Hello from Minneapolis, where I am participating in a speaker series on emerging destinations with one our amazing agency partners.
You might notice that our blog is coming out a day early this week. That is because today my hero – my father and our company founder Mahen Sanghrajka – turns 70 today!
Every day when I walk into our office, I look at the plaque next to the front door, and I see the names of my grandparents, who I was never fortunate enough to meet. You see, Mahen lost both of his parents before he was 20 years old.
Last week while in Colombia on an educational, we were forced to charter a plane from the remote Huila airport to get back to Bogota. Watching the plane land, I became unexpectedly emotional as I thought about my dad’s birthday because memories of my childhood surfaced.
One of my earliest memories is walking into a McDonalds in New York City as a child with my father. I wanted a full meal but he only had enough money for one small order of French fries. He bought it and watched me eat it while he ate nothing. I wanted ice cream and asked for toys that my friends had, but we could not afford those at the time.
I remember stories Mahen told me about growing up in Kenya, and of his deep fascination at an early age for the wildlife. His lifelong commitment to conservation began during the 1960s when he collaborated with zoologists in a project tracking, tagging and studying elephant and rhino populations of Kenya and Uganda. He also participated in research projects studying lowland and mountain gorillas in the rainforests of Rwanda and Zaire. From these beginnings arose a lifetime of commitment to the animals, people and natural habitats of the world. He founded and serves as the chairman of the Spirit of Big Five Foundation, a nonprofit foundation dedicated to supporting to conservation, poverty alleviation, education and healthcare.
Mahen told me once about the people who expected him to fail when we moved from Kenya to the US. But they never deterred him for an instant. He and my mother started our family as they built this company from nothing. And, they managed to save every possible penny to give me a higher education. In fact, I became the first in our immediate family to attend university. I look back and wonder how some weeks we were even able to afford the groceries my mother cooked for dinner.
I watched as Mahen and my mother, the bedrock of our family, never gave up, and worked even harder in the face of certain adversity — proof that my work ethic was inherited. And here we are in our 45th year. Big Five is what it is today because of all our hard work, started by the solid foundation my father and mother created. I have enormous respect for my parents.
Just a few weeks ago, an email from one of our closest consortium partners came out showcasing a video with me in it. My father wrote me an email, and, in typical fashion, no ordinary email.
He wrote in part, “Ashish, I watched the video with you in it and I began to cry (clearly a genetic trait) because I was so proud of what you have accomplished. You gave this company a name in the industry. Love Dad.” I was sitting in a hotel room in Boise, Idaho when I read this. You can guess what I did next… like father, like son.
Today we celebrate 70 amazing years for our founder, CEO, my father and my hero. In his honor, I ask you for only one thing. The next time you see Mahen either in town, at a conference, or if you email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, please tell him I said thank you.
Happy birthday, dad.