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Bharat Joshi

British Deputy High Commissioner, Chennai

Part of UK in India

27th September 2014 Chennai, India

Unsung heroes

Last month I turned 45. I’m not telling you this so you can congratulate or commiserate with me, although my beloved wife did – very sweetly – remind me that I’m now numerically closer to 50 than 40 (thanks darling).

But I do find that birthdays are increasingly occasions for reflection. This year, I was thinking about why I love my job. Part of it, undoubtedly, is about being a part of SOMETHING IMPORTANT. So far in my career, I’ve been closely involved in big policy decisions, particularly around Africa, that have transformed the lives of millions for the better. I was actually with Prime Minister Tony Blair in Gleneagles at that magic moment when he got the call telling him that London had won the 2012 Olympics. I was also a part of the first-line response to the tragic terrorist attack on our Consulate in Istanbul in 2003. I’ve attended 2 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings, 6 AU Summits, 2 UNGAs and a G8.

But a big part of what motivates me is the very special people that I get to meet and work with every day. Some are household names. But I’m struck there are loads of people out there doing amazing things, often with little or no recognition. I thought that this under-used blog would be a good place to highlight 3 people that I’ve met in the last 11 months here that have enriched my life, and inspired me to do more and – I hope – better.The first is Abhaya Kumar who, for me, epitomises the phrase entrepreneur, and is one of the nicest and simplest people you could ever meet. His ability to see opportunity – including in cutting-edge new technologies – where others see just risk, and to trust his own judgement and ability. In 1975 Abhaya became a qualified Chemical engineer. He told his reluctant father that he wanted to go into business rather than work for someone else. Taking advice from family friends, he set up Shasun Pharmaceuticals. With his 2 brothers (a doctor and chartered accountant respectively), Shasun has grown into an organisation with 4 factories, 3000 staff and registered INR 100 crore (£10m) profits in FY 2012-2013. In 2006, Shasun bought a loss-making factory in Newcastle, North East of United Kingdom and turned it around. The factory now employs 300 people, is at the sharp end of pharmaceutical manufacturing and

S Abhaya Kumar

preparing for an exciting new future as new products come on-line. In 2004, while taking a break from Shasun, Abhaya became acting CEO at his daughter’s animation company while she did an MBA, and in 2 years had turned it into a film animation company that did the work on films including I am Legend, Hancock, Spiderman 3, the Amazing Spiderman I and II and the Men in Black series. The company was subsequently sold to Sony (he’s now bought it back!). On one his trips to Hollywood in 2004, Abhaya dropped into Tampa, Florida to see some new technology he’d heard about. He eventually bought into it against the objections of many who thought it was a crazy investment, thereby creating Lifecell India – India’s biggest stem cell bank – with Ashwariya Rai Bachaan as Brand Ambassador. He continues to look for opportunities to support budding entrepreneurs, especially in IT startups. And if that wasn’t enough, he has started Sri Shankarlal Sundarbai Shasun Jain College for women and few other Schools, including the opening a few months ago of the new School of Liberal Education for Girls in Chennai, the first of its kind.

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Mahesh and Suresh Ramakrishnan

The second are two brothers, Mahesh and Suresh Ramakrishnan. Their dedication to quality and putting helping the less fortunate at the heart of their business model. Two of three identical triplets (the third works for the Gates Foundation), with top US Business Degrees under their belts (Suresh also has an MBA from Wharton), they were on the fast-track.  Mahesh was a Senior Managing Director at Scient, while Suresh was a VP at Goldman Sachs. But their shared passion/ (read obsession) was for high-quality men’s clothing. Their wives talk about how they used to wait outside stores in New York while Mahesh and Suresh bought $3000 suits which they took home not to wear, but to deconstruct to see how they were put together! In 2004, the brothers decided to leave the rat race and bought a Savile Row firm called Whitcomb and Shaftesbury. W&S now supplies suits, shirts, etc to European Royalty, film stars from Hollywood to Bollywood to Kollywood, sports personalities and some of the worlds leading sportsmen. It insists on the very best quality, using mostly not just the highest quality English textiles, but also ancillary products like buttons, canvas, etc from UK SMEs, many of whom have been in business for generations and are facing the pressure from off-the-rack clothing and cheaper imports. But the boys also saw the business as a route to help some of the most vulnerable. So post-Tsunami they started training widows that had lost everything to give them a hand up, and offered customers the choice of having their suits stitched in Savile Row or in Chennai. They’ve now trained over 4,000 local people using the same training models as those employed on Savile Row, not only creating livelihoods in India, but helping revive a dying art as W & S master tailors train new generations of craftsmen in India, ensuring their skills their skills are passed on. W & S currently employs around 100 full-time staff in Chennai. Their commitment to creating more jobs in India is driving a planned expansion into top-end made-to-measure.

