As a young man, Vijay Goradia wanted to get as far from his parents’ middle-class life in Mumbai as possible. First he hitchhiked across Afghanistan, Iran and Europe, living as a pauper before leaving for a third continent, arriving in America in 1978. In a lucky stroke, a friend from India offered him a few thousand dollars to inspect a shipment of raw plastic materials. He was soon doing similar work for an expanding Rolodex of customers. “Credit risk, country risk, currency risk, regulatory issues, customs requirements,” he says. “[Companies] wanted someone else to deal with those issues.”
Gone are the days when Goradia had to borrow a buddy’s baggy suit for meetings. His Houston-based Vinmar International now pulls in about $5 billion in sales distributing petrochemicals in more than 100 countries. Goradia, Vinmar’s chairman, and his family own the whole thing, giving him a fortune of $1.5 billion. “It’s all about taking calculated risks without doing stupid things,” says Goradia, 64, who, in his spare time, enjoys skydiving and hang gliding.
In 1998, he began seriously mulling ways to help the country he left behind. He has since become one of the chief fundraisers for Pratham, an education non-profit in India. Pratham says that in a country where some charitable organisations are corrupt, it’s one of the good ones (it claims that an impressive 95 cents of each dollar goes to its charitable programmes). “Once a year, I visit the schools,” Goradia says. “I wish I could do more, but I still have a day job.”
(This story appears in the 05 February, 2016 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)