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Oral History Interview with Mahesh Shah

Mahesh Shah was born in March, 1949 in the medium sized town of Bhavnagar, Gujarat in India. He grew up moving between Kambhat, Gujarat and Mumbai, Maharashtra. He attended college in Mumbai and pharmacy school in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He moved to America in 1975 to begin a new life. Being one of the few Indians in America, Mr. Shah found it a little tough in his early years in America, but after an encounter with a car mechanic company, Mr. Shah got the idea to open his own auto center. He now owns 8 Quality Auto Centers and has shown how an Indian Entrepreneur can have a huge impact on a community.

Image 2: Mahesh Shah in College, 1970

Image 3: Marriage Ceremony: Mahesh Shah and his newly wed wife Rekha Shah. Mumbai, India May 14th, 1972.

Image 4: Leaving for USA with Family and Friends, Mumbai Airport. August 2nd, 1975.

Image 5: Mahesh Shah with college classmate in pharmacy school and partner in pharmacy: Mr. Virendra Patel. His moral supporter in his early days in the US.

Image 6: Quality Auto Center: Mahesh Shah and his wife working at their first Quality Auto Center Store. Avenel, Woodbridge Township June, 1981.

Image 7: Navratri Festival: Organising Navratri Festival In Edison with then Mayor of Woodbridge, Jim Mcgreevy (Who became Governor of NJ) with wife Rekha, son Jay, and other organizers. Edison, NJ October, 1992.

Image 8: Family picture outside the house with wife Rekha, daughter Devi, and son Jay. Since then daughter Devi is health care attorney and son Jay is a pain management doctor. May 1998.

Image 9: Mahesh Shah reuniting with his old pharmacy college classmates from Ahmedabad, India from 1968-1972. Left to Right: Mr. Kumbhani, Mr. Bhalani, Mahesh Shah, Mr. Ajbani, D.K. Shah. America 1998.

Image 10: Mahesh Shah Wins HSBC CARES Customer of the Year Award in prestigious Gotham Hall. New York City, May, 2018.

Image 11: IBA Group karaoke singing. Left to Right: Chairman, Chandrakant Patel; Vice President, Dilip Patel; Vice Chairman, Manher Shah; Vice Chairman, Mahesh Shah; President, Dhiren Amin. May 2019.

Image 12: Mahesh Shah at IBA India Day Parade Reception with actor Sonu Sood and IBA Executive Members. August 2019.

Duration: 00:55:55

Date: November 17, 2019
Type: Oral History
Source: 4-H Langoor Club
Creator: Tanush Ashok, Rishima Raval

ASHOK: This is Tanush Ashok. I am a member of the Teen Chapter of 4-H Indian Langoor Club. Today is November 17, 2019 and I am at Kaizen Technologies office to conduct the interview of Mr. Mahesh Shah, owner of Quality Auto Center. This interview is being conducted for the Recording History: Live! inter-generational oral history program organized by the 4H Indian Langoor Club. Grant funding has been provided by the Middlesex County Board of Chosen Freeholders through a grant award from the Middlesex County Cultural and Arts Trust Fund. Program funded in part by a grant to Middlesex County by the New Jersey Historical Commission. Good afternoon.

SHAH: Good afternoon.

ASHOK: Namaste Mr. Mahesh Shah. Thank you for the opportunity. Shall we begin?


ASHOK: So just state your name and when and where were you born.

SHAH: My name is Mahesh Shah I was born in Gujarat, India, name of the town is Bhavnagar in Saurashtra. I was born in 1949, March, 1949.

ASHOK: So how was it like growing up in that town?

SHAH: Well growing up. I lived in another town called Khambhat, which is in Gujarat again. I lived in Mumbai, then I finished my high school in Khambhat. Then I went to college, and I did science, Inter Science in Mumbai, and then I got admission in pharmacy school in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

ASHOK: You mentioned that you were born in Gujarat, were you born in a smaller village?

