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This article was first published 13 years ago

Inspiring story of a blind Indian MBA

Last updated on: December 17, 2010 19:23 IST

Image: Ashish Goyal
Photographs: Pagalguy

Years ago as an NMIMS Mumbai student, during placements a corporate house told Ashish Goyal to find himself a job in the government sector, since it has a quota system for the physically challenged. Having turned blind in his teens because of an eye condition called retinitis pigmentosa, Ashish did not take the advice lightly.

He not only got himself placed at ING Vysya but also stood second in his batch at NMIMS. Later, Ashish went on to do an MBA from the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Today, the Mumbai boy has a plum job at JP Morgan's London operations.

Over the years, Ashish has not only earned milestones in his professional space but also done plenty in his personal life -- from learning to play Brazilian drums and learning the Argentine tango to boxing and performing on stage, besides many other things.

He was in India to receive the National Award for the Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, 2010 from the President of India.'s Lajwanti D'souza talked to him what success means to a visually challenged person, what inspired him in life, how he handles depression and... his dream date woman.

What does this award mean to you in real terms. Do awards make a difference at all?

This award means a lot to me; it's special to be recognised and I am really humbled. Frankly it has not sunk in, meeting the President, meeting other award winners. I am really excited. The difference that this will make, well, the most important thing is that encouragement works wonders for everyone I would think.

We get lost in this race called life so much, that a special moment like this makes you take a step back, acknowledge the recognition and thank God for all that has happened. It's reinvigorating to keep doing the best you can. Also, if this award helps spread awareness and change people's attitudes towards people with disabilities... that will be the best outcome.

about Ashish and his success story.

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Inspiring story of a blind Indian MBA

Image: Traders work in the JP Morgan company stall on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Photographs: Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Describe what you do for a living and whether it has enriched your existence and vice-versa.

I work for JP Morgan's Chief Investment Office and we help manage the bank's exposure in various markets across different geographies. It's a very significant and satisfying role at a bank like JP Morgan, which has a huge balance sheet and large exposures. Proper balance sheet management can make a tremendous impact to all stakeholders from depositors, clients to shareholders and employees.

Vice-versa, well all I can say is that I am happy that I have been able to live up to expectations and hope to keep doing the same going forward. Also being a student of macro-economics and geo-politics, my job keeps me sharp and interested in this ever changing dynamic world.

Do you think Indian B-schools are responsive to people with mental or physical challenges? There is this physically challenged boy fighting a long legal battle with the IIMs after being denied admission.

My answer will be a little dated, as I have not lived in India for 5 years now and I applied to Indian business schools back in 2000. The main difference in my two experiences (in India and in the US) is this: abroad, there is a clear process and system to deal with students and applicants with disabilities, of course helped by regulations.

Internationally, as with Wharton, it was pretty easy when it came to following the process and providing a level playing ground. Where as in India, the process was not streamlined and a lot of ad hoc decision making would need to happen on the basis of perceptions even though regulations existed.

This was not just the case in B-schools, I would say that was true of most institutes. What Wharton did, was it gave me a level playing field to compete and learn on merit and that's all we require I guess... the rest is up to ability.

Inspiring story of a blind Indian MBA

Image: Three blind men help each other cross a busy road in the eastern Indian city of Calcutta
Photographs: Jayanta Shaw/Reuters

Is there anything that you are doing or would like to do in the sphere of helping those visually challenged?

I have fleetingly been in touch with this organisation called Enable India. It's a great model, training disabled individuals to become independent and acquire the right skill sets for a job, then working with companies to get them to hire these people, and finally making sure that the first few months the transition goes smoothly.

I am also involved with 2 other issues, education through Pratham which reaches out to the poor and educating kids for free, and the Akshay Patra Foundation, which is Asia's largest mid-day meal programme.

Is there a better sense of concern for those 'challenged' abroad than in India? Here, even getting a ramp made in a housing society is a big hassle.

Yes, as mentioned, there is a difference in terms of infrastructure and facilities, but hopefully that is changing, as the government and a lot of non-profit organisations are working towards that change. But most importantly I feel individuals like you and I need to be more receptive and accepting.

