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Interview with Mahendra Nath




Mahendra Nath was born in India and immigrated to the U.S. in the mid 1960s. He attended college in India and Minnesota. He worked first for a U.S. corporation, and later began his own business. SUBJECTS DISCUSSED: Efforts to organize the Indian Club at the University of Minnesota - work experience at a U.S. corporation - India Association - India house - his first business, his other business dealings and entrepreneurial experiences - the value of education, hard work and financial planning - maintaining family ties, future and retirement plans.





World Region



Interview with Mahendra Nath Interviewed by Polly Sonifer Interviewed on November 11, 1994 at Mr. Nath's St. Louis Park office PS: MN: Good morning, Mr. Nath. Good morning.

PS: First of all, Mr. Nath, can you tell me the part of India you came from. MN: PS: MN: PS: New Delhi. And that’s in which province? That’s Delhi state, and it’s in North India. What’s the climate like there?

MN: I think we have four distinct seasons in Delhi, North part of India: winter, spring, summer, and fall, more or less like here, but the gradation of temperatures is different. PS: MN: PS: MN: PS: MN: Did you come here directly from India? Yes. What age were you when you immigrated? 1964. And how old were you then? I was 24 years old.

PS: Can you tell me a little about what your family was like in India? MN: My mother has been a school teacher, and my dad was an insurance executive? PS: You had brothers and sisters?



I have three sisters and no brother. And are you the oldest? I am the oldest, and with that goes responsibility. So when did you first think about leaving India?

MN: I thought about coming to U.S.A. in 1961 when I graduated with a BS. in mechanical engineering. At that time, just because of the love of parents and also not finalizing the plans, I worked there for three years before coming here. But I had thought of in 1961 and planned for it and I knew I was going to go so it was a question of whether in a year or two or three. PS: How did your family respond when you said you wanted to come to the U.S.A. MN: I think initially, like Indian parents, they responded somewhat negative, like “Why do you have to go such a far away distance?” At that point in time, there were other people coming like my own friends. It wasn’t like, “You cannot go.” It was like think of the separation, and they will not be able to see me as frequently as they were seeing me at that time. PS: MN: PS: Did you come as a student? Yes. What did you come to study and where?

MN: I came to study a master’s in industrial engineering at the University of Minnesota. PS: What did you find when you came here? What was it like?

MN: I came in the month of August. The weather was just fine, so there was not an extreme exchange. I found people friendly, extremely friendly. I just felt at home. PS: Do you remember anything in particular about your journey? Did you fly or come in a boat? MN: I flew. I came in New York, Kennedy, JFK, Kennedy airport. A friend of my dad was there to receive me. He was in the embassy. I stayed with him three days. He showed me around New York and so I think it started out that somebody from home was


there to receive me. And then flew to Minnesota and I had a host family, Patty and Bob Shoop. They came to receive me at the airport. PS: How did you get hooked up with them?

MN: From the university I got correspondence that I was assigned a host family to make my initial stay comfortable and at the same time get used to the type of life. PS: Did you stay in their home?

MN: I stayed in their home three weeks, and even to this day, we are very good friends. Our relationship has stayed strong. PS: What struck you when you first came, the things that stood out that were very, very different from back home? MN: I think if I now go back 30 years, the main remembrance I have is it was a very clean city that I came to, Minneapolis. New York did not impress me as a clean city. People were very friendly and hospitable. Those were my first impressions. And it seemed like very safe place, not that at that time when I came, in Delhi, I didn’t find any crime there either, but here it kind of looked like everybody was very safe to walk on the roads at any time. PS: Do you keep having that impression or has that changed?

MN: I think now that has changed because there are a lot of areas in the Twin Cities where you say you don’t drive at night, not even in certain parts of the day, like near Lake Street, but that wasn’t like that when I came. PS: Were you on a student visa when you came?

MN: I was, yes. I might give you another observation to the previous question. During the initial two, three weeks when I arrived in Minneapolis, Patty used to drive me out to University of Minnesota. This was the orientation two weeks, where you get used to your classrooms, get used to the campus and library and other things. I do remember when we drove out of the driveway, she never closed the garage door down, never locked the front door, and she dropped me and she went shopping and everything, and when she picked me up and I knew she has not gone home during this time, so the doors were open and there was no problem.



And that was a surprise?

MN: That was a surprise, and I wrote a lot about it back home. That’s not the situation now. PS: MN: PS: In New Delhi, do you always lock your doors? Yes. And even now in Minneapolis, you lock your doors. That’s right. I always lock mine.

MN: We hear in our mythology dating back thousands of years that there was a time when it was called Ram Raj, “Ram” is our god and “Raj” is the times of, there used to be no crime, nobody locked any doors, everybody was honest, that’s the kind of impression I got when I came here -- not to the extreme -- which was not only a surprise but at that same time, a pleasant surprise, and I was very impressed by that. Now that wasn’t the case in New York. I did see a lot of things that were not as great as Minneapolis. PS: MN: PS: So when you got to winter, did your impressions change? No, my impressions didn’t change... But the temperature did (laughter).

MN: The temperature did, and of course, in the beginning it was very hard to get used to, but I was so focused and dedicated to studies that that became secondary. Never at any time did I thought, "Why am I here?" and "I shouldn’t have been here." PS: I think that every year. And I’ve lived here all of my life! (laughter) MN: Probably most of us say that for the sake of saying that. It is my feeling that everybody does not mean that. Maybe some of the people might be frustrated, but I know some of my friends who are still here that we used to chat and joke about the cold, but I think not to the point where we say let’s back up and go because of the weather. Plus, I think when you have a mission and busy on certain things, accomplishing that mission, I think cold becomes secondary. PS: Did you have any continuing obligations to your family back in India while you were here as a student?



