Sunday, 11 July 2021

GCB - Part 1.


This morning is about the tale of two successful lives. 

One is the 28-year-old co-founder of Secretlab. Ian Alexander Ang’s Secretlab had sold its millionth ergonomic chair last year. His company now employs around 200 staff “making about one million chairs a year that are sold to 60 countries.”

He is featured today in ST because he had just splashed out $51 million on two luxury properties, that is, a good class bungalow in Caldecott Hill and a penthouse near the Botanic Gardens. 

At 28, Ian is the youngest winner of the EY Entrepreneur of the Year title. Needless to say, Ian is the envy and the talk of the town. I guess some parents would love to have him for a son-in-law. 

Alas, most of the young adult his age is struggling with their career and maybe family, wondering how they will provide for their kids’ future?

For Ian, his business acumen paid off, and with timely providence and persistence, money will be the least of his concerns. His family and loved ones should be proud of his achievements at such a young age. 

The other successful life comes with much less flamboyance. There is no good class bungalow or penthouse to talk about. He is much older, 76 years old, born in 1945. I stumbled upon his life in my previous post many years ago 

He came from a good family and was educated in one of the most prestigious schools in India. At twenty, he was destined to be a doctor, an engineer or maybe a top official of the World Bank. His career was hitched to the stars. His mother was so proud of him.

Then, one day (in 1965), a terrible famine broke out in the province of Bihar, one of the poorest states of India. This young man went with a friend of Gandhi to visit the distressed state. When he returned, completely transformed, he told his mother that he wanted to go live in the village. 

"What are you going to do in the village?" she shrieked. He replied, "To work as an unskilled laborer, digging well." His mother almost went into a coma - he recounted. 

Before he left, the other members of the family comforted his mother saying: "Don't worry, like all teenagers, he's having his crisis of idealism. After toiling there for a few weeks, he'll soon become disillusioned and will come home." 

These words soon lost its consolating effect as weeks turned to months and months turned to years and years to decades. Altogether, Sanjit "Bunker" Roy (“Roy”) went to live in the village for 40 years and counting. Yes, you heard it right - 40 long years. For six years, Roy dug three hundred wells with a pneumatic drill in the countryside of Rajasthan. 

Naturally, his mother refused to talk to him and the village he resided didn't understand his reasons for doing what he did. A typical dialogue went something like this:-

"Are you running away from the police?"


"Did you fail your exams?"


"Were you unable to get a government job?"


Obviously, someone of his social and academic standing was a sore thumb in the poor village. But Roy didn't forsake the villages. He continued doing the work of digging wells. 

After some time, he realised that men were rather "untrainable". He remarked that after the men leave the village to find work in the cities, they contributed nothing to help their village. 

So, he educated young women, especially young grandmothers (35 to 50 yrs) who had lots of time in their hands. He trained them to be "solar engineers" to set up solar panels in the villages. 

Roy even founded the Barefoot College where he trained up teachers with no college degree but "shared their experience based on years of practice." It was a simple community and no one was paid more than 100 euros a month. 

Roy even came up with ways to fill up and replenish large tanks of water in every village to satisfy their yearly needs so that women do not need to travel long distances every day to fetch water. 

He persevered for decades and won the government and the other organizations over. He quoted Gandhi saying, "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Finally, you win." 

Till this day, for the last 40 years and more, Roy radiated "the calm contentment of a meaningful life." He found deep fulfillment. He was truly happy. As Seneca puts it: “To live is to be useful to others."

Lesson? Let me be as brief as possible. 

Some readers here may question why I juxtaposition the two lives together? Purposely right? Do I have a bias for one against the other? And I don’t need to tell you for whom the bias is reserved? Please, hold that thought, and let me flesh it out a little bit more.

Roy has nearly completed his journey at 76. Ian is just starting, at 28, although it is a fortune’s fulcrum of a launch for Ian that any of us can only dream of. But mind you, it doesn’t come without hard work, risks and sleepless nights right? 

Roy digs well and trains the poor, starting a school to help them to become self-independent. But Ian too employs hundreds, under the auspices of his company, providing work and economic security for them. And at his young age, if he is well guided, honest and humble, who knows how far he can go in helping society right? 

So, no, there is no bias for one against the other; for Ian still has a long journey to go in his life, and who is to say what it will be in the future for him? 

In essence, both lived out their destiny on earth in the exact way they would have chosen if given a chance to do it all over again. They would not want it any other way. It is theirs to treasure and develop, and to grow in. 

And I juxtaposition them together to show that their lives inspire people in different ways. It all involves industry and commitment, and it is a life exclusive only to them. No doubt some success carries with it a higher risk of derailment in terms of one’s character, and only time will tell, but this post avoids steering towards that rough terrain. 

More importantly, I read about Ian’s and Roy’s lives, and my takeaway is that, we are all accountable for our own lives. 

We may not be living in a GCB or penthouse, or digging well and setting up schools. We may not be as famous as them, but in our own sphere of influence, whether as a friend, father, mother, worker, employer or citizen, we are also providers ourselves, that is, of a roof over our loved ones’ head.

And we are also lending a hand to others in our own journey, very much like digging wells for them, and in our own ways, that is, in the way we live our life, we are teachers too, to those we are responsible for, and who come under our care. 

And I have learned that it is not so much about the numbers of lives touched, but how consistent we are in touching lives, even a handful, so as to make the deepest impact within our own sphere of influence. That is the benchmark of enduring success, and it’s all within our reach. 

Some people have longer reach and some...not that long, but it is the depth we go to reach each soul that counts, and that is, to me, the common denominator amongst us concerning a heart and a life that is always successful, regardless of how wealthy, famous and powerful we are. 

(I mean, look at the almost anonymous and shunned life of Christ. He spent three years out of 33, living and nurturing 12, and look at the impact he has made). 

Indeed, as one wise man said, "Altruism is like rings in the water when you toss a pebble. At first the circles are very small, then they get larger, and finally they embrace the entire surface of the ocean." 

Let the envy within you rot itself and be done away with. But, as for another form of “envy” in the eyes of your loved ones beholding you and your life, for giving to them the time and love, and for sharing your simple journey of faithfulness and sacrifices with them, well, let that encourage lives, warm hearts, and enrich souls. Let that be their light in their own journey of life to travel on.



  1. Thanks for sharing this intriguing juxtaposition of two successful men. I liked the way you concluded with your idea of a successful, impactful life that is possible for everyone to reach for.

  2. Thanks for sharing this intriguing juxtaposition of two successful men. I liked the way you concluded with your idea of a successful, impactful life that is possible for everyone to reach for.

  3. Thanks for sharing this intriguing juxtaposition of two successful men. I liked the way you concluded with your idea of a successful, impactful life that is possible for everyone to reach for.