SHAH: It was a medium-sized village, medium-sized town. In India you're generally born in your mother’s place so that’s how it is so my mother’s family was in Bhavnagar, Saurashtra so that’s the reason I was born in Bhavnagar.

ASHOK: How long did you live there, in Bhavnagar?

SHAH: I didn’t live actually, I used to live in Mumbai and Khambhat which is in Gujarat but I used to go there every summer vacation.

ASHOK: So you attended grade school in Khambhat?

SHAH: Yeah I attended grade school in Khambhat, and I did 4 years in Mumbai and then I finished my high school in Khambhat.

ASHOK: And Khambhat is a big city?

SHAH: Khambhat is not a big city, like population is about 60,000-70,000 people.

ASHOK: Was it strange moving into a big city like Mumbai or was it not that hard?

SHAH: Not really as I visited Mumbai once a year. Yeah, they were different, I did 4 years in Pharmacy College

ASHOK: So when you were growing up, would you say it was a regular childhood or were there any problems that you had to face?

SHAH: No, I was actually a little lucky, and a little bit privileged. My parents had a business for three generations. I didn't have too many problems; the only thing they wanted to make sure I studied and got a good education, my father had a Bachelor of Commerce degree, which was rare in those days, in 1947.

ASHOK: You said your parents had a business, what was that business?

SHAH: It was a textile business.

ASHOK: Textile

SHAH: Yeah textile business.

ASHOK: Three generations, that’s a long time

SHAH: Yeah

ASHOK: So you moved to Mumbai and that was for high school or college?

SHAH: My parent’s business was in Khambhat and Mumbai so I moved in between, four years I was in Mumbai but then I went to Ahmedabad and I finished my school. I got my degree in pharmacy, they call it B-Pharm, Bachelor of Pharmacy, and then I came to Mumbai. For three years, I worked in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Like, we manufacture capsule, tablet, fine chemicals and stuff like that. So,I worked in Mumbai for three years and I graduated in 1972. Then, in three years I came to the USA in August of 1975.

ASHOK: So what made you get into the pharmaceutical business?

SHAH: You know it was a struggle. My mother wanted me to become a doctor, but I wanted to be a businessman. I was going to do some big things in India, start some kind of industry. I didn’t want to do something where I would work myself. I always believed you make sure other people work with you, so I chose pharmacy. In India it’s a little different, most people who got a degree got into manufacturing, not like a pharmacy here, like a retail drug store. So I did that.
After two years experience, I started pharmaceutical manufacturing in India with my uncle, but one year I realized there was so much generation gap with my uncle. My reason was different, their reason was different, but they were with the money so I had to listen to their reason, so at some point I decided I don’t want to get stuck here.
Then I saw some of my friends filling out a simple form in the US Embassy in Mumbai and then they got an immigrant visa. So one of my friend Dinbandhu came one year before and said, “You know you can come, just go to American Embassy in Mumbai and in three months they’ll give you an immigrant visa.” So I did that, and got the immigration visa.
I still wasn’t sure whether I wanted to come here (US) or not, so I debated a lot. My family didn’t want me to come, but then finally I thought, in the best interest of everybody, I don’t want to have an argument with the family, my uncle, my father and everything like that, so I thought I’m gonna leave, and that’s how I left.

ASHOK: What was your pharmaceutical company in India called?

SHAH: Mercury Pharmaceutical Industries.

ASHOK: You said at first you were debating to come to the US or not. What were your different views on the topic?

SHAH: Family, you don't want to be separated from your family, first thing. At that time there were not many Indians. It’s different now. Now it’s like you can come here, and you get a house. At that time when I came in 1975, I had a few friends here, they all were struggling, You can’t get the real help. Third thing is, I knew I’m not gonna get a good job. I was the boss there, now I have to come and here I’ll have to get a mediocre job because when you come here, they don't recognize the degree, you need to study first. Then you speak different English, your culture is different. So many factors you need to think before you decide to come here. You Sacrifice a lot when you come on your own, without any money.

ASHOK: So how was making the trip to the United States? Was it strange?