No. How did you communicate with them? Through letters and phone. So they had a phone? Yes. Was that somewhat unusual? I think a lot of homes did not have phones, but we did. Did you work while you were a student?

MN: Yes, I was a research assistant at the U while I was studying which was just analyzing some reports, doing some statistical conclusion, but it was not heavy stuff. PS: What kind of Indian community did you find when you arrived in 1964? Were there many Indian students? MN: Well, I was groping for many, there were not too many students. PS: How many, would you say?

MN: At the time I came, all totaled, I think there were 125 students. PS: Was the student association running at that time?

MN: The Indian Club was not running, because we formed that later on. I think we did have an Indian association at the campus. We used to meet, arrange some of the social programs, and one of them was showing a movie once a month at the University campus in some hall. And that was the social place for everybody to come and we used to look forward to that. PS: And that’s a whole night of entertainment, because Indian movies are very long. MN: Right, there was three hours for the movie, and then half hour of intermission where you intermingle with people. That was one place were satisfied our desire of meeting that many people at one time.



Was that mostly young men at that time?

MN: At that time, mostly young men, very few young girls, and most of us were unmarried. PS: Did you have linguistic problems initially?

MN: Not to speak of did I have any problems of language, because I spoke English right from the school, but of course the accent was different, and I also had to learn to say Nath [pronounced with a long “a”] rather than Nath [pronounced ä] because in India I was known as Nath [ä]. PS: MN: So they changed your name for you? And other things like that.

PS: When you came, was it your intention to study and then go back to India? MN: Yes, my intention was to go school for a year, get some experience for another year, just as the training, and then go back to India. PS: What happened that changed that?

MN: I think the opportunity was so great over here, and the life was so -- one way to say it is comfortable, and the other way to say it was full of independence, full of opportunity -- that I stayed for a longer period of time. For the first ten years of my stay here, always something in the back of my mind was that I was going back. PS: MN: So for ten years you kept that idea? Yes. Describe what that

PS: You said independence was appealing. independence was like that.

MN: In the social scene in India, there is a lot of responsibility towards society, towards parents, towards the relatives, and some taboos which you have to act certain ways even if you don’t feel like doing that way. There was nothing like that here. You can do almost anything you want to.


PS: Really? In any part of the community? Indian community?

Or just in the

MN: In any part of the community. You just live like a free bird and you didn’t have any social restrictions, any mental restrictions of any kind, and then found the society was more outgoing, there was more logic to what you did. There were no taboos of any kind where you are required to do this even though it doesn’t make any sense. I don’t mean to say that all the things I have said are wrong in India. Some of them probably are good to keep some of the young men and women in check, because things have gone too far, but at that time when I was here, I think it was quite a good balance. We knew the values, we knew somewhat what is good and what is bad ethically, but at the same time, there was more freedom to your actions. PS: Tell me about how your family valued formal education.

MN: There was great emphasis on education, right from the childhood. Even today, also, in our own family, we place a lot of emphasis on education because I think that lends itself to betterment of life and better quality of life later on. You meet the right kind of people if you are in that kind of environment, plus economically you are better off. Socially one is better off because you would meet better people. PS: Were expectations about education different t for boys and girls in your family? MN: Not in my family. I think the expectations were they all had to do good. In my family, at least, it wasn’t that my sisters could go to lesser schooling or it doesn’t matter if they don’t do good. PS: MN: PS: MN: Did you all your sisters complete college? Oh yes. Did any of them come to the United States to study? All three are in the United States.

PS: Which institutions did you attend? You received your bachelor’s degree in India. What school was that at? MN: That was the University of Delhi.



What year did you finish there? That was 1961. And you graduated from the University of Minnesota in . . .?

MN: 1965, with a master’s in industrial engineering and minor in business. PS: Do you feel like your education was sufficient for the work you’re doing in life? Did it serve you well? MN: PS: I think so. How did your family define success?

MN: I think successful means being good in education, you got good grades in education, you did some meaningful study. Even English, languages would be meaningful study. I was in the technical and scientific fields so that was even preferred at that time. A degree from a good school and getting good grades was considered to be successful in education. Now nobody knows how much we learned. PS: Someplace along the line you got married because you told me you have children and I see your wife’s picture over there on your desk. How did that come about? MN: In 1967, I got married. This was the only way we knew how to get married. You meet a girl, and the girl meets you. You talk to each other. Sometimes those things were arranged. Sometimes if you were in college, you met a lady, and then the parents played a role in getting to know that the individuals like each other, love each other. But during the time I was raised, arranged marriage was the way to get married, at least in our family. They would have arranged for me to see some girls and then we would talk and meet for a few hours and if we like each other, . . . . That’s how the marriage took place. PS: So that’s what happened for you?

MN: In my case, when I went in 1967 with a specific purpose of - well, if I can get married, I will get married. So it was arranged that way. They had already lined up my meetings with a few girls and I reached on Fourth of June, and after waiting three or four days I was going to start that process, but it so happened that my current wife, her aunt is our neighbor. So my


aunt had told my mother, please make sure that your son does meet my current wife. This was not talked about beforehand. This was you can say unarranged and unexpected and unplanned. So we met each other in their house, and we talked to each other for three hours. So after that, the parents ask the girl and the parents ask the boy, "Did you like each other? Would you want to get married?" I had not even started to see anybody else yet, which I was planning to see. So I said, "I’ll let you know in a day or so." And the same thing they must have asked her. I did like her and I wanted to marry her. At that point in time, I had made up my mind, but I had not said that right away. Then the thought came to mind if I go through the process of seeing the other girls and then decide I want to marry her, then you don’t give the same pride to the person, saying "Hey, I liked you and I didn’t see anybody." So that little pride for my wife, I said "No, I’ve made up my mind that if it is okay with them, it is okay with me." PS: So you didn’t even meet any of the other women.

