NEW DELHI: Economic times Reported that, On the 11th day of the 11th month of 2011 at 11.11 am, Siddharth Yog gifted $11 million as ‘guru dakshina’ to his professor Arthur I Segel at the Harvard Business School, his alma mater. He added a dollar to that amount as ‘shagun’, or a token for good luck.
The 38-year-old founder of Xander Group Inc, a global investment company focused on emerging markets that manages over $2 billion of equity capital, follows in the footsteps of prominent Harvard alumni who have given back to the business school that played a major role in moulding them into successful business people.
Other Indians to figure on that list include Anand Mahindra, Ratan Tata and Infosys co-founder NR Narayana Murthy.
In early October 2010, the vice-chairman & managing director of Mahindra & Mahindra had given $10 million to support Harvard’s Humanities Center; days later, the Tata Group donated $50 million to fund a campus building; and earlier in the same year, the Murthy family gifted $5.2 million to publish ‘The Murthy Classical Library of India’.
Yog’s gift has its distinctive elements. For one, it figures amongst the single-largest personal gifts an Indian has made to Harvard University. For another, it follows the ‘shishya-guru parampara’, or the age-old Indian disciple-teacher tradition.
“I can never thank Arthur enough for what he has taught me. The gift is to the institute and specifically to Arthur for bringing about a life-changing experience (in me),” said the class of 2004 alumnus in an interaction with this writer during a recent visit to New Delhi to be part of a lunch hosted by Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust.
On his 30th trip to India in seven years, the guru, a co-founder and co-owner (between 1982 and 2001) of a private equity real estate development and investment advisory company, is a tad embarrassed by the ‘guru dakshina’.
“Teaching is such a joy… but the idea of a gift in my name is preposterous. It is very nice, but unnecessary,” says Segel with a grin. Yog convinced the good professor to accept the offering by narrating the story of Eklavya from Mahabharata, who cut off his thumb and offered it as dakshina to his guru Dronacharya.
So why is this maverick – who now rubs shoulders with the likes of Tata, Mahindra, Murthy as well as western donors such as David Rockefeller – so indebted to Harvard University? Well, it’s thanks to the university, and to Segel, that Yog turned entrepreneur. Before that, since 1993, Yog was involved in global real estate and infrastructure.
HARVARD, SEGEL CHANGED SIDDHARTH YOG’S LIFE
Between 1999 and 2002, Yog was based in Singapore and Hong Kong as founder-director of CB Richard Ellis’ (CBRE’s) Asia-Pacific strategic consulting practice. Prior to that, from 1994 to 1998, he helped set up CBRE’s India operations and led the consulting, valuation and research groups.
He has also worked at Bain & Company in New ork, Deutsche Bank Real Estate Investment Management GmbH in Frankfurt, and Feedback Ventures in New Delhi.
But after nine years of working, Yog found himself asking the quintessential mid-career question: where do I go from here? Answer: the Harvard Business School, where he landed in 2002.
Segel recalls his first meeting with his shishya when Yog walked into his office at Harvard; Yog knew only real estate, and Segel taught the subject. “He was among the top students of his 900-strong batch,” the professor recalls. Yog went on to write a case with Segel on real estate major Eldeco; Segel still teaches it.
Like most regular MBA grads, whose next destination is a coveted job in the financial services industry, Yog was set to start JPMorgan Chase’s private equity business in the Asia-Pacific after graduating in 2004. “But, as they say, life happens,” recalls Yog.
In New Delhi to get his visa stamped, none other than Segel prodded Yog to start a business of his own. Yog, with Segel and a clutch of investors in tow, duly founded Xander Group Inc. The private equity business of the group has investments from Lord Rothschild’s family, RIT Cap Partners, The Getty Family Trusts, and of course Segel and Yog, who is currently based in London.
Over the past seven years, Xander Group has grown to 75-plus employees with offices in New Delhi, Singapore, London, Boston, Mauritius, Bangalore and Mumbai, among other outposts. The focus is primarily on companies and assets in real estate, retail, entertainment, infrastructure and hospitality.
Yog says the exposure to Lord Rothschild’s philanthropy played a big part in his decision to give back to Harvard. “It was a desire to start early. As Steve Jobs said: stay hungry, stay foolish. I did that and I am hungry and foolish again.”
The gift of $11 million spans multiple Harvard schools and focuses on innovative science, educational access, public service and academic-public policy collaborations. The financial aid and fellowships have an India and emerging market focus, says Yog.
To be sure, India is top of mind for Yog. “The company is named after Alexander the Great, who first tried to marry East and Westa¦The idea is to create an ecosystem between the East and the West and to tie back the opportunities in India specifically along with other emerging markets.”