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From a father to his sons
IN the areas of life that arguably truly matter, such as marriage and giving, Omni United founder G S Sareen's guiding light has been his late father, Dr Surender Singh Sareen who died in 2005.
"My father was absolutely a role model. In 1971 when we met a road accident in Africa, he was then working for the World Bank. My mother lost her memory, her speech, she was completely paralysed." Mr Sareen himself was around four. His father was 38 then, and his mother 35. He is the youngest of three children.
"People suggested to him - you have three young children. How will they grow? You must marry again. He refused. He said - I gave my commitment to this lady, I stick with her.
"Till he died in 2005, he was taking care of her. Doing this for one week is ok; doing it for 30 years is something else. She would fall sick, fall out of bed and he would carry her. When he became weak he couldn't pick her up. When you see these things it has an impact on you. It tells you not just the value of life, but also how fragile life is. How in one second things can get shattered.
"So if you believe in winning at all costs, it's foolish. In one second you could be paralysed and you regret the nonsense you've done. It's important that you keep evaluating every time - Is there something I regret, something wrong? Correct it before it's too late."
With his father's devotion to his mother, it is perhaps not surprising that Mr Sareen himself is devoted to his wife Rewa. Still, his profession of love is refreshing. "My wife and I have been in love for the last 27 years. I'm extremely fortunate to be in love with a wonderful girl. We always talk about this, that if we had a second choice, would we marry each other again? I would!"
He is thankful that his children appear to have imbibed a taste for philanthropy. His older son Hanut, who will graduate from a Boston university in May, is helping to raise funds for Pencils of Promise, an organisation that builds schools and supports education in Laos, Ghana, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
"In the last two to three years my son has not celebrated his birthday - he tells people to donate to Pencils of Promise instead. It costs US$25,000 to build one school, and he has not yet collected that amount.
"I have given him US$500. I can give him US$25,000 but that's not the way. My father died when my sons were very young. But there is something called genetics and DNA. This is proof of it - on his own he talks about building schools in Africa. It's pretty cool."
His younger son Sumer is 18 and expects to enlist for National Service (NS) soon. It is an event to look forward to, says Mr Sareen, who became a citizen in 2009.
"When the time came for NS, I called my sons for a family discussion. My thing was simple - it's not about the law or anything. It's about simple gratitude. I said listen - we have made all this financial wealth in Singapore. I came here with practically nothing. Now we're in a comfortable situation.
"I told them - do me a favour. I want you to pay those two years back, for me. They said - absolutely. There was not one moment that my older son cribbed about this or that problem. He had such a good time. Even now when he comes home from the US, he contacts his NS friends and they come here and hang out." Sumer, he says, is excited about enlisting and has embarked on a fitness regime.
Meanwhile, employment in Omni is not a given for his sons. He says he has daily conversations with Hanut. "I told him - this is your company. At the end of the day, you are a shareholder. I don't believe in the system in America where they don't give anything to their children. I have worked this company, and they take over if they are capable. If not I have provided for them - they still get money as shareholders. Why not take care of my sons? It's my duty as a father.
"But will they become CEO? That depends entirely on their capabilities. Today if my son applies for a job, he goes through HR (human resources). They have clear indicators and instructions. He gets a job in synch with his qualifications."
He says he is often told that he must have taken big risks in setting up Omni, a statement he bristles at. "Businessmen don't take risks, gamblers take risks. Business people mitigate risk. A business owner analyses risk, sees the risky part and asks - how do I manage it so I don't get burnt? Someone who closes his eyes and runs into it, if he gets shot he's dead - that's not a smart soldier. Let's not confuse bravery and stupidity."
He is often told that he makes business look easy. "It is easy. We get caught in our own web. In modern business we do not invest enough in the soft side of things."
He recalls being agitated about a business situation. He consulted his spiritual guru, saying: "They have not done things right, I must sort them out. My guru said - there are two things you can do - use your energy to sort them out. What will you get from that? Only satisfaction. Or, you can forget that satisfaction and start something new. Get another 500 employees or 1,000 to benefit you. Two ways, same energy, you decide." W