MN: No, and I think she had also liked me at that point in time, and so did the parents like each other as well. When you marry in India, at that time at least, it wasn’t only matching of the boy and girl, it was matching of the families too so they have similar backgrounds. Helping similar kinds of backgrounds helps the marriage. So, I said okay, and that was 7th or 8th of June, and 11th of June happens to be my birthday; so that was a good day to get engaged. So we got engaged, and on the 22nd of June we got married, and on the Fourth of July, I was back here with my wife, whose name is Asha. She also works in the office. This looks like a drama for people here to even imagine that somebody who never knew anybody can get married, and we have been married since 1967. We have a very successful marriage, and we are very happy. It is beyond the comprehension of a lot of people, but this goes into a lot of philosophy. The way we now see people going together two, three years, they live together for three years, and then fifty percent or more of the marriages fall apart. So I don’t know what it is. PS: MN: Your religious tradition is Hindu? Yes. Isn’t that part of the

PS: Did you match your astrology charts? process? MN: I did not.



Your parents didn’t either.

MN: My parents didn’t either, but I heard after the marriage that astrology charts were made. This is very funny that in that astrology chart, I’m told that Asha’s mother was told my the priest, the astrologer, that somebody with a first initial M -this was before I met her -- is going to marry your daughter and it is going to happen in June. They all laughed because they had no idea. (laugh) So I understand that did happen, but no, I did not go to any astrologer. As a matter of fact, I don’t go to the astrologers because I feel that might psychologically affect the outcome. If I was going to do something, I am going to do it anyway, but if astrologer said something, I might get influenced, so I don’t go to the astrologers. PS: So if you tried to match your charts and they said you guys just won’t make it together, you might believe it. MN: If I didn’t believe them, maybe my parents would, or somebody in my relations might, and they would say, "See, we told you." PS: Tell me about your wedding. What was it like?

MN: Since the wedding was arranged so fast, so quick -- I had to come back because I had only one month vacation, it couldn’t happen the present way we married our daughter. It wasn’t that elaborate, but it was elaborate enough. We went on the house like a procession. PS: Was this in a house?

MN: You see, the wedding takes place in the girl’s house, but the bridegroom’s house is also decorated the same way because our relatives will come to our house, and then since their house and our house was about 20 miles apart, you had to go on the buses about a half mile away from the house and then go in a procession, all the band and the dance and all those kind of things. We do remember we had a military band as part of the wedding. Then, the feasting. And the ceremony, which at that point in time, took three hours after all the dinner and the feasting and the drinks, all those things. So the wedding took place from 11:00 p.m. till 2:00 a.m. PS: Long day.



Long day.

PS: Had you seen Asha from the time you talked and the time that you got married? MN: There were only 15 days after we met. We did meet a few times but we were always chaperoned. There was no need to. She still complains, why didn’t I take the initiative on my own part to somehow meet her on the pretext where nobody was around, but I think at that time there were a lot of things to be done, plus if you were caught alone, they would say why couldn’t you wait for a little bit more? That was one of the taboos, one of the customs that is not now practiced, but at that time dating was not a popular thing. PS: That was one of the freedoms you appreciated here. Did you ever date anyone here in the United States before you went back to India to get married? MN: Not in the sense like with any intentions of marrying, with the intentions of getting involved or something. PS: But you went out with women?

MN: Not too many times, two, three times, along with a group of other friends. We were in the dormitory, and Pioneer Hall was just across from us, and if we went together to a game or something like this. Again, the meaning of dating is just like going out for a drink together or going to see a game, but without any intentions of getting involved. PS: Tell me about how your children along. You brought her back here on the Fourth of July, and the fireworks were going off. MN: (Laughter) That’s true, that’s true. I think two years later our daughter was born, and then between my daughter and my son there is a five year difference. We had planned in that manner to have only two kids, and it was nice that we were able to get one boy and one girl from a variety standpoint. That’s the way we wanted it, that’s the we planned it, and that’s the way it happened. PS: Did your wife work outside the home when the children were little? I don’t think she worked much. Before the kids were born, MN: she worked for four or five months just to be out of the house.


There were thoughts at that time of let’s have fun first together. We were more interested when we would come back from work to go out and enjoy ourselves. When the kids came along after a year or two, she was just was happy raising the daughter. Then we started a small business, opened an arts and crafts in Dinkytown next to the U. PS: The two of you did that together?

MN: Yes. I was still working for Sperry and she used to manage it during the daytime, and I would help out during the evening hours. At that point in time, our daughter was still not big enough to go the school. There was a day care at the U, near Dinkytown, and that’s where she used to leave her, and that’s how she kept herself busy, and of course, our dreams were to do something of our own, and that was one way of starting out. Then that business became bigger, and we had to get her brother out here to manage that business. PS: He came from India? He was single at that time and we

MN: He came from India. brought him here. PS: MN: PS:

You said you were working for Sperry Univac? Yes. In what position?

MN: I started out as a senior industrial engineer. Even though I was fresh out of school in June, I got out of school and started working because I got an offer in April. And I had worked as an industrial engineer for three years back home, so with that experience and a master’s degree, I had a good position, and in one year I got promoted to manager of the department, which was very nice. PS: You weren’t very old then?