SHAH: I was very uncertain about it. I felt strange. I didn’t know what was going to happen. What was going to be my future? I didn’t know if I was even gonna make it here. If there is too much headache, I might have gone back. So many things go through your head. And in those days the flight was 28 hours, stops in London, it stops in one more place, It's not like now that the flight is 14 hours to get to India. Not like that, when it used to stop two times.

ASHOK: Was that your first time on a plane? Were you scared?

SHAH: No, I had been on a plane before on a local flight. I was not scared. I was nervous, worried about what’s gonna happen and whether I’m going to do this thing.

ASHOK: How did you pay for the trip here?

SHAH: My parents paid. They came onboard with the idea. They paid airfare and in those days we were allowed to bring 1,000 dollars, So I got the $1000 with me, came here and stayed with my friend, got a job and sent the $1000 back home.

ASHOK: When you came you stayed with a friend, did you know him from India? What was his name?

SHAH: Yes, He was my classmate. Vinayak Balani, We are still friends, he just moved to Tampa from Livingston.

ASHOK: What was your first job?

SHAH: I was working in a pharmaceutical manufacturing unit as a machine Operator - a dreary kind of job. We used to hire people like that in India, that’s the job I was doing.

ASHOK: So you were not used to being on the lower side?

SHAH: Yeah the lower side.

ASHOK: After that what were your aspirations at that time?

SHAH: Aspirations were to stay here, learn something and move on. I knew I had to move on. I worked there for four months. Then I got a job in another small company in New York City, Queens. My first job was in Danbury, Connecticut. Then moved to Queens to a little better job . It was still physical work, with some supervisory work, but at least I was learning and it was new technology which I did in India. I got the job in the same field that I was doing in India, they called it Time Release Technology. You heard about Contact Capsule, they open it and they see all small small beads come out. It's the same technology I was working in India, I got the job there. The technology, you take the medicine, most of the medicine - you take it, it gets absorbed in three to four hours and the effect lasts for about six hours. We use special technology, special coating, so you take one capsule and the medicine is released slowly so it can go up for 24 hours, so you don't have to keep taking the medicine again and again. That’s what I was working on in India and when I came here. I stayed there for a year and nine months. In Queens, I learnt a lot more stuff with this new technology. One more thing I forgot to tell in between is that I met my wife in 1972 after I passed my exams and then we were together for three years and we got married in May 1975. I came here in August 1975 , so I stayed alone here without my wife.

ASHOK: When did your wife come?

SHAH: She came next year in 1976 after the first job, I got the second job - summer of ’76 she came. By that time I had some money, I had an apartment on my own and other stuff.

ASHOK: So when you first came here, you were living with your friend, Where was that?

SHAH: That was in Danbury, Connecticut.

ASHOK: And then you moved to Queens?

SHAH: Yes. In Queens, I was living in a house, sharing with friends, crazy people. Because I needed to save money, paying $50 a week or something like that, they gave me a room, common kitchen, common bathroom... you have to do that to save money to get an apartment, rather than paying $150 a week.

ASHOK: Did you know a lot of Indians in Queens?

SHAH: There were no Indians in that house, Blacks, Spanish and all others. Not too many Indians in those days anyway. You cannot find any grocery, no Indian grocery stores. It’s different if you see some Indian, you want to go and talk to him. It's not like now, anywhere you turn you see an Indian you don't care. Then, you care about Indians as you don’t see Indians as much.

ASHOK: In Queens, did you find any discrimination?

SHAH: Well, you know, always discriminations in jobs and everything. You have different work ethics, you do different things, so there will always be some kind of discrimination. You ignore it, as you come with a goal to get better in life, doing the right thing and get ahead in life. You ignore small small things, you work even harder to get ahead. You move ahead.

ASHOK: Did New York remind you of anything about Mumbai?

