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Rags-to-riches journey

REAL-LIFE SUPERHEROS: Angela Lee at the Good Shepherd Sisters in Bangkok.

REAL-LIFE SUPERHEROS: Avasara is a leadership training academy for girls.

IN the rags-to-riches journeys of entrepreneurs Chatri Sityodtong and Saurabh Mittal, the frm friends and partners wrestled with adversity and soared.

Mr Mittal, who worked to pay his fees at Harvard Business School, co-founded Indiabulls and now runs his own investment-holding company, Mission Holdings.

Mr Sityodtong survived on less than US$4 a day at Harvard. After graduation, he had a successful career on Wall Street and founded ONE Championship, which bills itself as Asia's largest sports-media property. ONE Championship is a portfolio company of Mission Holdings.

Several principles underline their respective roads to success, they say. The frst, says Mr Sityodtong, is integrity.

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"Integrity is the foundation on which great companies and great relationships are built. No one is perfect but I always say to my team – you should live your lives in a way that would make your mother proud, even if she knew the worst moments about you. That's a very high bar. Another version of that is to do the right thing even if no one is watching. I've been this way my whole career and it's something my mother taught me from a young age and martial arts forged in me."

The second, he says, is to view the world through a win-win lens. "It's very easy to get caught up in thinking about yourself. But to succeed in business you have to think of everyone who is a part of this for it to succeed, whether it's my team, our investors, vendors, broadcasters or advertisers.

"You really have to think – how can I help this person succeed? When you have a mindset of win-win, the likelihood of success goes up. Most young entrepreneurs make the mistake of thinking, me, me; what's in it for me? If you have that philosophy, you'll always be small. Because no one will want to be part of your ecosystem of success.''

Another quality, adds Mr Mittal, is resilience. "You have to have a warrior spirit. Resilience is massively underrated. To me it's everything. You go through extremely dark periods before the most successful outcomes. You have to keep at it. That's what Chatri exemplifes for me. That's what I think you truly need to succeed.

It's not how you act in your best moments in decision making, but how resilient you are in your worst."

The two are now wealthy beyond their wildest imagination, but remain down-to-earth, with a keen desire to give to larger communities in need. Says Mr Mittal: "It's no accident that neither of us own a Ferrari. We know lots of people who are much less successful who have those accoutrements. We don't have those things. We'd rather use them productively as a business opportunity or if it's beyond what we need to consume for a good life, we give."

Mr Mittal's philanthropic passion is education for youths. He supports Parivaar, a school and home for destitute children in East India. "We uplift children who have nothing in life. India has such a massive disparity of wealth. At the poorest level I don't think we sitting here can even imagine how overpowering the poverty is.

(Parivaar) takes those children away from a completely dark future into a home which truly becomes their home."

Another initiative is Avasara, a leadership training academy for girls. "These are high-potential girls selected from Maharashtra, India. These top students from middle-class backgrounds are given the best opportunity I can buy even for my children. With that opportunity and their inherent talent, we're hoping these girls will become examples of women leaders… I believe education is 360 degrees. It's a catalyst involving extra- and co-curricular activities, an expansion of mind beyond studies." Mr Mittal is currently helping to support the construction of a sports centre at the school.

Mr Sityodtong's philanthropic focus is also on underprivileged children, troubled youths and terminally-ill children, on a personal basis or through ONE Championship or Evolve MMA, his chain of martial arts schools.

The charities he supports include the Children's Cancer Foundation, Singapore Children's Society, Boys' Town, Project Sunshine, and MINDS (Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore), among others. These efforts involve fun activities such as movie nights for children or bowling events.

Says Mr Sityodtong: "The biggest blessing that wealth has given me is the freedom to do the things I love with people I love… We don't have to work with a company we don't love or a mission you don't believe in. I feel that wealth brings many responsibilities. I think deeply about my role in the world, as CEO of Asia's largest sports media property. If I espouse terrible values, think of the impact that would have on billions of kids in Asia.

"From day one at ONE Championship, our mission is to unleash real-life superheroes who ignite hope, courage, dreams and inspiration across Asia. We do it to the values of martial arts – integrity, humility, respect, honour, discipline and a warrior spirit. It's no accident that whether it's Evolve or ONE Championship we have very strong CSR (corporate social responsibility) programmes every single week." w