MN: No, I was 28 years old. Actually, I was the youngest manager of a department in Sperry Univac at that time which was kind of nice. PS: So here you are 28 years old and you have a daughter and a wife who is running a business. What kind of differences did you see in child-raising practices? If you and your wife had been


raising children back in India, how would it have been different? MN: I think we raised them in almost the same manner as we would have raised them in India. The only difference would have been that there would have been more help. Grandparents would have been a help, and also we would have been able to get nanny help, which was beyond our means here. PS: Did living here in the United States affect the way you and your wife divided up labor around the house? MN: In my house, it didn’t happen that way, I think she can still complain about it. I think I observe that things do change. Even though I was a not a great help in the housework, but the environment did rub on me a little bit, I would say. Men in India don’t work in the house. It is considered the woman’s job and she takes care of it.. But I think 10, 15 percent I might have changed. PS: You maybe changed one diaper and swept the floor one time? Maybe I changed diaper

MN: (Laughter) That’s what she thinks. only once.

PS: Did living here affect the way economic resources in the family were distributed since she was earning money. My understanding is that in India the man works and the woman takes care of the house so she doesn’t earn money. Because she was working, did that change things at all? MN: No, not really, because first of all, I was the major earner anyway. Even though she was working in the store, I still was the backbone of it, I still worked there, I still did the financial contribution and gave the direction and so forth. It wasn’t because she was working she enjoyed one special status, but we are both educated, we are both college graduates and it wasn’t like in India, if the girl is not educated, there might be a different kind of relationship. I still think our relationship was good and respectful, and I would still admit from seeing from my point of view, and I don’t think she would disagree. It might be 51, 49, or 60, 40, but still the man was the boss in the house. PS: So that was one of the traditions or ways of thinking about in India that you preferred to keep more or less? MN: As a matter of fact, I had asked her when we met, "What do


you look for in the qualities of your would-be husband, your future husband?" And she gave me the description the way she liked, and one of the qualities she preferred is he should be dominating. I said, "Baby, you got it." (Laughter) So I think even though it was being said like this, once you’re educated, once you open up your thinking, that really doesn’t mean that you mistreat anybody, not that in India that doesn’t happen. We were both enlightened from both the educational and cultural standpoint, and we really respected each other, and we do respect each other, and we take each other’s advice, and we really treat each other as a friend. That’s why the relationship is so good, and we enjoy each other. PS: And that you can work together in a business is amazing.

MN: Lots of people say that. And we have worked together in business for so many years, and we have the mutual understanding, and I think we get a lot of feedback that it is not healthy for husband and wife to work in the same business, but it has not affected us. PS: You were telling me earlier that you were part of starting the India Club? Tell me about how that started. MN: I think it was myself and Jack Desai and Zdenik and a couple, three other people. We once met and said there are religious organizations here, let’s have one non-religious organization whereby we would be just Indians and would be India Club. Now it’s called India Association. And we met in a building on Como Avenue near State Fairgrounds, I forget the name of the building, International Center, I think. I worked in that club for year or two and then kept going on. I think I am a life member of that club. PS: You don’t have to pay dues anymore?

MN: No, I paid once and for all. I think there was a time when you had to pay -- I don’t know how much it was -- I think $3,000, so that the interest on that is enough to pay the dues for every year, so that became like a charter member. PS: What was the purpose of the India Club when it started?

MN: To be religious neutral, whether you are a Moslem, or Christian, or Hindu or whatever religion. Besides a cultural association, we should be able to take some interest in the


political scene, the American cultural scene, other cultural interests, and be able to present a more fuller Indian picture to the local Americans, and, at the same time, get in one with them to learn their culture. PS: MN: Do you think the Indian Association has done that? To some extent. You never know if it’s fully done.

PS: Have you seen any conflicts between the different groups within the Indian community come up over the years? MN: I think the answer is yes. think they’re serious. PS: How serious conflicts? I don’t

How do they usually get worked out?

MN: Just by talking, communicating, and some of them, they agree to disagree and those differences stay. PS: Which events would you say are around that show the pride of the community? MN: Festival of Lights is the foremost that comes to my mind. Another is called Festival of Color, which is Holi, during the spring. These two main functions during the year and have a great impact and they present the folk dances and the happiness and the colorful dresses. Beyond that, there are now a lot of cultural experiences which Indian community -- I don’t know the English word -- provide or show off. We got local classical dancers, like Rita Mustaphi and Ranee Ramaswamy, and there are other artists who have had a local impact by presenting their skills, musical skills and dancing skills. PS: So you see it mostly through the cultural arts?

MN: That’s right. That’s on the cultural side. On the professional side, I think we have just a tremendous pool of professionals in Twin Cities and all over the country, the engineers, the doctors, the business men, and other skills, and now even in the professional arena, Indians are able to contribute to the local economy as well as to the culture. PS: Do you see any major advantages or disadvantages to belonging to Indian associations, any India group? MN: I don’t see any disadvantages. I think they are all


advantages because we learn from each other and at the same time we contribute to each other, besides knowledge, also the community strength. At the same time, everybody needs the relatives, the friends, the community when you have to celebrate something, and this is where people have made their relationships. PS: I have understood that there are now enough people in the Indian community that people have broken off into language groups as well. Do you belong to one of those? MN: No, I don’t belong to any language group, but I do know that there are. It’s the same thing in India too, so they might meet. For example, if there is a big Festival of Lights, which is called Diwali, there might be 850 people together from different parts of India, different languages, and there are different cultures in India too. At the same time, they might have their own subgroups that congregate and celebrate and meet and have their own relationships. PS: MN: What is your mother tongue? Hindi and Punjabi.

PS: The next section that I would like to talk about is your work history. You said you worked for three years in India before you came here. What kind of company was that? MN: PS: Automobile industry, and I was an industrial engineer. Then after you finished your master’s here?

