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Home > Business > Special

Shashi Tharoor joins the corporate world

Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC | May 10, 2007

Former United Nations Under Secretary General Shashi Tharoor has accepted a position as chairman of Afras Ventures, a new company based out of Dubai that seeks to promote foreign investment in India, specifically Kerala.

While he has obtained legal residency in Dubai, he shuttle between New York, Dubai and India.

Dr Tharoor told rediff India Abroad, "I will keep my place in New York, but I am a legal resident now of Dubai -- that is where I officially reside. I will also be spending a lot of time in India. I expect to be living out of a suitcase. So, I will remain an NRI (Non-Resident Indian)."

Explaining how he came to be the chairman of the Dubai-based company, Dr Tharoor said, "There is another company, Afras Limited, which is the principal activity of my partner, that is one of the world's leading suppliers of pipes for the oil and gas industry. He gets them from European manufacturers and sells them to the Saudis, Omanis and others."

He said Afras Managing Director Nandakumar Radhakrishnan -- a fellow Keralite, whom he had not met before, but was apparently a distant relative of his -- had been one of many people in the private sector, think tanks and universities, who tapped him to join their company or organisation.

After a few visits to Dubai and meetings with Radhakrishnan and reviewing the concept of this new spin-off of his company to promote investment in India, he decided to accept his offer.

Dr Tharoor said "this gentleman, who had a family connection, got in touch with me and told me what he has been doing in Dubai and that he had made a success with Afras Ltd. And if I would be willing to come in with him in this new venture in a 50:50 partnership and try seriously to focus on India."

"His argument was: 'Why can't we contribute to the development of our country while at the same time making some money in the process through the private sector of the world?'."

"I thought about it and it struck me I would be chairman, there would be profit participation, but there was also the dimension of actually making a contribution," Dr Tharoor added.

"One of the first things I did, after I wrapped up at the UN, turned in my diplomatic passport and got an ordinary one, got my visas, was go off to Dubai. I spent 10 days there in this company and then we traveled to Kerala together."

In Kerala, both he and Radhakrishnan met with Chief Minister V S Achuthanandan, the state's finance and education ministers and several senior government officials. They discussed areas of investment in terms of promoting further development of the state.

Afras Ventures, Dr Tharoor said, would promote investment "from wherever we can get it -- it can be the US, it can be the Gulf countries, whatever. The idea is to see whether we can do something for development. The private sector frankly now is the engine of development, so I want to see what I can do in that area."

He spoke of how "when I lost the race (for the UN secretary general's post as the Government of India's nominee), I found myself receiving an astonishing number of calls from a bewilderingly wide range of prospective employers. What startled me was the fact that this happened. Let us face it, for 29 years (his tenure at the UN), I haven't even looked for a job."

"Suddenly, I found myself inundated. I was approached by a couple of very distinguished think tanks -- they were solid offers -- and I was approached by a couple of universities. One or two of them re-opened closed short-lists to put me on it."

Dr Tharoor said all of this happened so fast "and I almost sleepwalked into a university. To be quite honest because I was initially reeling from a prospective change in my life, I kind of said yes to everybody who called, saying 'Yes, I'll consider it.' I began to think seriously when I became a finalist for a position -- which I was privately told was pretty much mine if I wanted it."

He said when it dawned on him that this university faculty position was about to be his, "I got to ask myself what I really wanted to do -- because those (teaching at a university) are the kinds of things in some ways I can conceivably do at a later stage of my life. But right now, I still feel I am mid-career. Like a good computer that has crashed, I need to re-boot and which way do I re-boot?"

"So in my re-booting, I figured out having spent a lifetime in public service, that I should do something that I've never done before, that would stretch me a little bit."

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