By Rachana Mirpuri
Sanjay Sabnani is an executive at a publicly traded healthcare technology company that has developed proprietary treatments for treating addictions to alcohol, cocaine, and methamphetamine. “My title is Senior Vice President Strategic Development which means that I get paid to think of the future and what direction we should take. I focus quite a bit on the science of the brain and the applications of our technology to other diseases.” In addition to all that, he is also responsible for communicating scientific and financial concepts to the company’s shareholders and industry analysts.
Sanjay also plays a big role in the Internet world – he is the co-owner of a very popular online community called General [M]ayhem; www.genmay.com. It’s the 14th busiest community on the internet and it’s growing every day. ”The site is mainly for fun, but it generates some pocket money for me and my partner as well as provides us with hundreds of internet friends all over the world. I had a party at my home recently for members of this community and we had over 100 guests, 12 of them were from overseas.” This year Sanjay intends to focus on the site a bit more and perhaps develop some form of strategy to promote it further. “The concept I have in mind is based upon my slogan ‘the audience is the entertainment’- think of it as reality entertainment in a message board format.”
Additionally, he is very active in the South Asian committee in Los Angeles. He is Chairman of the Board for a non-profit arts organization called Artwallah, and recently completed service as Chairman and President of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) Southern California. “At the age of 35, I feel like I am in an ‘in between’ generation, the other senior members of TiE were at least 10 to 20 years my senior and Artwallah is made up of 20 somethings.”
How did you get into this field? To tell you the truth I don’t really know how to describe the path that I have taken. I have no formal background in either finance or technology, but I have always had a passion for science and the stock market- by working at public technology companies I am able to combine both passions.
My degree is a BA in English Literature from UCLA and I started out working as a stockbroker after college – I just sort of talked and networked my way into my current vocation. Learning about the capital markets and finance was a key factor in my development. I was also lucky enough to work directly with some really high level executives who mentored me and allowed me to watch them in action. Being a Bhaiband Sindhi born in Hong Kong also creates a tremendous internal expectation that I must live up to.
What education have you had that helped you in this field? It is not what you learn, but who you learn it from. I learned to be silent and wise from my father, I learned to be generous and positive from my mother. From my uncles I learned the meaning of family and the importance of belonging to a tribe. From books I learned that the only limitation was your desire to learn. When you have access to books and the internet there are no limits to your education.
How did you get started in this field… who or what inspired you? My inspirations have been Albert Einstein, Richard Feynman, and Bill Gates. I love to learn and teach people about things- the more complex the better.
What has been the ups & downs of your job/career? The big breaks? I did not have the benefit of coming from wealth, but I was given everything I needed to succeed by my parents. I do not believe in luck or blame- I believe in working hard and staying focused.
What qualities do you believe a person should have to succeed in life? You should look at a problem from all angles until you come up with a solution. Persistence and a desire to learn will take you anywhere you want to go.
What books have you read that taught you what you needed to know to reach where you are today? My family will verify for you that I have read thousands of books so asking me to pick a few is not easy. That said, I do recommend the following:
The Prophet, The Goal, The 48 Laws of Power, Think and Grow Rich, Bhagavad Gita, and as many biographies of great people as you can get your hands on.
How did you go about setting up your business/company? What’s the process?
I currently serve as an executive at a public company, but I named my first business ‘Typhoon Capital’ and I still use it for transactions till this day. I had a relative who said that when I came into the room it was like a ‘toofan’. I kind of liked being described as a force of nature so I built a business around it.
What was your branding strategy… what steps did you take to bring your brand to where it is today? I am my own brand and my main product. I sell my brain which is a limited commodity at best, but I work hard and I have helped many businesses succeed so the word gets out.
How are the paychecks treating you? Like a queen/king? Satisfactory enough? Still a long way to go? I live like a king and I get a lot of love – the paycheck is irrelevant. I would like to have made enough someday so that I can go back to graduate school and lose myself in science. I am sure that day will come.
What was the first thing you ever wanted to be? A pilot? A driver? A McDonalds cook? I am pretty easy – if I watch a movie I want to be whatever the main character is. When I was a kid there is no doubt that I wanted to be a scientist. My mom bought me a chemistry set with test tubes and I almost burned my friend’s apartment down.
The most embarrassing incident that happened to you at work? I was once talking negatively about a customer thinking I had pushed the hold button. Oops.
What were your parents’ feelings when you chose this path for yourself? I was a weird, angry kid when I was little – they were probably happy that I got married to a hot Indian wife and supported myself.
Describe your childhood in three words… Naughty, nerdy, chaotic
What was the most difficult challenge you faced, and how did you overcome it? The hardest thing in my life has been having my dad die on his 60th birthday. I was 31 and put in charge of two households – my wife and three kids in the US as well as my mom and sister in H.K. It made me realize that I may only have 30 years left so I’d better get off my ass and make things happen now. I would have liked to have my dad enjoy his later years, but things happen. His passing also made me spiritual – it’s hard to explain because I am a cynic, but I read an English translation of the Gita after his death and all of a sudden it made sense to me. You see my dad was religious and I was not. My dad was named Arjan and the central character in the Gita is Arjun. In fact, the whole Gita is about Arjun talking to and learning from Krishna. My whole life has been about watching my dad live with God. Where this becomes really spooky (and interesting) is that the entire Gita is being recounted live by a guy named…Sanjay. That’s how I look at my life now – I am the watcher, the observer, the knower. It makes me feel something that helps me out in life.
My favorite part of the Gita is the following:
raso ‘ham apsu kaunteya
shabdah khe paurusam nrsu
Translated it means:
O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water,
The light of the sun and the moon,
The syllable om in the Vedic mantras;
I am the sound in ether and manliness in men.
When I read that passage I realized that Krishna was explaining to Arjun that he was actually human consciousness or the brain. It is the brain that can taste or see or hear. All of a sudden I felt like my world of science had been reconciled with my father’s world of religion. Weird, but true.
To what would you attribute your current success to? I would give all the credit for my success to two things- having a strong family that inspired me to succeed, and my love of reading. Growing up I could not relate to import/export and trading- I was always a bookworm and my first love was knowledge. Working with technology companies as an executive or advisor allows me to learn about new things and then apply what I know about business principles to all of these different things.