MN: I started working for Sperry Univac. It’s the computer manufacturer. I worked for Sperry Univac for 19 years in different positions, but mostly they were all in industrial engineering and the financial control type of positions. I went through the ranks. As I told you, I started as a senior industrial engineer, then after a year I was a manager, then manager of more than one department, and I say I retired, but I left Sperry after working for 19 years as a group manager, and I was responsible for five plants industrial engineering departments. I had 45 engineers reporting to me at that time. During those 19 years, I always worked in my part-time in developing businesses so I can be financially independent. That was my desire from my very first day I started working. And this might sound strange but I feel that is a reality even today that the system here was such that everybody’s employment is at will.


Even now I have 1800 people working for me, and employment is at will. You can hire and fire anybody at any time, and same thing was then back at that time. But I felt even though at that time if a person were terminated, there were enough jobs that you didn’t care, but if you projected that out into the future, I could not live with that uncertainty. Like someday if you are not up to stuff and you’re held, and you have a family and you have to take care of yourself plus my ambitions were much bigger than staying in the same ladder working. I did not have any uncle or father or some rich friend I could depend upon from the capital standpoint, so I had to save capital. So we both worked and we were saving money so I could get into some business on my own. And while I was working with whatever capital I could save, we started dabbling first into the India House, which is the retail store in Dinkytown. Then I got Asha’s brother here to start managing, and we hired employees, and then he developed the business to a wholesale and I would work part-time all evenings. I was developing the business. He got married, we sold the business, and now we had some capital. PS: Who did you sell it to?

MN: Some party in Atlanta. Lock stock and barrel, he bought the inventory, he bought the good will, and so forth. One of the reasons of selling was that my brother-in-law got married, and he had small kids, and in this business, where he developed wholesale, he had to travel six months around the country participating in shows and getting orders, and then coming in and working it, so I think it became tough on him. I couldn’t leave the job yet, because I was not completely financially independent, so we sold that business because it was just taking too much time. Then I started dabbling in real estate, and he went and started working for Burger King. Real estate in 70’s was just fantastic times. You kind of doubled your money. Before you bought it, closed the transaction, within a month or two, there would be people trying to pay you more for what you bought. Those were good times in multiplying your capital, and in the meantime, my brother-in-law, whose name is Ashok, started working for Burger King and I had an eye on one day we are going to have Burger King franchise. So he also had the dream of owning a franchise. Let me back up a little bit. As I was doing all this in real estate, it came to the point where the income from real estate was equal and more than what I was doing on a full-time basis. At that point in time, I decided to quit the full-time job. I’m still not completely financially independent so I don’t have to work, but at least now I don’t have to work for anybody. That thing happened in 1983. I know almost every


six months, every three months, I used to make my projections for the next five years with a complete motivation to get on my own, and I knew that I was getting closer to my goal. So when that thing happened, I now have more energy and more time, so I started looking at the Burger King franchise and so did my brother-in-law. At that time, when you worked in Burger King for 10 years, you would be able to buy one franchise at reduced price. He was in 10th year when Burger King got sold to Metropolitan from England, and the first thing, they canceled that perk. So he was really disappointed, but at that time I was financially strong enough that I said we’ll buy it. By then, I was also a Burger King approved franchisee, so I was waiting for a chance to come to buy it. He being available now, we went ahead and bought two Burger King franchises from Burger King itself. With my financial strength and with my network with the banks, and also because I’d been negotiating buying real estate, I was able to negotiate that even though he didn’t have the capital. So I loaned the capital to him to become my partner. We bought two Burger Kings. So I had my real estate business and we had a Burger King business with two stores. PS: Where were the stores located?

MN: One is in Burnsville, and one is in Crystal. We still have them. Then a year went by, and we went very well with these. We make a great team. He had worked for Burger King for almost ten years so he has the operational background and I have the financial background and the overall management background, so we did great. PS: So he did the stuff in the stores and you did the stuff outside the stores? You never flipped a burger yourself? MN: No. To become a Burger King franchisee, Burger King puts you through one week of training. They want you to know what you are facing. I mean I flipped the burgers. I have not done it for ten years. I did it for a day or so, I’ve taken orders, I’ve mopped the floors, I’ve run the machines, I’ve opened the store, closed the store, counted the cash. So I’ve gone through the steps on a limited basis. So once we became very successful, an opportunity knocked on our doors a year later. Somebody was having health trouble as well as financial trouble. He was a franchisee with 21 stores, out of which 19 were good, and 2 were not good. By this time, we were liked by Burger King very much, so getting that approval was not a problem. I had the financial strength with the banks, because I was by then at least nine, ten years in the real estate business. I had done business with the


local banks here. First Bank knew me, Norwest knew me. At this point in time, we were the successful bidder to buy those 19 restaurants. In one year, we jumped from two to 21. I did loan money to my brother-in-law to become my 25% partner, which he has actually paid me off last week. Then we started building our own real estate from ground-up developments. Then I formed a construction company and hired a person who has worked in construction industry and also for Burger King for eight years. So we then constructed six more Burger King restaurants, so we have 27 restaurants in the Twin Cities. Toward the end of 1993, we purchased 15 Burger Kings in Daytona, Florida, so we are now 42 Burger Kings. It is a quite a large chain. I think we are about fifth or sixth in the country. PS: MN: PS: Are you a vegetarian? No. So it is not a problem for you that you sell burgers?

