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Rising Above Challenges

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Rising Above Challenges

As normal human beings, we are endowed with many of life’s wonderful gifts. To realise how much we take these gifts for granted, one needs to meet Vaibhav Kothari and others like him, who have to battle their challenges every day to make themselves heard, understood or prove their worth to a condescending world that tends to relegate their potential to the domain of less-abled.

Vaibhav Kothari’s parents Chandra Prakash and Manju Kothari

Born Deaf

A scion of the Om Kothari Group—a diversified conglomerate with interests in engineering, construction, real estate, infrastructure, automotive dealership and investment—Vaibhav Kothari is the son of Chandra Prakash Kothari, the man credited with starting the group’s flagship, Om Metals Infraprojects Ltd, along with his brothers from scratch. Over time, the Kotharis shifted base from Duni (the ancestral home of the Kotharis in Rajasthan) to Kota, where Vaibhav Kothari was born. Vaibhav Kothari was born Deaf, but that has neither been able to dampen his spirits nor kill his determination to rise above every challenge and lead a productive and meaningful life like any other person.

When Vaibhav Kothari was three, his parents, realising his need for speech therapy and special education, shifted to Delhi. Some three decades later, the family still lives in Delhi, where Kothari contributes to the family business as an Executive Member of Om Metals Infraprojects Ltd, which focuses on providing hydromechanical equipment and turnkey solutions to irrigation and hydroelectric power projects all over India, its neighbouring countries and Africa. “As Executive Member, I have been involved in overseeing the development of irrigation systems in Rwanda, Africa and also starting FRPE (fibre reinforced polymer cables) operations at OM Optel, in Bhopal,” says Kothari. Further, he has started his own lifestyle brand OMVAI which offers handmade jewellery (with healing powers) and dresses. “I am a big fan of travel, fashion and spiritual healing, and I have always wanted to start a brand of my own,” shares Kothari. OMVAI, we are informed, aims to employ talented people including differently-abled individuals from around the world. Of late, Kothari also has been running his investment firm, OM International LLC, where, as Managing Member/Founder, he independently looks after investment activities in real estate and start-up enterprises in the USA.

Bracelet from Vaibhav Kothari’s lifestyle brand OMVAI

Overcoming challenges

Rather than being helped to leapfrog to his current position in the family business, Kothari’s entrepreneurial abilities stem from his impressive academics and hands-on experience in various fields. But the going was not easy. Asked about the difficulties he faced as a student, Kothari shares, “As a student in high school, I did not have access to all auditory information and I never had support services. I was left alone, which means I was not involved socially and actively, both professionally and personally.”

He finished school, nevertheless, with the help of a speech therapist and special educator and then proceeded to the USA, where he earned a BSc degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering from Rochester Institute of Technology, NY and then an MS degree in Technological Entrepreneurship from Northeastern University, Boston. Later, he was to also acquire an MBA from Daniels College of Business, Denver, USA.

As regards work experience, after engaging himself in paid co-operative work with different companies as a college student, Kothari joined the family business in 2010, after finishing his MS in Technological Entrepreneurship. Here, for the first two years, he took part in upgrading a manufacturing facility to a world-class unit in Kota and then worked on adding a new line of manufactured products for private clients. After that, for three years he worked as Director at Bhilwara Jaipur Toll Road Pvt Ltd, a BOT model project for strengthening the two-lane highway from Jaipur to Bhilwara, and then left for the USA to study MBA.

Just as he had to face difficulties as a student, careering posed challenges too. “It was difficult to get involved in business discussions, and I have been seen or oppressed as a second-class or third-class citizen in work,” shares Kothari. Nevertheless, overcoming these challenges, he hired a professional interpreter from the USA to get involved more deeply in all his work and also train a group of Indians to become interpreters. “Taking full responsibility of your work on your own helps everyone to recognise your contributions and values in general,” Kothari observes.

Vaibhav Kothari (eighth from right) at his MBA graduation, in Daniels College of Business, Denver, USA

Many achievements

Kothari’s inner drive and never-say-die spirit have spilled on to other domains as well, including starting a talk show in the USA, which later came to be known as the OMVAI Talk Show in Denver. Kothari went on to interview various leaders in the 20-minute show, including Kimbal Musk, the brother of Tesla founder, Elon Musk. “The OMVAI Talk Show is about inspiring real-life stories of net-worthy entrepreneurs, who have made a difference in society through their path-breaking vision, hard work and resilience,” informs Kothari. Now available on YouTube, the 1st Season of the show comprised interviews with 10 different entrepreneurs through an ASL (American Sign Language) interpreter, while in the 2nd Season, three entrepreneurs have been interviewed so far.
Apart from his talk show, Vaibhav Kothari has also directed and produced a short documentary film portraying how a deaf person works as a leader in professional settings, how he breaks all communication barriers through his interpreters and makes various decisions. Titled ‘Not Anymore’, the film received an award at the 5th Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, 2015.

For the future, Kothari plans to raise funds for a Hollywood feature film that he is involved in together with Hilari Scarl, a director and writer. He also plans to start a new business in either the USA or Europe, apart from working on his start-ups. However, his ardent desire as always remains to encourage and inspire people with his good work and many contributions, as also to get inspired by them.