SHAH: New York and Mumbai are very similar, big city with a lot of people. Very similar but in the beginning when you don’t have money, you don’t enjoy the big city because you are trying to save money, bring your wife here, get an apartment. Then I got an apartment in ‘76 in Queens, one month before my wife was going to come I got a one bedroom apartment. My rent was only $200, furnished apartment for $200.
My wife came, she had done a beautician course in India. So when she came here she went to school for that and got the license. She started working in six months. I worked in this job for almost a year and seven to eight months, during that time we lived in an apartment in Jamaica Queens. During these two years in apartment, my wife’s childhood friend’s husband Dr. Govind Bhanusali came and stayed with us. He got residency and left, and our classmates and room partners from Pharmacy school in India, Prabodh Ajbani and Devjibhai Kumbhani came from India and they also stayed with us for some time. Meantime I found a job in Elizabeth, NJ. Same field, but I’m gonna be in charge of the entire department. I bought a car - Plymouth Volar. I used to drive from Queens to Elizabeth, when job got stable and I thought this was going to be OK, then I moved to Elizabeth, close to my job. I worked there less than two years. I was not happy. I’m a business guy, I come from a business family, I want to do my own business.
I was thinking what to do, at the same time, I wanted to get my pharmacist license. This process takes four to five years, need to take three exams, work in a drug store for almost 2,000 hours before you can take the exam for the pharmacist license. So I cannot quit the job and work in a drug store.
At that time there were so many pharmacy Graduates came from India and Pakistan. They used do voluntary work, you work but you don’t get paid. They would write you the hours - 2,000 hours that you need.I cannot do voluntary work as I had to support the family so I started working in the night 2-3 hours. I thought this is going to be hard, I have to figure out something. Then one strange thing happened, in ’79 summer, me and my friend went to see a show in New York. Have you heard the Indian singer Kishore Kumar?

ASHOK: Oh Yes.