MN: No, I was not a vegetarian even when I came here. So anyway, I was working for Sperry, I had side business which my wife managed, and then my brother-in-law came to help and manage, I got into Burger King, and now I have Burger King business as well as the real estate business and the construction business. The real estate business is owning real estate and also managing real estate, so I have the company that holds the real estate, the company that manages the real estate, the construction company, then the Burger King in Minnesota and the Burger King in Florida, so I have five companies. Now I have started a sixth one, which is a manufacturing one, which hopefully will tie up with Hewlett Packard in India and will manufacture a product called uninterruptible power supplies (UPS), which we will import back here. The design is by an American company, which is a start-up company, and I am part owner of that also. So we will be licensee to manufacture in India, also to distribute in India, and to bring it back here as part of the domestic requirement. So that is a new venture that is just starting. PS: Is an uninterrupted power supply kind of like a surge protector? MN: For a common person, that could be considered a surge protector. It is not a surge protector. When the power goes off, the computers and other sensitive equipment has to be protected so you don’t lose the data if you are in the middle of some data entry. You need the power to download the computer so


you don’t lose any data. So UPS normally in this country is considered to be a device that runs by battery to supply the same power that it was getting from the main power -- the computers and sensitive equipment. Back up in an orderly fashion it will download it, then you wait for the power to come in and then you’re on. In India, there is a lot of shortage of power. It may not only be twenty minutes, but it could be four hours it is gone. We have now what has been designed will take the battery as well as generator, and the patented technology is the switch which switches from one power source to the other in less than five milliseconds. A millisecond is about a thousandths of a second. All of the equipment will not even recognize that there is a power shortage. So, for India, this UPS is called power station. That’s our new venture. I’m going to go to India at the end of this month to participate in two trade shows and finalize discussions which I have already started since last year. PS: So they will be manufactured and sold in India?

MN: No, they will be manufactured in India, they will be sold in India, and part of the production will be brought back to the USA to be sold in the USA. And I’ll be selling to the American company which is Valence Corporation, and I’m also part owner of that too. PS: You have a lot of irons in the fire.

MN: So, I think to summarize, I started out as an engineer in Sperry Univac and I worked there for 19 years, developed a real estate business which I still have, and developed a Burger King business which I still have, and now we are getting into this manufacturing business. PS: Is the real estate business commercial business or homes?

MN: Apartment building and commercial buildings. I think the commercial buildings’ future went down in the last five years so once we sold it, we didn’t get into the commercial building until just three years ago, then I’ve gotten into it again and that’s fine. At that time, I moved into this building as a tenant. PS: Did you find a lot of difference in the working styles between here and India? MN: Of course.



Can you tell me what some of those differences are?

MN: I think one of the styles here that is different is there is less bureaucracy and it’s more straight to the point type of approach. Since I have not worked in the government, but I hear and I feel and I understand that there might be similarities in USA also in the government offices. But in private companies, you are just more efficient. There in India, even the private companies weren’t as efficient and productive as they are here. PS: MN: Which one do you prefer? This one, absolutely. (Laughter)

PS: Did you have the sense when you worked at Sperry and other places that you were accepted by your co-workers and your bosses and so on? MN: I think I was in a preferable position because I worked for the vice president of manufacturing and so I didn’t have to go through a lot of reporting levels, but yes, I did feel to reach to the top, to be the president or CEO of a privately held big company, there will be a discrimination, there will be a problem. PS: So you knew you weren’t going to get to that level?

MN: If I were, it would be a stroke of chance and also it would take much more effort, so I was bent on being my own boss, right from the first day I started work. At least, I knew I would be, but you can make your goals and ambitions, and you never know if you will accomplish them, but I feel very lucky that I did. PS: Did you have a sense that people were discriminating against you overtly at any point? MN: No, I didn’t feel that my life was miserable or anything. I just felt that in order to go to the levels that my ambitions were it would be harder. PS: Was that based on being foreign born or being a minority? Which was the factor that you felt was the most important factor? MN: I think foreign born coming from a country minds of people here, underdeveloped. That was reasons, and also not being white. As I said, exceedingly bothering me, but I felt that I was that is, in the one of the it was not reaching to an


economic level where I would be economically comfortable, would make enough money to make a good life. But if my ambition were to be in charge of a total company, it would be tougher to get to those things. In the land of PS: So it was easier to start your own? opportunity. Do you ever think about how your life would be different if you had not come here? MN: PS: MN: PS: Yes, I think I would not be as happy as I am now. What kind of work do you think you would be doing? I would be an executive in some private company. You wouldn’t have worked for the government?

MN: No, I could have been president of some company in India, but today I’m about 100 times better off than any president there, and I’m a 100 times better off here than the president of any large company here. PS: I get a real sense of contentment.

MN: Very much. I’m very happy, very contented. I’ve not only done things for myself, I’ve done things for my kids. They will be very contented and happy people. They will be very contented and happy people, and they will have a lot of opportunities, positively more than I did, because I had to work through so many years to reach where I reached, and they could start from here and go exponentially if they wanted to do, which I think they will. One of them is already working in the business -- my daughter, and my son will be too. PS: The next section is about retaining and passing on your cultural values, about your children and how you see life going for them? What are the most important values you wanted to pass on to them? MN: I think a couple of things which both of my kids will remember, because I’ve practiced and I’ve taught myself, and I preach the same thing -- to be focused and to be hard-working, that is one of the values I’ve passed along to my kids. I think they know it and they do it themselves. Also, be nice to people because I feel God does give you back even in this life, if you are judicious and kind and have respect for others and care for


