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Oakland County Legal News

Lesson plan: Immigrant traces his steps to the ‘American Dream’

by Debra Talbott

In his 2013 book, “Immigrant Steps to American Dream,” Sudhir (Sid) Vaidya offers sound advice to readers who want to succeed and continue to grow in the business world.  Vaidya, who has ties to the Oakland County Circuit Court, uses humorous anecdotes from his life as a young immigrant undergraduate through his successful four-decades-long career in information technology. His stories teach valuable lessons on how to behave in the workplace and in society.

“I wrote the book because I felt grateful for being rich in many ways—from where I started out, what I have become, how hard I have worked, the family I have raised, and the friends I have acquired.  I wanted my children to know how I did it as an immigrant and leave them with a handbook that will guide them along the way and shorten their learning curve,” says Vaidya.

When Vaidya came to the U.S. in 1966, he was a 19-year-old young man who had left his family in India to attend Michigan Technological Institute in Houghton. His lack of knowledge about American culture and language and his fellow students’ inability to pronounce his name correctly set the stage for several amusing stories in the early chapters of the book.

Vaidya’s first name, Sudhir, comes from Sanskrit and is pronounced “Sue Dear,” with Su meaning “good” and dhir meaning “patience.”  Indeed, he had to practice good patience as he listened to others call him “Sudhaar” and refer to Mahatma Gandhi as “Gandy.”

His own lack of experience with our language led to some awkward misunderstandings, such as the time Vaidya asked the young woman working in the campus bookstore for help finding assorted school supplies.

“I told her I wanted a slide rule, compass, file folders, notebooks, pencil, and a rubber—a large one,” writes Vaidya.  “I noticed that the woman was confused, so I tried to clarify: ‘you know, you write and then you rubber it out.’”

It was not until Vaidya was a graduate student at Eastern Michigan University that he adopted the name Sid.  When Vaidya’s roommate Bob took him home to meet his parents, Bob’s mother stumbled over the pronunciation of Sudhir, deciding to call him “Sid,” and that has been the name he has used in business all his life.

From what he has learned during his long and noteworthy career, Vaidya’s book shares important lessons that have served him well.  Several of those include:  Never play the role of victim; quit quitting; if you are not networking, you are not working; adhere to the two-drink rule during business dinners (enjoy the first but leave the other behind); and never feel inferior to anyone, no matter how much of a big shot the other person is.  In addition to more lessons, the book offers what Vaidya calls the “Ten Laws of Immigrant Success.”

Vaidya’s first full-time job after earning his MBA was as a programmer with Wang Laboratories, a computer company that created and sold calculators and small computer systems.

From there he was hired to work in Oakland County’s data processing department, with the task of designing and implementing the county’s first computerized court docket system. Until that time, everything had been done manually, in Oakland County and around the country.  The system was expected to take 3 years to implement, but Vaidya and his department had it up and running in 10 months.  It is from this period of his life that Vaidya cites another lesson:  “Success has many fathers, but failure is a bastard.” Vaidya credits the larger team for the success he achieved in Oakland County.

“I needed to know exactly how the court operated on a day-to-day basis. This included information about the court’s dockets and the booking of inmates in the county jail. I knew how important it was to get the involvement of others outside the department, especially court employees who are most familiar with the court’s methods and procedures.”

In this position, Vaidya worked with and had much respect for Judge Fred Mester, now retired from the Oakland County Circuit Court.

“One time when my father was visiting the U.S.A.,” writes Vaidya, “Fred spent a whole day with us showing him the court system and introducing him to the legal scholars and celebrities in the state of Michigan.”

When Vaidya left Oakland County to work for General Motors, he says the most difficult part was leaving Mester and other colleagues.

“Even though Fred was disappointed that I left, I knew great things were coming his way. I was right. In May of 1982, then Michigan Governor William Milliken appointed Judge Mester to the bench of the circuit court, a position Fred proudly and honorably held until his retirement in 2008.”

From Oakland County, Vaidya went to General Motors’ information systems and communications activities division at the GM Headquarters in Detroit.  When Ross Perot and Electronic Data Systems (EDS) took responsibility for information technology at GM in 1985, Vaidya transitioned to that company and was named manager of the information processing center.

“Under his [Perot’s] command, those of us who transitioned into the new EDS were required to wear blue business suits and ties with shiny shoes.  You were subjected to a drug test, drinking at lunch was not tolerated and became a fire-able offense, and you were not allowed to live with a partner you were not married to,” explains Vaidya.

Vaidya ultimately led the division that supported IT services for General Motors’ vehicle sales, service, and marketing divisions worldwide.

“Being the senior executive of a large global account was my most favorite job.  It was also a very challenging assignment. I learned how to deliver results under brutal pressures of leading my global team to meet predetermined profit, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction targets.”

Vaidya concludes his lessons on getting ahead in the workplace by describing seven different managerial styles and says that the executive who asks, “How can I help?” and means it uses the preferred style.

“Competition is with outside, not among the company,” writes Vaidya.  “This is like scramble golf where the team’s performance will always yield better results than individual scores.”

Vaidya left his family home in Mumbai, which he describes as a 15’ x 20’ room divided into four areas.  Five decades later he and his wife, Pat, whom he married in 1974, reside in Brighton and vacation at their Northern Michigan home in the summer and travel to Florida in the winter.

The Vaidyas are the proud parents of three successful children. Robert, 38, is a D.O. in Internal Medicine and a major in the U.S. Army Reserves.  He has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kellie, 36, is a registered nurse, and Paul, 31, is a probate and family law attorney in Livingston County. The Vaidyas are also proud and loving grandparents.

“The grandchildren are so lovely that if we knew [then] what we know now, we would have had our grandchildren first,” Vaidya quips.

Sid Vaidya is the founder and CEO of Diamonds of Diversity, LLC, and he often serves as a keynote speaker for university students, professional groups, and the media. He encourages others to “polish” their own diversity in order to reveal their own “diamond.”

“Immigrant Steps to American Dream” teaches a multitude of cultural and business lessons.  One lesson that blends both comes from the story of two Hindu goddesses, as told to Vaidya by his maternal grandfather.

“In the heart of every human being, there are two goddesses:  Lakshmi (the goddess of wealth) is beautiful and generous.  If you worship her, she may present you with money and material possessions, but she is unpredictable and may also withdraw her support without warning.  The other goddess is Saraswati (the goddess of wisdom).  If you worship Saraswati and dedicate yourself to attaining wisdom, Lakshmi will become jealous and follow you for the rest of your life.  The more you seek wisdom, the more enthusiastically Lakshmi will chase you, showering you with wealth.”