SHAH: A very popular singer, he passed away some time back. He was alive at that time and he had a live show in Madison Square Garden, so me and my friend with my wife and his wife went to see the show in Manhattan. We drove in my car, I parked my car, go to see the show, come out of the show in Manhattan at 11:30 night and my car won’t start. We don't know anything about cars, we try this and that, but the car did not start. We go to Port authority and take a train from Penn Station to reach home in Elizabeth. Left the car there.
In the meantime we called somebody at night and somebody towed the car to some garage in Manhattan. Next day, I’m working as I do not get a day off, there is no paid holiday, those jobs do not give any money. I’m working and I’m calling this guy in the garage whether my car is done? They give me the run around for two to three days. Third day, I called him - he never called me. I asked him about the car and he said - we fixed your car, it will cost you $380. I said, “Man, that’s a lot of money.”
He said this and that to fix the car. I said “Well, I’ll come and pick it up.” I go there in the evening, I take the train to Manhattan and give my credit card. Then I said “Just show me what’s wrong, what part was bad?” He said “ Well we threw it away?” Then I looked at the bill, he wrote something in the bill. I take the car and come home.
Next day I’m thinking - Man, this guy treated me so bad. He is not telling me what’s wrong with my car. He took $380 and wrote something on the bill. I went to the parts store to find out as I do not know anything about cars. He said “This is an electronic control module and will cost only $35.” He showed me where it goes, it’s very easy, I can see where it goes, and would not have taken more than an hour.
I thought, “Man, this guy treated me bad - $35 part and would have taken not more than two hours and should not be more than $200. He would not answer me, did not do the right thing. This is the business I should get into and do the right thing.”
That is the way I started Quality Auto. I did not know anything about cars, so I started to learn something. I took some county courses, auto mechanic course. I’m not handy, honestly, I’m not mechanically inclined. But I figured it out that I have to be in this. I found a small franchise - Thriftway Auto Center. They are out of business now. They had 15-20 locations. I spoke to them. They had one place in Eatontown for $10,000 down payment, Exit 105 on Parkway. I look at it, place was good, the guy who went out of business did not know how to run it, not a business guy. I talked to them. They said they can sell me the place for $25,000 with $10,000 down. I had $10,000 only, I did not have money for the working capital.
So I borrowed money on my credit card for the working capital. I buy the business, I quit my job and started, I was struggling but I knew this was good business. If we treat people good and take care of them,I will survive. They had a bad mechanic and a bad manager. I found a really good manager, guy who could talk very nicely and I hired him. Took a chance, those days people used to get paid $400-$500 a week, I paid him $800 a week. I learnt from him how to do business. With his ideas and my ideas combined, from fourth month on we started making money.
People were happy, I talk to them, I do a lot of customer relationships. Those days there was no computer, you do all the writing with hand. We used to write thank you letter to every customer after the work is done. I knew this business is fixing cars, but more important is to build customer relationship. If you treat people good, and you are honest and transparent, we can build the business. I would follow up, if something is not right and they come back, I do not give them a hard time. I would fix it for free. I knew if I do that, they will tell more people and my business will grow.
In one, one and a half year, I was looking to open another place in central Jersey, in Woodbridge area. Something happened to the Thriftway Company, and they went bankrupt. In the meantime, I sold the place in Eatontown and opened a place in Woodbridge. I created my own company, Quality Auto - created the Trademark and opened the place on Rt 35 in Avenel. By then I knew how the market will be, I opened another Quality Auto in Elizabeth. Followed by another in South Orange. Then my brother joined me, as and we were doing Good Business. During this time My Daughter Devi was born in 1981 and my Son Jay was born in 1985.
Pharmacist was my thing, and I wanted to become a pharmacist. Wanted to make sure when kids grow up they can tell their friends My dad is a Licensed Pharmacist, Pharmacist has a very high moral standing in society than any business guy. So I told my brother to give me two months - I would help, but he had to do more things. I started taking half day off and started studying. In the beginning I had passed part-I of the exam so I had to pass the Part-II and III to get my license. I studied hard and luckily passed in the first Try and got my pharmacist license. Then one of my friends in New York, who had a pharmacy in Mount Vernon, told me that there is a location available, how about opening a pharmacy in partnership. I got the lease and open up the pharmacy and I worked for three months as Pharmacist but it is hard - I want to be outside,Public relation guy, not the guy behind the counter. I was not happy doing this, so I asked if we can have a third pharmacist, he can be in partnership and run this. That’s not my personality to run this, I like the Quality Auto center and in a year we opened two more locations - Roselle park Park and Iselin. In 1990, I leased the building in Iselin in Indian market and opened up a place there. Jim McGreevey was the mayor of Woodbridge at that time, and was invited for the inauguration, grand opening. At that time the area was starting to grow, there were only four or five businesses on Oak Tree Road. We opened the place, whole community came there. Kept doing more and more. When I opened the place on Oak Tree Road, Iselin, At that time I met Chandrakanth Bhai, Manher Bhai, Peter Kothari and we saw that we had a lot of problems. We knew we need to involve in the community and do something, that’s when we organise the association - Indian Business Association and Indo-American Cultural Society.
So we formed these two associations - one for all the cultural activity and another for dealing with government agency and business part. Community was growing so in 1989-1990. We said first thing we will do here, is to Celebrate Navratri here. There was no Navratri anywhere, here so we said we are gonna do Navratri here. First time we did in JP Stevens High school gym. I don't know what happened, we got artists from Mumbai, India - Lalit Sodha (Famous group).
For whatever reason, so many people came, we had to turn away people. Young people came all dressed up, but it was over crowded and many had to go back - they will not let anybody else come in because of the fire hazard. Next week, we went to the Edison High School. That one had a bigger gym. That week also so many people came. So we said next year we had to do in a bigger hall. So next year, in 1990, we went to Expo to do Navratri there. That also so many people had to go back so we went into the tent. And we did tent until 1996. We used to get 6,000-8,000 people at night Navratri Dance Festival. There was no other Navratri, tent was a novelty, and backed up traffic on Turnpike even. That many people came from whole New Jersey for this Navratri.
At the same time, we got involved with the government townships, county, political stuff, we go to the political fundraising, we went to different places to make sure we develop some kind of relationship with politicians. We needed it because people were giving us a hard time and we needed help. So we would do all this stuff to become politically active. We get people involved, we will raise the money for politicians. I moved to Edison, North Edison in 1984. I Moved to Colonia close to Oak tree Road in 1996. Kids were growing up, they did good. Eventually my daughter went to GW for undergrad, she did law and then an MPH.. She worked in Dept. of Health in Federal Government and She is working as In House Attorney for Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Maryland. She is married and lives in Washington area. My son wanted to become a doctor so he went to Antigua, got his degree, did his training here. He did his residency in Montefiore, NY. He worked very hard and became Chief Resident. He came out and wanted to become a Pain doctor. He did a Pain fellowship in WEIL Corneal Hospitals and HHS hospital. Now he has his own private Pain Management practice in New Jersey.
Quality Auto, we keep growing, we had 12 locations at one time. I wanted to slow down so we sold some of the locations, we still have eight locations. The one on Oak Tree Rd, Iselin, We knew it was a good location for retail business, not for car repair. Two three years ago, we decided to turn it into retail and did construction to Lease to Malabar Jewellers. They are our tenants, they were looking for a place, they came in and rented the place. We built the place for them. It's a beautiful place, from inside and outside. That Malabar Jewellers is going to change the whole Oak Tree Road.
Meantime we developed a good bonding with some of the community leaders like Chandrakant Bhai. We made a good group, we were active in politics, community, we started different seminars, celebrate Christmas. In 2004, we started doing the India Day Parade on Oak Tree Road, getting involved in different activities, elections.
We got involved with Gov Christie when he was running for Governor, which was almost 10 years ago. We got involved as a group, because he used to come to Oak Tree Rd and sit with us. He gave his views and what he wanted to do, and we supported him. Because we supported him, so many of our guys got appointed in different boards and commissions and some people got jobs.Gov Christie appointed me to Board of Pharmacy as Board member,First time in the history of Board for 110 years,Indian is appointed NJ Pharmacy Licensing board.