others. I think one shouldn’t be very selfish, because sometimes you can try all the pleasures of life if you are happy and content, and there are different ways of getting happy and content. Of course, things facilitate and make it better if you don’t have to worry about making two ends meet every day, but beyond that you have to have a good character and have to do good things for other people, and most of the time you get immediate rewards. At the same time, not be selfish, and also we give the same importance to education as we had learned. It creates awareness. You may not be able to use the same high-powered theories you learned in the college, but it makes your brain more logical, and you are able to handle problems in a more rational way, and you are able to analyze situations in a more rational way and be able to act in a manner -- it is not wrong, but right. Morally, we have taught and we practice you put yourself in others’ shoes. What you expect, that’s what the other expects. You do unto others what you expect others to do to you. So I think these values you impart in the kids by self practice. You can’t talk one thing and do something different. You have to do the same things that you are teaching. At the same time, when there is so much around you, keep lecturing or telling them the benefits as well as the ills of what you see -- the smoking and the drinking and the drugs. Not that we tell them not to drink. We do tell them not to smoke because even one puff is bad. Drugs -- we do tell them it goes out of your control and you become just a useless person. I think these are some of the values we have given them since they have been born. And the extreme thing is that, just because of the circumstances happened, we are so thankful to God for that we have been able to give them the time, even in spite of the fact that we were trying to improve our own lot. We gave them time, and we are a closeknit family, and the kids feel that they're loved very much, and that’s why we have very free communication. I still have the feeling in my mind, that even if they did something very wrong, they’ll come talk to us and admit and then we’ll find a solution together. I think we have real good communication, real good environment in the house by example, and we have done a lot for them. Some of the values which I didn’t know when I came to this country, like you have to work for everything. I had to, because I had nobody to depend upon, but my kids didn’t have to. For example, and maybe I’m still to this minute not sure if I’ve done that right -- I feel I’ve done it right-- it’s considered that kids have to earn their own way, do chores, do outside jobs whereby they learn the value of labor. I felt at that time that we gave it to them and we told them, "You concentrate on the education. I don’t want you to take three hours away mowing somebody’s lawn or throwing some snow. That three hours you can concentrate on studies or on some other extracurricular


activities. The time will come when you will have to work and do all those things." Now it can be considered that we did not give them that part of their education, which I feel is compensated by the rest of the education, and I feel that this thing they can learn when their time comes. The proof of the pudding is that my daughter is very conscientious. She works very hard, so I think in her case, we feel we did the right thing. She acted as a student when she was a student, and she’s now being a productive person in job. Same thing we are doing with our son. He is a senior and he’ll be graduating this year. We have provided him all pleasures of life, more so than normal student would get. We have always talked to him and told him what his duties and responsibilities should be. Now time will tell if we did the right thing or not. Did we teach him enough value for working hard? We’ll find out. So I think I have debated this within myself and with a few people, and I get the feeling that as long as we have imparted in them the right values, they can use all that time in doing what they were meant to do during their bringing up years, and now when they have to work hard professionally, they will do that. Time will tell. Long-winded answers, but I don’t think we have any courses at the U to tell you how to bring up the kids, and I wish they were. PS: Actually there are classes in early childhood education now that teaches parents of little tiny children how to parent them, and that’s becoming very popular. MN: I feel it’s necessary, that plus financial planning, starting in high school. PS: You were telling me earlier that your daughter got married. Tell me how that happened. MN: She graduated four years ago from Boston College. She went for a year to work for Coopers & Lybraud in L.A. and then she was going to work in some company where she has more contact with people rather than just desk and numbers, and I said come and work for us because everything you can do in the field in Burger King, you are meeting people all the time. So she came back here in Minnesota, and like Indian parents, when a girl gets to be 24, 25, we start getting worried how come she is not getting married yet, but here the system is different so you don’t arrange the wedding like you do in India, so it had to be something like she meets somebody and they date and so on, so forth. Just coincidentally, we know a family who are our neighbors, and their son, Dave, the father is Indian and the mother is from California -- Nancy and Joe, Joe is from India, they live about a


mile and a half. We know each other for 15 years and their son whenever we had birthday parties and Christmas parties their son Dave and Shalini have seen each other. After high school, Shalini went to Boston to study and he went to New York to study, and after that, she went to California to work, he went to Houston to work. She came back working, and one year for us, which was `93, Dave had three months of assignment in Minnesota from Shell Company in Houston. They were doing some work in Forest Lake. Here in one of the parties they met again, and got attracted to each other, and started dating. Three months later, they became more serious, and six months later, they got engaged. This year in June they got married. PS: Do you approve of that match?

MN: Yes, and so do the boy’s parents. Dave is an engineer and he’s going to find a job someplace else. Shalini is also part owner in the business, so since she is, because her stakes are higher because of working the business and owning part of the business, he was going to find a job here, and I told him, "Why don’t you work in the office here for me?" And we were going to start this manufacturing business, which is more technical, engineering and I said, "I’d like to have your help." So he thought he’d give it a try, and I thought we’d give it a try and find out how it goes, and I think he found it very interesting. They were engaged in November, so since December he is working here. He likes it very much, and I feel very good about it, because I added two more arms to my system. He is here right now in planning and taking care of this manufacturing company. PS: And then they got married. What was that like? Tell me about their wedding.

MN: Like any father, I like my daughter quite a bit. I really love her very much. We are really very attached to each other, and I wanted to have a great wedding. And I could afford it, and so we had a wedding at the Hyatt, and we had a month-long celebration, the last week being very extensive. PS: A month-long celebration? every night? How did you do that? A party

MN: Almost. We had gotten cooks from New York. It was an Indian wedding. And flower people from Toronto, and entertainment from London, and guests came over the world and all over the United States. We had about 600 guests, and we had a great time. We were happy, and they were happy.



Are they living in town now?

MN: Yes, they are building their house in our neighborhood, North Oaks, and by this Christmas it will be ready. Right now they are in an apartment, which is close by our house also. PS: And then soon you will have grandchildren?

