life you have to have goal, vision, and determination. Money comes later. You have to work hard”, he says.
His struggle continued here too. After doing some odd jobs like fruit and vegetable distribution, he started a consulting office at The Empire State Building in 1973. It was doing well but did not last for a long. “The business closed due to some problems and I lost huge amount of money. I came down to footpath straight from Empire State”, reveals HR who is now one of the highest donors in any charity event and is serving the community for over 30 years.
In 1976 HR opened a medical center but this time also luck was not with him. So, this venture also failed. But something very significant happened in his life during this crisis hours. He met Rosemarie who came for a job at the medical center. They fell for each other and married in 1977.
Without having anything, he started driving taxi in New York City. “I took that decision because as a taxi driver I could have worked for as many hours as I want. So, I used to work for 15 to 16 hours a day. I had huge debt on me because of my failed business.”
This honest man was also determined to clear his debts.
Every weekend he used to repay even 100 or 50 dollars to people whom he owed money. That earned him a trust among them and grew a strong bond. In personal life, he faced a tragedy as his daughter who was born with a critical disease, died at the age 8.
After running a Limousine service for 2 years, HR started his brokerage business for Indians in USA. Finally, he got real ‘break’ of his life when he took over Krauszer’s Food Stores, New Jersey’s largest chain having over 400 outlets. He took over the firm in 1991 to become the first NRI to own a chain store business anywhere in the world and through his entrepreneurial skills, gave the stores renewed statewide recognition. That acquisition saved over a thousand jobs. He also put hundreds of people from ethnic communities in the convenience store business, making them owners. “The game changer came as a jackpot to me. My life changed”, he said laughingly. Life changed but the man did not change. He did not forget his past, he did not forget the sufferings he went through in India, and he did not forget his poor villagers. His mission was to bring less or uneducated people from his village and establish them here. To date, he has brought 4,000 people from his village. “They salute me but I don’t have any expectations from anybody. If I do something for people, I never ask anything in return”, says the ‘Father Figure’ of community.
In 1996, he took over TV Asia. A turnaround expert, he became prominent for rescuing the channel out of poor viewership – with 350,000 viewers today. With TV Asia, Mr Shah is the first NRI to run a 24/7 TV station in North America. It is the first coast-to-coast television network broadcasting 24 hours a day, on satellite and cable for South Asians in the US. TV Asia was the only Network in North America to bring live coverage of the visit to the UN of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
With 30 bureaus in North America, TV Asia mainly focuses on community events to keep Indian culture and heritage alive, especially for second generation NRIs.
Mr Shah has actively participated in the US political process at many levels and has made outstanding contributions to India-US relations. He has organized or supported awareness meetings for several prominent officials, including Governors, Senators, Congressmen and candidates for the US presidency, including Barack Obama.
He accompanied former US President Bill Clinton to India in the year 2000 and was with him again in 2001 in Gujarat for earthquake relief operations. In fact, TV Asia was the first South Asian media outlet to be invited by a US President to join the Presidential entourage on an overseas visit.
Mr Shah is a founding member of GOPIO as well as Past President and Trustee of the Federation of Indian Associations (FIA). As the Chairman and Trustee of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (USA), the world famous institute of Indian culture, education, music and the arts, he has worked for the upliftment in lifestyle of Indians via education. He is a member of the Board of Advisors of the Ellis Island-National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO).
Mr. HR Shah has received numerous awards and honors, including the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor, the highest award conferred to honor the ancestral groups who through struggle, sacrifice and success build this great nation of United States of America. Today, Mr H.R. Shah, the Chairman & CEO of TV Asia is regarded as one of those selfless individuals who have made extraordinary contributions for the cause of humanity.
He has generously donated his time, energy and resources and is a pillar of the community, always supporting various social works, cultural, educational and related activities in the US and in India. He has received thousands of awards and citations from across the globe in serving ethnic American communities in different fields.
One admirable strength of the man is that success has not gone in to his head. Asked as a closing question of the interview what he thought was the most important thing to do, he did not bat an eye, nor did he hesitate for a moment and said “Hard Work“.