Executive-in-Residence pays it forward
Dr. Aditya Jha with the Right Honourable David Johnston, the Governor General of Canada, at the Order of Canada investiture on May 7, 2014.
Like so many successful men and women, celebrated entrepreneur, philanthropist and social activist Aditya Jha started from modest means. He was born in southern Nepal in 1958, and was raised along with his three brothers and two sisters in a village that straddled the border between India and Nepal. His father, a lawyer, practiced in the district court of Sitamarhi, India.
Possessing the ability and the smarts to pursue post-secondary education, Jha earned a science bachelors degree from Hans Raj College, Delhi University. He went on to do a masters in statistics at Kurukshetra University, as well as a post-graduate diploma in computer science.
“Having come from a Nepalese village, I can tell you that education is the primary factor that can elevate people out of poverty. It is the key contributor to economic development,” Jha points out.
To further his understanding of computer technology, he became a computer systems research scholar at Jawaharial Nehru University. In 1984 he traveled to France to acquire mainframe computer training with CIT Alcatel. He returned to start his computer career in India and subsequently worked in Singapore, Australia and several Southeast Asian countries.
Equipped with considerable skills and knowledge acquired in the industry, Jha relocated to Canada in 1994 and joined Bell, where he quickly rose through the ranks to become general manager of ebusiness and product marketing.
“I got a shot at shaping my destiny by learning at Bell Canada. Once I learned all that I could, I decided to start my own company,” Jha recounts. With four other partners, he co-founded Isopia Inc., a Canadian software company that flourished quickly. It was so successful, their company was purchased by U.S.-based Sun Microsystems in 2001 for more than $100 million divided between the partners.
With the proceeds of the sale, Aditya started Osellus Inc., another software firm with offices in Toronto and Bangkok. He invested the remainder of his windfall in several diverse businesses, including a candy factory in Hamilton, Ontario, that owner Cadbury Adams Canada had planned to close.
Jha subsequently saved more than 150 jobs after renaming the venture Karma Candy, owing to his belief in life-altering karma. With careful cost-cutting, more efficient production and outreach to new clients, Karma Candy became a triumph.
“There’s no recipe for success, but there are definitely ingredients for success,” Jha explains when asked how he manages to turn dross into gold. He’s quick to emphasize that his early days at Isopia were difficult ones as they struggled to perfect the right products and services. Success rarely comes easily, he underlines.
While thriving in his adopted country, Jha also pursued business opportunities overseas. He spearheaded a niche Indian IT services company, and has interests in restaurant chains in Thailand and India, as well as Canada. He also leads TransCard Capital Inc., which provides real estate investments and financial services to the tourism industry in Latin America, especially the fledgling economy of Cuba.
The latter begins to hint at the other side of Aditya Jha, that of a tireless philanthropist and social activist. He rejects the notion that philanthropy is just another form of charity.
“Charity is paternalistic; it doesn’t agree with me. The definition of philanthropy is beyond charity,” Jha says. He argues giving back to society pays dividends in terms of advancing an equitable society that can nurture goodness in people.
Jha has been generous with both his money and his time. He sponsored a unique initiative with the Grand Chief of Nishnawbe Aski Nation to nurture entrepreneurship within aboriginal communities. His charitable foundation (www.poafoundation.org) created endowments at four Ontario institutions – Ryerson, Trent and York universities, as well as George Brown College – and he chaired the UNICEF Canada India HIV/AIDS campaign.
For his efforts, Jha became a Member of the Order of Canada and a recipient of the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. He was given an honorary doctorate by Ryerson University in 2009. He was named a Top 25 Canadian Immigrant, South Asian Philanthropist and Top 30 Most Influential Indo-Canadian, among numerous other community service awards and recognitions.
Most recently, Dr. Jha was named Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Centennial College’s School of Business, a unique position Jha has been serving with enthusiasm.
“Centennial has a huge population of international students who can relate to me,” he says. “I want to share my perspectives and experiences, so that I can affect their learning directly. Connecting with students provides a glimpse of the possibilities they can attain.”
Why give college students the benefit of his wisdom and not university students? Jha believes universities already get the best professors and students. He wished to share his knowledge with people who could appreciate his perspective.
“I admire colleges because they really teach. I can have a more visible impact at college. We need to help international students, in particular, more than we’re doing now, such as by providing more aggressive internship programs for them,” he says.
Jha is encouraged by the programs he sees at college, particularly new initiatives in entrepreneurship and leadership. He wants to see “impactful engagement” both at colleges and at high schools to capture students’ imagination.
“Universal healthcare is wonderful. So how about universal post-secondary education with public and private support? Imagine all the bursaries replenished by the recipients who benefited from them.” He views education as a public resource, like a library that sees its collection restocked constantly.
Ironically, given his own extensive university education, this highly successful businessman wants parents to give Canada’s colleges a good, hard look.
“Colleges have better employability statistics and help graduates find their way,” he says. “There’s a misplaced sense of importance placed on university.”