Fu­el­ing His Pas­sions

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hav­ing dis­cov­ered a pipe­line to suc­cess in petro­chem­i­cals, Vi­jay Go­ra­dia has now emerged as one of in­dia’s lead­ing phi­lan­thropists. AS A YOUNG MAN Vi­jay Go­ra­dia wanted to get as far from his par­ents’ mid­dle-class life in Mum­bai as pos­si­ble. First he hitch­hiked across Afghanistan, Iran and Europe, liv­ing as a pau­per be­fore leav­ing for a third con­ti­nent, ar­riv­ing in Amer­ica in 1978. In a lucky stroke a friend from In­dia ofered him a few thou­sand dol­lars to in­spect a ship­ment of raw plas­tic ma­te­ri­als. He was soon do­ing sim­i­lar work for an ex­pand­ing Rolodex of cus­tomers. “Credit risk, coun­try risk, cur­rency risk, reg­u­la­tory is­sues, cus­toms re­quire­ments,” he says. “[Com­pa­nies] wanted some­one else to deal with those is­sues.”

Gone are the days when Go­ra­dia had to bor­row a buddy’s baggy suit for meet­ings. His Hous­ton-based Vin­mar In­ter­na­tional now pulls in about $5 bil­lion in sales dis­tribut­ing petro­chem­i­cals in more than 100 coun­tries. Go­ra­dia, Vin­mar’s chair­man, and his fam­ily own the whole thing, giv­ing him a for­tune of $1.5 bil­lion. “It’s all about tak­ing cal­cu­lated risks with­out do­ing stupid things,” says Go­ra­dia, 64, who in his spare time en­joys sky­div­ing and hang glid­ing.

In 1998 he be­gan se­ri­ously mulling ways to help the coun­try he left be­hind. He has since be­come one of the chief fundrais­ers for Pratham, an ed­u­ca­tion non­proft in In­dia. Pratham says that, in a coun­try where some char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tions are cor­rupt, it’s one of the good ones (it claims that an im­pres­sive 95 cents of each dol­lar goes to its char­i­ta­ble pro­grams). “Once a year I visit the schools,” Go­ra­dia says. “I wish I could do more, but I still have a day job.”

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