ASHOK: In this whole time, did you still want to be a pharmacist, or still work in the pharmacist field?

SHAH: I’m not working, but I would do things. Not for money. But let's say someone is stuck due to regulation that you cannot open pharmacy without a licensed pharmacist. I’m licensed in NY and NJ, so if someone is stuck, I’ll say I’m gonna help you. But I’m not doing that on a regular basis because that job I don’t like. I don’t like, in the sense that you are behind the counter, all the way in the back. I just don’t enjoy that kind of stuff, it's not my nature. I like active job, that is very passive job, you look at prescription, very monotonous work.

ASHOK: How did Middlesex county change during this whole time?

SHAH: Middlesex county has changed dramatically. Because of the closer to New York and good school system, lot of people, first generation Indian people who came in, came to Jersey City and Hoboken because rent was very cheap, close to New York city and Public Transportation, Now they have kids, they have to look at the school. Our people think that education of the kid is the most important thing. That has more priority in my mind and any Indian people’s mind than anything else.
Edison has a good school system so lot of people moved to Edison and its close to New York so they can take the train from MetroPark. That’s how Edison started growing with Indian people. Same thing happened with Piscataway, North Brunswick, South Brunswick, Parsippany, everywhere. Middlesex county probably has more than 130,000-140,000 Indians. I’m not sure on the number, but the number is very big. 30% of the population of Middlesex county is Indian.

ASHOK: So when you first came here, not a lot of Indians, how was the experience like that?

SHAH: That experience was very bad. It's like, Two three things happened. You came from India, you are in a different atmosphere, you are struggling, you have no money and you have no emotional help. I had one friend who lives in Connecticut. It's not like you can meet people easily. In the beginning, around Diwali time, some Indian people get together in someone’s house and celebrate Diwali. Nobody can afford everything. So everyone would cook one thing and bring it there, we could not afford the catering even. There were not many people who catered food, so some parties were done where some people make one thing each from home and bring it. Because of our work and everything else, people find us and call us. We were in Forbes magazine. This was the picture taken on Oak Tree Rd.