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Madhavi Latha

The third person is Madhavi Latha, an extraordinary woman, whose resilience, infectious enthusiasm and commitment to others is inspirational. Madhavi had polio as an infant. At 7, she’d had surgery on both legs and was told she’d need calipers for life. Instead, she crawled on the ground until she was 20. She was a bright – and determined – student. At 16, although an Honours student, she couldn’t find a College ready to accommodate her, so she studied alone and graduated with First Class Honours. Her next goal was to become financially independent. Madhavi passed the banking exam and was allocated a job with a State Bank. But the bank’s doctor evaluated her as “unfit for service”. She lobbied the bank until she was finally employed as a cashier. Over 15 years, she rose to Deputy Manager, acquiring an MBA en route. In 2006, she joined Scope International, part of Standard Chartered Bank, where she is currently an associate Vice-President. At 37, suffering from severe back pain and muscle weakness, a leading orthopaedic surgeon recommended emergency spinal surgery to save her mobility and quite possibly her life. Aware of the risks of spinal surgery, she approached a physiotherapist who suggested hydrotherapy. Madhavi couldn’t swim, so she taught herself in the local public pool. In 2010, she entered a Corporate Olympiad. The organisers didn’t think she could stay the course, so let her swim with expert swimmers for safety. She finished – of course – and won “Most Encouraging Sportsperson” award. The following year, she won the bronze medal. Also in 2011, she competed in the National Paralympic Swimming Championship, winning 3 gold medals and the Individual Championship in her class. With the regret that she hadn’t started swimming earlier, Madhavi started giving presentations in schools, colleges and elsewhere to encourage disabled people to start exercising. She registered a trust called YWTC (Yes We Too Can) to support other disabled people, and formed the Paralympic Swimming Association of Tamil Nadu. YWTC has lobbied for better facilities, and the State Government has now started construction of a 100% accessible swimming pool. Her newest project is support for wheelchair basketball and bocccia.

I apologize for the length of this blog, although you should blame the three brilliant individuals rather than me for their achievements. I’d love to hear from readers about other unsung heroes: maybe this blog would be a good place to recognise the things that they do.

39 comments on “Unsung heroes

  1. Hi Bharat,
    I would like to do a story on Madhavi. Could you please get me in touch with her? Also, since journalism is a deadline oriented field, as soon as you can.
    Kindly contact me soon at my email id.

  2. Deeply inspiring messages from your blog. This generation of youth really requires right kind of inspirations and thoughts from great people like you. And it can change the world considerably.

    1. Thanks Shankar

      I don’t claim to be great, but I do have the privilege of dealing with people who are


  3. Extremely well written Bharat, Congratulations! Its amazing how within such a short time of your arrival into Chennai you have been able to pick up such finer details and recognise them on your blog. I eagerly await your next one!! Cheers, Tareen

  4. Truly very inspiring and really feel proud to hear such achievments made, thanks for sharing stories of such personalities, its really motivates and feel good for the mentioned unsung heroes.

  5. That is such a lovely piece. The stories of All three (four) truly inspirational — one common thread — all four (including Madhavi, my good friend too) are entrepreneurial (am one of the breed too, an impact entrepreneur doing my bit). The entrepreneurial spirit is what will make lives of people better all over the world. Best wishes and belated happy birthday. Hope to meet you in person again !!!