One important thing that needs to be mentioned is that people with disabilities are individuals who have gone through various circumstances and are very different to each other. It's not fair to club all of them as the same... and even less fair to club all kinds of disabilities as the same. I have no idea what I would do or how people in a wheelchair cope or what about people with not-so-obvious disabilities or challenges like learning or mental disabilities.

What kind of vocations would you advise physically challenged persons take up given the job market scenario? The Indian government has gone only as far as giving out PCO booths.

In India and abroad, I have met disabled individuals like me doing all kinds of jobs. I believe it comes down to ambition and practicality combined. When I was going through recruiting from NMIMS, I was shocked when one of the companies told me that I should begin my career in a government organisation as they have quotas and that they would not interview me. I could have given up hope then and there, but I really don't see a lot of issues for disabled people doing various things. There are lawyers, media professionals, bankers, IT professionals, teachers, you name it...

Inspiring story of a blind Indian MBA

Image: Kenyan blind runner Henry Wanyoike Wahu (R) and his guide Joseph Kibunja mark their time while crossing the finish line during the Hong Kong Marathon
Photographs: Bobby Yip/Reuters

Have you thought of designing products, furniture or gadgets for those with disabilities and challenges?

I have offered to be a tester for a couple of products and whenever I have any idea, I speak to my friends who work in a similar field. There are people and companies across the world working on this.

Have you learnt cooking? That's what you said you wanted to learn, the last time around.

Yes, but do I cook? No, I hate the entire cleaning process that follows.

Where do you see yourself five years down the line?

I want to definitely do something for the country (India). Don't yet know in what shape or form. The way my life has evolved, I think 5 years is a long time, but hopefully I will have discovered my calling by then.

Is there something you'd like to say to those who think their lives are always on the downturn?

I don't feel any issue is too small or too big. I think one can make it small or big. If there is an issue, finding a solution and working through it is the best approach because only we can affect that change instantly or attempt it. If we feel there is no hope and don't see a solution it will be difficult for others to help. It's most important not to run away from those issues, but work with them and take them head on.

What do you do when you get depressed?

Eat chocolates. Nope, kidding. I guess I call up my closest friends and talk about it... go change my mood... ponder... and sleep... its depressing being depressed, so I try and limit it :) .

You are one lucky guy to have your family with you? Not all physically-challenged people are as fortunate.

I can't even imagine my life without my Guruji and my family. I feel very fortunate to have such an amazing support system, blessings and some great friends. I don't know if I can advise anyone here, but I would say for others, when you see someone like this, please lend them your hand. Being nice to people doesn't cost anything and your simple act could change someone else's world. I can't even enumerate the number of times living alone in a foreign land, absolute strangers, who I will probably never meet again, have helped me or made life easier for me.

Inspiring story of a blind Indian MBA

Image: Ashish Goyal's guru, Balaji Tambe

Who is your ideal date?

Too personal a question (don't wanna spill the beans actually... haha...). Well I enjoy the company of intelligent and interesting women in general.

Would you have achieved so much had fate not been cruel to you when you were in your teens and when you lost your vision to retinitis pigmentosa after being born with proper vision?

My guruji Dr Balaji Tambe has been my guiding force and I would have crumbled without him. I have pondered at length about this question and about the saying -- everything happens for the best. If I had regular sight, I could easily see myself being a very average spoiled kid, doing nothing with my life and living an inconsequential existence.

Well, that would be taking the worst case scenario for sure, but this disability made me focus and work hard for everything, and most importantly it made me believe in myself and gave me an attitude to keep trying, giving my best, and enjoying every experience.

Do you think your MBA degree has got you where you are today? Or do you believe you had it in you to circumvent every obstacle?

The people I met in my MBA years, the opportunities I got have been overwhelming. I would relive my MBA experience anytime. An MBA can make a major difference in your life if you know what you want out of it. There are so many things you could choose from and so many ways in which you can shape yourself... and improve your career and social life. It's easy also to not do anything sometimes, but believe me that would be such a waste of opportunity.