Posted by: robertonumerouno | October 4, 2008

The Good Road to Bengaluru

I am fortunate.  My life has been an exciting journey.  If you want to know where I’m going, you’ll have to know where I’ve been…

It’s a pleasantly cool evening in hostel room H-115 at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore (IIMB).  A dim desk lamp glitters, an excited moth flutters around and the scent of sandalwood incense fills the air.  You ask, “So, how did you end up in Bengaluru?”  Well, it all started with bananas…

Son of a Banana Farmer

My father was a banana farmer.  He is the son of a Chinese immigrant who landed in Costa Rica as a stowaway in a boat in the 1930s.  My father’s village – even today – can only be reach by boat and hiking through the jungles.  I too was born in a very rural area of Costa Rica’s south Pacific region.  My father was reconized as an expert on banana-growing soils, so my childhood was spent ‘on the road.’  At the ripe age of three, my family uprooted and re-planted in the Philippines, where I conducted most of my primary education.  The family lived in Guatemala and Cameroon during my secondary school education.

Growing up in rural and very poor areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America resulted in two deep-rooted values that are central to my being.  I witnessed – upfront and personal – the huge inequalities present in our global society.  I also grew up loving nature.  I had amazing playgrounds – after school, my brothers and I would run through the hot jungles and cool off in the wild rivers.

Gearing up as an Engineer

After secondary school, I was fortunate to be offered a full scholarship to study biological engineering at Louisiana State University in the U.S.  I was the only international student to receive a scholarship at this public institution.  I did well in my studies and received three additional scholarships.  I founded BESO, the first student organization for biological engineers at a U.S. university.  For my capstone engineering project, I designed a combustion chamber using NASA technology and was awarded a U.S. patent.  Because my parents couldn’t afford paying for my U.S. education, I paid for most of my education through scholarships and by doing odd jobs.  I worked as a welder and Christmas tree salesman.

Corporate Tree Hugger

After LSU, I worked as an engineer at URS and then as a consultant on sustainability issues at ERM.  Because of my background, I was tagged as the “international guy” and worked on engagements in over 25 countries.  I helped companies like General Motors, Nike and Shell improve environmental performance at their international factories.  One of my fondest projects was working with Johnson & Johnson in their Mumbai operations; it is a big reason I have returned to India.  Due to the nature of my work, I got licensed as a professional engineer and certified as an environmental auditor for compliance and ISO 14001.  I became the youngest person elected to the board of directors of The Auditing Roundtable, a professional organization for people that work on corporate social responsibility issues.

Hippie for a Year

Everest Base Camp, 2007

Everest Base Camp, 2007

After three years as a consultant at ERM, I needed a break.  I quit my job and hit the road as a backpacker… for an entire year!  I surfed the waves of Brazil’s Northeast coast and took samba lessons at night.  I lived in Beijing’s Wudaoku District and travelled through most of China.  I wandered through Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand) and southeast Africa (South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania).  I even climbed up to Everest Base Camp.  The experiences refreshed, refocused and reinvigorated me.  I was ready to make my next big move… to New Haven, Connecticut.


Yale and my 3Es Plan

Today, I am an MBA candidate at Yale University‘s School of Management.  I am a leader of the Energy Club and the European Club and participate in the school’s admissions and placement processes.  I interned at Shell’s Future Fuels & CO2 group in the London, where I worked on a strategy for collaborating with automotive companies to bring new fuels like second-generation biofuels, gas-to-liquids and hydrogen to the market.

I decided to conduct an international exchange program at IIMB because it fits nicely with what I call my “3Es Plan.”  Leaders are defined by their values and their ability to deliver on commitments.  Three values define who I am:

  1. Equality,
  2. Environment, and
  3. Emerging Economies.

First and foremost, I am commited to reducing inequality in this world.  I have seen its destructive force tear-up the dreams of individuals, communities and societies.  Secondly, I believe one of the biggest inequalities faced by our global society is that of a safe environment.   The poor (particularly those in developing countries) suffer more from environmental degradation than the rich.  Everyone has the right to clean air and water.  And finally, I am committed to making an impact by working in emerging economies.  The need for working on inequality and environmental issues in my developing world is more urgent.

From the banana farms of rural Costa Rica to the stately halls of Yale – I have come a long way.  I am extremely fortunate to be here at IIMB, one of India’s finest institutions, tonight.  It is a privilege for me to be participating in Numero Uno alongside some of the sharpest minds in the world.

I didn’t get to this point in my life journey alone.  Hundreds of people in the developing world lifted me and guided me along the way.  I have a tremendous responsibility to pay them back.  And, I will.

Post scripts:

  • Yale recently profiled me on their website.  Check it out to learn more.
  • You can read my other blog entries via the tabs on the page header.