    1. Thanks Rajasekharan. I’d love to gear more about what you’re doing with entrepreneurs.

  6. Hi Bharat
    Truly inspiring stories. Acknowledging their achievements and work is important. And your blog does just that. When people in influential places recognise and spread the word about achievers, it motivates them as well as readers far more. Keep up the writing. You have the knack. Ram

    1. Thanks Ram. You know that I admire what you’re doing with IntelliZon in Africa. You and Abhaya havd a very similar spirit, I think.

  7. Wow ! So simply but “straight from the heart” put… I’m privileged to know the Shasun brothers and am always amazed at their simplicity and unassuming humility at all they have achieved. Reading your vignette has just reinforced this… Doc Devendra is a personal friend and a great inspiration too…
    On another note, I’m not sure you remember – but we met at last year’s St Andrews Nite and we have a common good friend, Ramu ! Look forward to seeing you guys this year too….

    1. I do remember, and you may have noticed that Ram has commented too. See you soon, I hope.

  8. Brilliant!! Awesome and very inspiring article. Proud to read about the extraordinary achievements of each and everyone. Humility, perseverance, willingness to learn, accepting challenges and risks and helping others are some of the life lessons we can learn from these individuals. Kudos to each and everyone and to you as well Bharat for this inspiring article.

    Radha Badri

  9. It’s great to read such insight into inspirational people. You’re def on that list for me too! Madhavi Latha is a force to be reckoned with – truly amazing! Thanks for sharing bharat bhai.

    1. Thanks Ravi. I suspect your name could also be on that list, given the number of entrepreneurs you’ve helped. I’m sure others – like me – would love to hear your story.

  10. Dear Sir,
    I have been lucky to know Abhaya Sir since my Childhood (my father, Bharat Joshi, has worked with him for more than 15 years.) He has definitely been a source of inspiration to many including me. I have also had the privilege to work under him at initial start up days of both Sony Imageworks(FrameFlow) and LifeCell. He is currently supporting me in my entrepreneurial venture in Audio/Video and Surveillance. He had not only helped me in my education but also pursued me to Audio Engineering at a time it was needed the most.

    He is truly a very simple person and always looking to getting out the best in any person.

    Vishal Joshi

    1. Thanks Vishal. It’s great to hear that validation from someone who knows Abhaya so well, and also to know there are at least 2 Bharat Joshi’s in Chennai. Say hi to your dad, my namesake!

  11. awesome Write Up… Thanks For Motivating… A Gem Of People Who Have In Their Own Way Through Your Writing Has Motivated Many Like Me…

Comments are closed.

About Bharat Joshi

Bharat was brought up in Kent. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1995 from the hotel industry and has had diplomatic postings to the Gambia, Dhaka and…

Bharat was brought up in Kent. He joined the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in 1995 from the hotel industry and has
had diplomatic postings to the Gambia, Dhaka and Qatar. He was most
recently British High Commissioner to Cameroon, and non-Resident Ambassador to Gabon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic.
Before that he worked as a Private Secretary to two British Ministers, as well as in various Departments of the FCO including the European Union Department and Press Office.
Bharat has experience of crisis management and has been deployed to the scenes of major incidents involving British nationals, including after the tragic bombing of the British Consulate-General in Istanbul in 2003.
Bharat’s varied career has been spent dealing with a full range of
HMG objectives, including promoting political and economic reform and
improved human rights; improved UK prosperity through trade; climate
change and UN policy issues. A major part of his portfolio in Chennai is supporting mutual prosperity between the UK and India, transforming lives through jobs, entrepreneurship and skills partnerships.
Bharat has been very happily married (at least forhim) to Bhakti for 18 years and they have two
wonderful daughters. His interests are cricket, badminton, history, reading and travelling.
Bharat speaks English, French, Gujarati and Hindi and Spanish, and is desperate to learn Tamil.