ASHOK: And how long ago was this?

SHAH: Sep 2012, Ultimate neighbourhood bank - Indus American Bank. I got all the community people together. This picture was taken right in the middle of Oak Tree Road, They sent a special photographer to shoot this article.

ASHOK: What was the hardest point of making Quality Auto Center?

SHAH: Hardest part in the beginning was money and then learning about the business. You don’t have formal training, so learn as you go. I used to go to lot of shows and exhibitions, seminars to learn a lot of stuff. Lot of training I did myself. Ultimately, it’s a customer business. People come in and you have to fix the car. That you have to do. What else you are going do beside fixing the car that makes the difference? Like customer follow up. I had a system where we work on a customer’s car for a major job, I make sure that my manager calls up the customer in a week to check how the car is, is everything OK. Those kind of things, if I give a one year warranty on some repair. I’ll have my guy call them in the 11th month to check how the car is doing, is everything OK? In our car repair business, people run away from one-year warranty, I call them, I make my guy call them to make sure we honor the warranty. There is always business if you do the right way. If you do the right thing, you are gonna grow. In the process, by product of all the thing you make the money. You cannot just not do the right thing. If you do not do the right thing, then it’s a short term deal.

ASHOK: So you modeled your business, after the other person in New York did but focused on customer service?

SHAH: Right, Then I go to training and see what these guys are doing, what my guys are doing and then try to combine everything. I got into the business because of that, that gave me inspiration, even though I did not know anything about the business. I thought what kind of a business is this where the guy did a bad job and still is so busy. And when I went there there were so many cars. I’m thinking, he is so busy, he is doing the wrong thing, he is treating people wrong, he is unethical, he is dishonest and still he is busy. If we did the right way, I think you can do better things.
And education also gives you thinking on how you can do better things. And community involvement and other things, I have been involved since 1990, working with community, spending a lot of time, a lot of money. Sometimes family do not like it, sometimes wife complains, but somebody has to do it. Most of the people think they don't have the time, but I was fortunate enough to be in my business and I liked it. So it was a combination of things, I liked it and my business was such that I was flexible with time. I always hired managers and they ran it. I always stayed behind. Generally I’m not in the front. I’m more into the management, and hire the right people and let them run the show, run the business. In an emergency , I'll do it, generally I don't do it myself.
Community work, we have a good team. We have five six solid guys who want to do something all the time. So we did seminars - on addiction for kids, on college scholarship, a lot of different subjects. In Edison, many years back there were break-ins in houses, we did a seminar on how to prevent it, what to do if it happens. Whatever current subject comes up, we try to educate the community.

ASHOK: So that’s how your business grew, You helped the community a lot more instead of just focusing on the business?

SHAH: I did both, you should do both. Don't have expectations - just do it. There is separate community work, I will not tell anybody to bring your car to me. I’ll never say anything like that to anybody. That’s not my way - Getting involved in the community is different from my business. Business is totally different, we are focused on the general public, we are focused on entire community when you do business. Not just our community has car, everybody has a car, so focus is broad. Community work you do mostly with Indians.

ASHOK: So you mentioned the Navratri celebrations, when you started that idea, did you expect so many people to come?

SHAH: No, we were scared actually, we were scared that we are doing this and we may not get enough people. Specially when we did big project like Navratri in tent, budget is $ 400,00 to 500,000, we were scared that people will not come in. What do you do? We were fortunate, community supported us. Other thing is that lot of sponsors supported us. We had some sponsors who paid us $25,000 each person - we had four sponsors like that. Each paid $25,000.
There are lot of good people in our community who can help us do whatever you want to do. If you are honest, they trust you that you are doing the right thing, you are not selfish, you are not stealing, you are very transparent, people will pay the money. Fortunately in our group, most of the people are doing good in life, most of the guys are really in a good business, they are transparent so we have a good reputation and lot of supporters. Even parade we raised a lot of money.

