A Fine Blend Of Tradition And Modernity AIA President Neal Modi

“The Older Indian Organizations Haven’t Taken The Time To Understand What The Younger Population Want From Us. So We Would Like To Know From Them What They Would Like Us To Offer Them.”- Neal Modi

Very rarely do we meet businessmen who are deeply rooted to tradition, culture and spirituality. It is very difficult to most to set aside monetary benefits of business and live with impunity from fear of business failures and incurring heavy losses. But Sunil Modi is the exception to that rule.

An outstanding businessman with decades of knowledge in the real estate market, he also stands out from his peers for his faraway vision. Sunil Modi is the recently elected President of Association of Indians in America’s New York Chapter. But even in this prestigious post, Modi merely deems himself as a volunteer with additional responsibilities. We met Sunil Modi, also known as Neal Modi in the American community and his son Jay Modi at their office in Jamaica Avenue. The newly elected President of the AIA is calm and serene. Surely his additional responsibilities must be stressful. Modi laughs, “I consider myself as semi-retired now. My son is helping me with the business since the last ten years. Also, I have been with AIA since the last 18 years, so this has been my routine for a while. It’s not stressful in the least bit.” Although Sunil Modi was born in Punjab, he mostly grew up in UP and Chandigarh. He was born in a business family.

He completed his engineering from the prestigious Thapar Engineering College, Patiala and his Post Graduation from Panjab University. He worked briefly for DCM in India as an engineer. Then he came to the US and further furbished his education by doing business programs at Pace University and Brooklyn Polytechnic in order to understand the business mechanisms of markets. He owes most of his career choices to his father, ” My father was a bridge construction contractor. So I guess I was sub-consciously trying to follow in his footsteps and somehow relate my studies and knowledge into the real estate segment.” Today, Sunil Modi is one of the highly reputed Licensed Engineers in New York.

As a real estate businessman Modi is extremely proud of his achievements. He is a staunch believer in the philosophy that every businessman must contribute to the growth of the world. He plays his part by providing housing, which is a very important component of life. He explains, “Providing housing or providing shelter is a very fulfilling business for me. Everyone needs a home. I find my motivation or my driving force in this fact that I am helping a number of people in finding their own shelter. It makes me feel good to see when people move into the homes we build or we renovate.” At the end of the day, Modi says, your job must satisfy you completely. Modi has uncommon goals to achieve during his two-year tenure as the President of AIA.

He elaborates, “So far there is a large group of the Indian segment that belongs to the age group of 20 to 35. So my immediate goals are for AIA to understand the needs of this population. This age group is a very transient population. They move or they somehow they feel they cannot connect with a lot of older organizations. The people who started this organizations were about 50 to 60 years old and now they are in their 70s. I believe there is a gap between them and the Indian youth that I think needs to be bridged. And we also see that the organizations that the youth starts here tend to fizzle out due to various reasons. So we plan to create a task force to understand the needs of this age group. We plan to attract them with some programs and try to incorporate them under our umbrella.” As correctly described, the youth is a transient group.

To tap that segment is definitely a chore. Although they have many needs, they are also ever changing. However, all these needs of the youth must be addressed and Modi is sure to find what exactly these are and what exactly AIA can offer them. He adds, “We want to understand from them what we can do for them. The older Indian organizations haven’t taken the time to understand what the younger population want from us. So we would like to know from them what they would like us to offer them. We can only guess.” For most part the Indian youth are educated. Majority of them have do not have trouble finding good education, jobs and then settling down.

Modi’s presidency however will also try and help them in this part too. He believes that the Indian youth in America are a bit conflicted. Although they want to be married, they do not want an arranged marriage setting much like their parents or elders. Modi wants to address this issue and offer assistance in this respect too. Besides helping the youth in bridging these fundamental gaps, Sunil Modi also believes that the Indian American youth lacks understanding and knowledge about India.