MN: I hope they will wait for a while, because they just got married. Two years, maybe three years from now. PS: The last section is about family ties back in India. said your sisters are all here? You

MN: Right. My parents also moved just last year. Two of my sisters are in Canada, and one is in Houston and we are here. One of my sisters has younger kids, and both husband and wife work, and she needed somebody to be in the house when the kids come home from school, so my parents moved last year to Canada. Being old and not having any kids anyplace else, they feel more at home here than going back. Then they move around, and they’ll come and spend a couple of months with me, a couple of months with my sister in Houston, and then five, six months in Canada. PS: Is Asha’s family still in India?

MN: As I told you, one brother works for me here in the business Burger King. One brother is back home in India yet. Her parents also moved last year over here with the intention to stay here permanently, but you never know, if they’re bored, they might go back. PS: MN: PS: So are they here in Minneapolis? Yes, for the last six months. Are they living with you?

MN: No, they were living partly in their son’s house and partly in our house, back and forth, but now they will be living in an apartment. PS: They haven’t made it through a winter yet. This will be the test. Do you have any family members back in India that you keep in touch with?


MN: I have a lot of friends in India, not immediate family, but uncles and aunts, those people are still there. When I go there, I meet them. PS: Do you stay with them? But my parents

MN: We had our own house, so I didn’t have to. just came so now this will be the test. PS: So your parents sold their house?

MN: I could live with them, but I think we considered this when we go there as a vacation as well, so we want to have all the conveniences. Sometimes if you live at a house, you are kind of bound with a few things, like you have to eat there. This way we are kind of free birds and can do what we want. PS: Do you keep in touch with family members regularly there that are still in India? MN: Regular is a subjective basis -- one letter a year, two letters a year. PS: You’re not calling them on the phone?

MN: Not every day. If there is something important going to happen, they will call, like a friend of mine just called that his daughter’s getting married. He came to my daughter’s wedding, so I’ll go there. PS: How do you feel about those ties? Do you still feel like an Indian person living in America or like an American person living here? MN: Ties kind of diminish, like out of sight, out of mind. The distance is so large. We don’t see each other on that regular basis, so ties keep on diminishing. PS: MN: So it’s nice to see them, but not essential. Right. I assume you are going to retire someday. How

PS: Retirement. old are you now? MN: Fifty-four.



So you are real young yet? That’s right.

Half lived?

PS: What do you think about retirement? will be like for you?

What do you think that

MN: I think it will be fine because I’m fortunate enough because I don’t worry financially. Healthwise, I think everybody has to worry. Right now I’m very healthy. I hope I’ll be able to be that way for many years to come because that’s the most important thing in life other than independence. How I think I will retire? I think in another five or six years I think I’ll reduce my involvement in the business to 25% level, then 0%. Then, my kids -- Shalini, my daughter, and then Dave, my son-inlaw and my son, Deepak (he’ll get married) and then Ashok, with these people I think we should be able to handle the business. PS: Do you think your son will join the business?

MN: Yes, I think he will. I think he will work for a year or two outside to get experience, and definitely he will join. He has told me so and I feel that would be nice. The only worry I have that hopefully he and his wife and Shalini and her husband Dave, and Ashok, who is my brother-in-law, will be able to work together. There will be enough work for everybody. As far as my own retirement, if we keep up the good health, I think we will have two homes, even though right now I have a condo in Florida. But our ties are here, because we have friendships of 30 years here, so we will probably spend a majority of our time here. A couple months of harsh winter we’ll move to some warmer place -could be Florida, could even be India for a month. PS: What do you want to do while you are retired? seem like a man who would want to just sit. MN: PS: You don’t

I think some philanthropic work and do some teaching. In what area?

MN: Business. I feel that the benefit of my own personal planning was that I was a very strong planner for my own life -financial as well as tasks -- and I think if you keep that in perspective, eventually you work towards that. I think I can impart that education besides my knowledge of just the business itself, how to run a business. I’d like to do that for a college, and for some school kids. The other thing I feel very


important is that I observed that the kids when they are in high school -- we have so many kids who work for us -- they have no knowledge of how to manage their finances and if they were taught in ninth and tenth grade, that will make them better people. So I think teaching is one thing I feel good about it, and secondly, work as a volunteer. I would probably put some people through college at my expense. I could probably set up some kind of endowment at a university. PS: Well, my kids should be ready for college at about that time. MN: (Laughter) Well, all right.

PS: You said the philanthropy you would like to do is to help people through college. I’m a director on MN: That’s the thing I can think right now. the North Hennepin Community College, on the foundation. We raise funds for the scholarships and things like that, so I think I’ve got that kind of exposure there. I’ve been to the University of Minnesota, I might want to do something there. For my college in India, University of New Delhi, I know that there a lot of bright kids who cannot go through college because of the financial situation, and it costs so little to put them through, I’ve just thought many times I’ll set up an endowment in India for putting five kids through college. PS: I have more or less finished asking you questions that are my interview form. Are there any things you wanted to talk about or that you think are important or that you would want to tell to your grandchildren or your great-grandchildren about what about your life is like that I haven’t asked about? MN: I think you have asked everything, but just to summarize I would say that I have been extremely satisfied and happy to live a life of 30 years so far in this country. I think if I can give a lesson to my grandchildren that there is no substitute for hard work and you’ve got to be focused. If you jump around and try to copy somebody’s this and somebody’s that, you just have to sit down and decide what you want to do and then give it a try in a focused way. Don’t compare yourself: he’s better, he’s worse. We are all destined to be something and you’ve got to enjoy what you are going to do and set your goals to do it. If that works, continue in that path, and if that makes you happy. If it doesn’t work and doesn’t make you happy, change your course, but then again the advice would be don’t falter all the time.


Lastly, be very kind because if you are kind to humanity, God will give you the happiness you deserve.