Close-up

Lily Ong dis­cov­ers how the charis­matic edupreneur Vishen Lakhi­ani con­nected the dots of his past to form his own be­lief sys­tem and a world-class com­pany

Malaysia Tatler - - CONTENTS -

Vishen Lakhi­ani, Dato’ Normah Ibrahim and Na­cho Figueras share their in­spir­ing sto­ries

Vishen lakhi­ani is not con­tent with be­ing just an en­tre­pre­neur. “Some­one who de­signs lo­gos on Elance or builds mil­lion dol­lar com­pa­nies can be en­trepreneurs. The spec­trum is too wide. What de­fines me is what I stand for as an in­di­vid­ual,” says the founder of Mind­val­ley—an edu-tech com­pany. Only five min­utes into our chat and Vishen was al­ready aflame with pas­sion, telling us about what he be­lieves is his mis­sion on earth. Grow­ing up in Kuala Lumpur, he was picked on be­cause of his ap­pear­ance dur­ing his pub­lic school days. And while he ad­mired his mother’s work as a teacher, he knew it was not fea­si­ble to pur­sue education as a career thanks to the state of the ed­u­ca­tional sys­tem at the time. So in­stead, he chose com­puter en­gi­neer­ing and went on to study in the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, where he then se­cured an in­tern­ship at Mi­crosoft in the United States. “My par­ents were so proud of me for land­ing a great job. I did what so­ci­ety wanted, but it was not what I wanted. One day, Bill Gates in­vited the com­pany’s in­terns to his home for a bar­be­cue. Ev­ery­one was hav­ing fun, ex­cept me. I couldn’t bring my­self to shake his hands, be­cause I hated my job. I left even­tu­ally, be­cause I knew I chose the wrong path,” re­flects Vishen. As he pon­dered over what to do next, he joined a non-profit called AIESEC, which al­lowed him to travel the world to foster cul­tural un­der­stand­ing be­tween coun­tries. Help­ing oth­ers re­ju­ve­nated him, al­though he knew he was on bor­rowed time. Af­ter that, he set his sights on Sil­i­con Val­ley to seek his for­tune. Un­for­tu­nately, this was when the dot-com bub­ble burst in the US. “My tim­ing sucked. I couldn’t find a job for a while so I lost my sav­ings and ended up rent­ing a couch to stay,” he says. Vishen was even­tu­ally hired for a dial-for-dol­lars job, which meant that he only gets paid when he closes a tele­mar­ket­ing sale. It was a tough pe­riod in his life, as he re­calls, “One of my col­leagues was fired be­cause he could not make a sale, and sub­se­quently could not pay his rent. The com­pany found him sleep­ing un­der the desk at night. Morale was low.” Des­per­ate for ‘hope’, he went on­line one day and stum­bled upon a meditation class in Los An­ge­les. With­out think­ing, he signed up for it, look­ing for a re­prieve from his men­tal stress. “The ex­pe­ri­ence changed me. I dou­bled my sales ex­po­nen­tially af­ter I re­turned. I was us­ing abil­i­ties in my mind that I never learnt about in school: height­ened cre­ativ­ity, in­tu­ition and em­pa­thy to con­nect with peo­ple. I could vi­su­alise my goals and go into a peace­ful state of mind. I was pro­moted to di­rec­tor of sales and moved to New York to start an of­fice at the age of 26,” he re­lates. Even as he thrived in New York, run­ning a sales floor was un­ful­fill­ing. “I be­lieve we are born on this earth for a rea­son. When you di­vert from that rea­son, the uni­verse kicks our butt to re­align us in the right direction. And that’s when I re­mem­bered my in­ter­est in education dur­ing my youth, and from there, I knew I could make a dif­fer­ence,” he says. To find his next path, Vishen con­nected the dots of his jour­ney thus far and the re­sult was the con­cep­tion of Mind­val­ley.

“Nel­son Man­dela once said, ‘Education is the most pow­er­ful weapon which you can use to change the world.’ But the school­ing sys­tem glob­ally is flawed; they teach us how to achieve suc­cess through the amount of money in your bank ac­count, or the ti­tle on your busi­ness card. The truth is there’s more to life than that. School doesn’t ed­u­cate you for is­sues you face in life, like stress and anx­i­ety, mar­riage, re­la­tion­ships, par­ent­ing and so much more. I re­call my ex­pe­ri­ence with my meditation class and re­alised I needed to pass this mes­sage along. Mind­val­ley was created to fill in that gap,” he ex­plains. To­gether with his wife Kristina Mand, he started Mind­val­ley in the United States. Af­ter the 9/11 at­tacks, Vishen faced dif­fi­cul­ties con­tin­u­ing his busi­ness there and moved the en­tire Us-based com­pany to Kuala Lumpur. De­spite naysay­ers ques­tion­ing his de­ci­sion to do so, he was adamant he can build a world-class com­pany in Malaysia and pur­sued this goal with his sig­na­ture sin­gle-minded de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­ten­sity. Un­der Vishen’s lead­er­ship, Mind­val­ley carved a niche in the self-devel­op­ment field. The com­pany of­fers education on mul­ti­ple dis­ci­plines through var­i­ous medi­ums, with the help of mod­ern-day gu­rus like Robin Sharma, Eric Ed­meades and more. Pro­grammes are con­ducted through large-scale events and con­fer­ences such as A-fest, on­line cour­ses avail­able through the Mind­val­ley Quest dig­i­tal plat­form and its re-imag­ined form of higher education, Mind­val­ley Univer­sity. Due to the rad­i­cal ideas that Mind­val­ley ad­vo­cates, Vishen faces crit­i­cism from those who ques­tion the pres­ence of New Age and ‘oc­cult’ el­e­ments in their pro­grammes. A free­thinker, Vishen lets th­ese com­ments roll off him like wa­ter off a duck’s back, choos­ing to help those who are open-minded enough to tap into their po­ten­tial within. “If hu­mans are like iphones, our hard­ware is our be­lief sys­tem. If we choose to do so, we can up­grade our sys­tem. Most peo­ple are not con­scious about what they be­lieve in. I am fun­da­men­tally con­scious about mine. I ques­tion ev­ery sin­gle one of my be­liefs even those in­stilled in me as a child,” he says.

“School doesn’t ed­u­cate you for is­sues you face in life like stress and anx­i­ety, mar­riage, re­la­tion­ships, par­ent­ing and so much more”

Be­ing a fa­ther to a son, Hay­den, and daugh­ter, Eve, Vishen shaped Mind­val­ley with their fu­ture in mind. “I live by some­thing I call The Eve Prin­ci­ple. My daugh­ter Eve is a mixed race kid. Off the bat, you won’t be able to ac­cu­rately guess her her­itage from her ap­pear­ance. I want a fu­ture for her where she can thrive and be happy de­spite her eth­nic­ity or na­tion­al­ity. Ev­ery­thing I do, I ask my­self, will this make a bet­ter world for her?” he ex­presses. Truly a noble goal, which will bring about some pos­i­tive change to the world.

VISHEN-ARY To­gether with his wife Kristina, Vishen grew Mind­val­ley glob­ally

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