For this, he plans to approach the Indian tourism government and the Indian consulate along with supporters such as The Incredible India to initiate an exchange program of sorts. He wants to arrange trips for the Indian American youth to visit India and learn about India first hand instead of relying on others and the media. This, according to Modi is necessary, “I believe that there is a disconnect among the Indian youth about India. Their understanding of our mother country is very poor and there is a lack of will to understand India better. A visit to India coordinated by India and America will prove beneficial to them.” Modi has been a part of many other community services organizations since he arrived in the United States. Besides his varied roles in AIA over the past 18 years, he was on the Board of Directors with the largest YMCA in New York called Cross Island YMCA. This was in the center of a large Indian community. In the past, he also represented the YMCA union at the United Nations. Yet, Modi is also involved in an unusual service, which is not only important, but its benefits are voluminous. “My wife and I are very interested in Yoga so we both volunteer to give talks on Yoga in many places. The path of Yoga has been very beneficial to me and I believe I need to share this with others.” Sunil Modi took to the path of Yoga through a Yogi whom he names as the biggest influencer of his life.

He also tells us that the Yogi was his key mentor and devotes his success to him as well. “I followed somebody named Swami Bua. He was an exceptionally private Yogi because he lived in New York for 40 years and yet he preferred to live away from limelight. He was a very accomplished Yogi who had deep and meticulous knowledge of our Hindu scriptures and of yogic processes. So I followed him for 15 years, he passed away two years ago.” Not only was Swami Bua his key mentor, Sunil Modi attributes his meeting with the Swami as the moment his life transformed. “Most people think that to find a true Yogi, you must go to mountain tops. I found him here.

You can find one anywhere. These are people who are doing their daily duties, living a healthy lifestyle, people who are not trying to give big lectures and trying to preach, in short, people who live by example.” Modi’s values are incorporated from Swami Bua and some that he learnt on his own. He explains, “I live by the American saying of ‘Past is past, future is unknown, present in a gift’. My other motto is ‘Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana, Ma Karma Phala Hetur Bhurmatey Sangostva Akarmani”. Modi firmly believes that every human needs to keep growing and not wallow in the past and worry about the future. He owes this mantra to his successes.

But a man of his stature has seen some failures too. Sunil Modi does not ignore the lessons that you learn from failures. “You learn only from failures. You grow spiritually and mentally only though failures. As soon as I came to this country I tried to set up my own real estate business. But the 1987 stock market crash destabilized my life for a bit. I was hit badly due to the slump and I did fall on my face. I was stuck with three properties that were quickly dropping in value and I had to repay loans on that property. The stress of it all taught me a million things. That is when I began my path of yoga. I started understanding stress management more.

I learned that to grow in life you must learn to manage stress.” For Sunil Modi, his biggest strength and support are his family. His elder son Sudeep Jay Modi has been helping him in the business since ten years. The youngest son Rishi Modi is a medical student at AUA and his wife Deepika Modi is an occupational therapist. He was married to Deepika in 1981 and this year they complete 32 years of married life. Sudeep Jay Modi, Sunil Modi’s eldest son had been waiting to step into his father’s shoes since junior high. And till date he believes his father’s presence helps him immensely in his career. Although there were ideological differences in the start, he thinks they have come to a middle ground in the recent past. Jay explains, “I have been with him for 10 years and yet I feel there is so much that I can learn from him. Everything keeps changing, it’s a very cycle-based business and its not a business where you have an end product. It is a very customer oriented and service based business. I could use my dad’s help for another ten years.” At a semi-retired state Sunil Modi does not think keeping end goals is a good idea. He deems that life being a continuous journey we can only create new goals once we accomplish old goals.

But he will always strive to meet all his goals. His goal for the Indian American community is to make them more united. “I believe we can learn a lot from the Bangladeshi or Jewish community. They believe in reaching out to their people in anyway possible.A famous Jewish saying says, ‘our people, our responsibility’. That is what even we need to incorporate in our community too.” As we come to the end of the interview, Sunil Modi finally adds, “We can only always grow. Life doesn’t stop at 50 or when you retire. We should always learn to grow. And I intend just to do that.” And with that thought, The Indian Panorama wishes Mr. Sunil Modi a successful tenure at the AIA and hopes that all his goals are met and he leaves his imprint in the sands of time.


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