From farm labourer to US company CEO
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- Published 25.03.12
|NOTHING SUCCEEDS LIKE SUCCESS: Jyothi Reddy now and (below) then|
Sometime in the 1980s, a young woman labourer was toiling in the fields under a harsh, southern sun for Rs 5 an hour. Seated on her haunches, she lifted her head towards the sky as an aeroplane flew past. She wanted to be on the flight…
In 2012, she is the president-founder of recruiting firm Keys Software Services, which boasts of a $5 million turnover. The company in Phoenix, Arizona, sponsors H1 visas and supplies manpower to companies.
Her rags to riches story is the stuff of the great American dream. But Anil Jyothi Reddy’s journey from an orphanage to the top of the world has been an arduous one.
Crushed by poverty after her father lost his job as a teacher, her parents decided to keep their son at home and leave their two daughters in an orphanage. Jyothi’s sister ran back to her parents. But young Jyothi — then barely nine — carried on.
“When I lived with orphans I knew the pain of life,” Jyothi, 42, says in a telephonic conversation from the US. It was a hard life, sleeping on floors without blankets and eating meagre meals. “I wanted someone to hold me, share my feelings when I did well at school or felt sad. Those hard feelings stayed with me. I needed my mother when I was in pain. The worst part was I had to pretend she was dead.”
Jyothi’s story is one of determination — her unhappy childhood incessantly pushing her towards seeking a better life. “These girls (from the orphanage) are hungry for love and are filled with a desire for a better life,” says Vimla Radharami, a former matron at one of the four Bala Sadan orphanages run by the Andhra Pradesh government in Warangal.
Jyothi is now the owner of a million-dollar company, has customised homes in the US and India, owns a Toyota Camry (an earlier car was a BMW) and has “enough” jewellery.
“Her years at the orphanage taught her how to grasp reality. She always hunted for a way to make life better. The zone of discomfort is the zone of learning,” reasons Uday Kumar, a Visakhapattanam-based motivational speaker and co-author of No Condition Is Permanent, a book on Jyothi’s life.
Jyothi attended a government school while at the Bala Sadan orphanage. She also took a vocational course while residing in the orphanage superintendent’s house and helping out with their housework. It was here she realised the power of a good job for a woman. But the dream at that age seemed distant, especially after her parents married her off when she was 16 to her jobless cousin.
After the birth of her two children, she became an agricultural labourer, working at her father-in-law’s fields and in other fields. In Mailaram village, agricultural workers still remember her as friendly, keen to learn work, but often bemoaning her fate. “She used to walk around with an umbrella,” recalls one labourer with a laugh.
What came to her aid was a central government scheme, the Nehru Yuva Kendra (NYK), which sought to create awareness among the young. She became an NYK volunteer and later started teaching.
“Jyothi was hardworking and developed leadership qualities here,” says Mandala Parashu Ramulu, a former NYK colleague who now runs a non-government organisation. “We would encourage villagers to pool in money to build a bus shelter, for example,” he adds.
She worked during the day and stitched petticoats at night to earn more. She learnt typing and studied for a postgraduate degree from the Dr B.R. Ambedkar Open University on weekends, after obtaining a BA from Kakatiya Open University at Warangal. In 1992, she bagged a special teacher’s job, earning Rs 398 a month.
She had to travel two hours to reach her school, but Jyothi made the most of it by selling saris. “I convinced my sister’s landlord to give me 10 saris and I got a profit of Rs 10 from each sari I sold,” she says. “There were women on that train gossiping or reading books but I did not waste time. I had to support my children and I needed money.”
Her job as a teacher was regularised and she was appointed a “girl development officer”. Her salary shot up to Rs 18,000 — but Jyothi wanted more for her daughters and herself.
The visit of a relative from the US prompted her to try her luck in the West. She studied computers, got an American visa, took long leave from her government job, placed her two daughters in a Christian missionary hostel — and left for the US in 2000. The daughters joined her later and are now married. Her husband lives in Hyderabad and occasionally visits them.
Jyothi started by working in gas stations and cleaning bathrooms in motels. She babysat and loaded and unloaded goods, and finally landed herself a job in a New Jersey cassette shop on a $420 salary.
One day an Indian visiting the shop offered her a job in his brother’s recruiting firm in South Carolina for $1,000 a month with free accommodation. Jyothi moved on.
“It was a crucial time for me. I had to deal with Americans but did not know English very well,” she recounts.
Jyothi often turned to the Bible for help. “I picked up key sentences from the Bible and repeated them. I’m a crazy learner, I love learning new things. I believe God will save you if you work hard,” she says simply. “That is the positive point about America. They don’t look down on you; I love working in America.”
She excelled in her work, picking up the trade. But a few ensuing hurdles — a company offered her a job and then backtracked, forcing her to go back to babysitting and gas station work — prompted her to start her own business.
The idea hit her when she went to Mexico to get her visa stamped: “I knew the ins and outs of the paperwork involved in getting the HI visa stamped.” With her savings of $40,000, she opened an office in Phoenix in 2001. “My first placement was a Gujarati boy — I fixed him in an IT firm. And I was on a roll,” she says happily.
The only dissenting note comes from her surviving parent — her mother. Recovering from a lung infection in a Warangal hospital, Swaraspathi Reddy is unwilling to accept her daughter’s tale of battling overwhelming odds. “We also helped her but she does not admit that,” she maintains.
Defensive about abandoning her, she says: “Our condition was very bad then. I too suffered, leaving my daughter behind and would cry for her. But I never let my sons work or suffer even for a day.”
And therein hangs the tale.