Gulshan Harjani (BBM 2005) hails from one of the pioneering batches in SMU. As the second batch of students, Gulshan has very fond memories of his time at the SMU Bukit Timah campus (Ed: which he will regale you with over drinks). Upon graduation, Gulshan moved to Jakarta, set up his own company, and hasn't looked back since. His love for SMU has not waned though; he started the SMU Indonesia Alumni Chapter, and has striven to keep the overseas and international alumni community in Jakarta connected to each other, and to their alma mater. We are heartened by this alumni leader's efforts and commitment in giving back.
Hi Gulshan! Tell us about your story – what led you to settle in Indonesia after graduation?
Born in Singapore, I moved to Jakarta with my family when I was 5. At 18, I returned to Singapore for National Service and joined SMU in 2001.
I had always dreamt of running my own business, driven by a need to make a direct positive impact in a field that I was passionate about - Business Communication - a passion which SMU helped me identify. So after I graduated, I started my own training firm called CommunicatingWorld, with a vision to become the leading communication training partner for multinationals in Asia – a 13-year career that has so far been tremendously rewarding and fulfilling.
(Gulshan in one of his training sessions for corporate executives)
A compelling combination of factors drove me to start this business in Jakarta: firstly, Indonesia, with its size and strong economic growth, offered up an attractive market for any business; secondly, back then, multinational corporations, whilst enjoying rapid growth, did not have much choice of local training firms to support their people development needs; thirdly, I was highly familiar with the culture, language and business environment in Indonesia.
SMU had inculcated a ‘be different’ mindset in me, which spurred me to start my business in Indonesia, rather than take the familiar route of starting one’s career in Singapore.
As part of the second batch (Class of 2005), you spent most of your SMU days entirely at the Bukit Timah campus – what was your fondest memory from it?
My years at the Bukit Timah Campus were truly eventful and memorable. I have fond memories of late-night group meetings, bonding with friends over intellectual debates and frivolous gossip alike, jogging at the pristine Botanical Gardens, and conversations over coffee at Food Haven with (Prof. Tsui) Kai Chong, our Dean, who always made time for students! I also remember the days I stayed on Campus, which back then was at College Green. I had an amazing group of house mates – Amrit, Angad, Taresh, Natasha and Swati – who today are my closest friends, almost like family!
"SMU: world-class education - check; a strong network of peers - check; lifelong friends - check!"
(Gulshan with his closest SMU friends from their days staying together at College Green in 2001 (above) and in 2017 (below))
On one occasion during Patrons’ Day, as Vice President of the Student Association, I was escorting our SMU Patron and then President of Singapore, Mr. SR Nathan for a tour around the campus. Halfway through the tour, he stopped to ask if SMU provided student accommodation on campus. I replied that SMU did provide it at College Green (along Dunearn Road) where coincidentally I was staying at that time.
Mr. Nathan then shared that during the days he studied at the Bukit Timah Campus, he too stayed at College Green! By the end of that conversation, I found out that I was staying at the same house that he stayed in when he was in University! I ended up bonding with the President of Singapore over college dorm room stories! That’s a cherished memory that will stay with me.
How did you form the SMU Indonesia Alumni Chapter in Jakarta?
Back in 2005, I was the 2nd batch of Alumni and probably one of the first few to move back to Indonesia. As the years passed and we had more batches graduating, more Alumni started moving back to Indonesia. I would try to look them up and add them to our group, and organize gatherings like dinner, coffee and movie nights.
Today, we have over 100 Alumni working in various industries who are always ready to support each other with contacts, advice and resources. What’s amazing is that they’re always ready to ‘give back’ to SMU. Some have been emcees for SMU Events in Indonesia. Others have been invited as Guest Speakers to speak to prospective students and parents at SMU Undergraduate/Postgraduate Admission Seminars & Recruitment Fairs in Indonesia.
(Gulshan, front row extreme right, with SMU alumni in Jakarta at one of their alumni gatherings)
What was your reaction when SMU first approached you to be a member of International Advisory Council (IAC) Indonesia? What did you think of the IAC initiative? What were some of the topics discussed that left a deep impression on you?
I was quite surprised but honored to be part of this initiative, which gives SMU a chance to have a greater impact on the business community across the region. During the inaugural meeting, we identified a few initiatives including SMU-X to get students to help develop solutions to real-life challenges faced in Indonesia – I think this is something that will help our students not only to learn from but also enjoy doing. As a member of the Council, I hope to also involve our Alumni in Indonesia to contribute towards facilitating greater interaction between SMU and the community in Indonesia.
How did SMU contribute to where you are today?
SMU has truly impacted me in so many ways! Joining a brand new university in its 2nd batch ever, in 2001, was a huge risk! However, I’m glad I took it. The whole experience has inspired me to challenge norms and think differently. Today, as I look back at my days at SMU, I realize that spirited in-class discussions, exposure to real-life business cases, delivering projects with tight deadlines, and making innumerable project presentations have all combined to help me succeed in the career that I have chosen for myself.
During my time in SMU, I did some community service with UNICEF Indonesia and learnt how such organizations make an immense difference in the lives of the underprivileged. This instilled a ‘giving back’ mentality in me, so when I started my business, we started contributing to UNICEF – something that has continued even till today. In addition to that, we’ve also started our own CSR initiatives to help improve the lives of children living in slum areas of Jakarta.
As an Alumnus, I realize how my time at SMU has shaped me into the person I am today and hope to be able to ‘give back’ as much as I can.
(Gulshan at his company's CSR event)
The 14th batch of SMU students (Class of 2018) just graduated this month (August). What advice would you give to your juniors who wish to work overseas, especially in Indonesia?
Congratulations to the 14th batch!
As you enter the next phase of your life, no doubt you will be driven by your career goals. But don’t get so consumed by your career that you forget to ‘live your life’. You can earn money but you can’t earn time. So do the things you’ve always wanted to do and visit the places you’ve always wanted to visit. Move to a city you’ve never been to before.
If you get a chance to come to Indonesia (or anywhere else), grab it! Being the most populated nation in Southeast Asia, Indonesia has countless opportunities for you to explore – from starting new businesses to learning more about the people and culture. When you step out of your comfort zone, you learn so many lessons that money cannot buy. And you’ll get a life that is rich in terms of experiences and relationships.
(Picture perfect: Gulshan with his wife, Vipasha, and sons, Harmaan and Saahil)
Last updated on 16 Aug 2018 .