ASHOK: So on Oak Tree Road, you opened the business second on Oak Tree Rd, your first business was in Eatontown. Were there other businesses on Oak Tree Rd?

SHAH: When I opened the business there was a… First business opened on Oak Tree Rd was a small grocery store, small one called India America Traders, they were there since 1985-86. Very small and people would drive 40-50 miles to buy groceries. When I had a car repair business in Eatontown, I used to live in Eatontown, I used to come here or Jersey City to buy groceries. It was one small store. Then there was another place opened up called Ashoka Restaurant, it opened up next to Sona Jewellers, But that was the only Indian restaurant in this whole area. People come from so many places to eat there. Then Nina Jewellers opened up, we were talking about Kiran behn interview, they opened it. Then Chowpatty Restaurant opened up and then slowly more and more. Then Sari store, clothing store, jewellery store - slowly slowly opened up. Iselin area was so depressed, so bad no body can imagine what happened. Value had gone up to, before there was no body to rent there, but now you want to rent something, six people will want to rent it. Still people can rent a place. Values are very, very high on Oak Tree Road in that section - very expensive to rent because business is there all the time specially weekends - people come from so many different states, people come from northern Virginia, Maryland, Washington, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.
From these many states if people have a big event, marriage, anniversary, birthday and they have to buy jewellery or they need to buy Indian clothing, they all come here for shopping. This is the only market in whole country where you get choice and price. Other places have one store, you cannot get the choice.

ASHOK: So what’s the most valuable thing you learnt from being an entrepreneur?

SHAH: It's a learning process, I’m still learning. You never learn enough, first of all. You are learning everyday, improve yourself, improvise yourself. But business is in my blood. I hate working for anybody. So everyday I’m learning. Because of me being in business, I could be flexible so I could help and get involved with the community. I have managers running my place, If I was working for somebody, I have to be there at 8 and cannot leave 5-6 pm. Business gave me flexibility to do many other things that I could not have done otherwise.

ASHOK: Do you think there is something that you would have changed since you started your business?

SHAH: Yeah, now you can think because you can afford it. But when I started, and when you are growing, you do the best you can under the circumstances. You need to make the money, save the money, and put the money to grow the business or open up a new location. So now this is different, now I can think I could have done this big, but I didn’t have money to make that big.
20 years ago, I took a place in Bloomfield and opened up 5,000 sq ft where nine cars I can fix at one time. Doing very good. I didn’t have money in the beginning. If you have more resources upfront you can do much better things. That is the advantage the second generation and third generation has. My son grew up, became a Pain Management Physician and he wanted to start the practice. We made a beautiful office. If it was first generation, you don't have beautiful office, you do whatever you can afford - right? But because we could afford beautiful office, equipment, infrastructure and marketing - he is doing very good from the first day. The more resources you can have in the beginning it can help you. But if you don't have it, then where do you get it from? Second generation has a big advantage. Specially Indian, it's good to be an Indian.
In the beginning,Indians were not recognized, our First generation people work very hard and created a good impression with the common people and public in general, with the politicians.Most of the First generation Indians came here with some form of Education,Degree It's good to be Indian in my opinion, everybody looks up to it. The person will have Indian Doctor, Indian Lawyer, Indian Accountant etc- they think this is very good. It's good to be Indian now, compared to 40 years ago.

ASHOK: Do you have any tips for any upcoming entrepreneurs?

SHAH: There is no tip, but if you want to do business, if you have a business background or if you believe in doing business, or you have a business instinct, you should study and just do it - not just keep thinking. Earlier you do it, better off you are. If you keep thinking and thinking and keep doing your job, as the years go by you make more money in your job so it's harder to quit the job. If you don't have a good job,or not a good job it's easy to quit the job and take a chance. If you have something within you to do business, you should just do it. You should study, do your homework and just do it.

ASHOK: This just wraps up the interview, Thank you for your time.

SHAH: Thank you.

Collection: Recording History: Live! Oral History Project
Item History: 2021-06-11 (created); 2021-06-15 (modified)

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