I met Arun in 2001 or so. My first introduction to him was through Shashi Tharoor when Arun hosted a dinner at their beautiful home in the Bay Area for Shashi. Since then, their home has become a space for me to host some of the most amazing artists, authors, business executives and more.
There are three sides to Arun that I have come to be familiar with, in my last two decades of friendship with him:
The first – on the professional front, Arun reinvents himself constantly and pushes the envelop on his own learning. He had a great career as a partner and board member at KPMG USA. At the top of his career, he took a huge pay cut to serve as the Undersecretary of Commerce with the Obama administration. The ability to connect US commerce to the rest of the world was a unique opportunity that was beyond all financial concerns to him. He and his wife Poornima left their home of over three decades and deep friendships in the Bay Area to relocate to Washington DC and start a brand new life in the diplomatic circles. After a successful career there, he was presented with an opportunity to relocate to India to run KPMG India. Arun could have retired in the Bay Area and taken on some of the most coveted board positions on the heels of his success with the Obama administration. But he took on the new challenge with total commitment and moved to Mumbai. He has been financially successful for a long time and has nothing to prove from a professional point of view but he thrives on professional challenges that involve making an impact. Arun is a consensus builder and a strong impact-maker. His soft-spoken exterior may fool you but he is very tough on himself and on achieving organizational results.
The second – is that of a renaissance man. Arun is a supporter of various cultural institutions, has a wonderful personal collection of art, and spends his time writing poetry. Behind the business exterior lies an astute observer of the smallest moments that pass us by, capturing the essence in simple, succinct collections of poetry. He has published a book of poems and finds the time to write despite his busy schedule.
The third and the final aspect is that of a loyal friend and a family man. Arun is amazing at keeping in touch with all friends old and new. He kept in touch with his high-school art coach and now famous artist Anjolie Ela Menon and used to host her whenever she was in the Bay Area. Despite his busy schedule, he always spent time with his sons while they were growing up and even to this day, makes time to have personal time off with his sons, their spouses and grand children. He maintains a strong connection to his native state Kerala and visits regularly. Moreover, Arun has many deep relationships with people with whom he has no professional connections and maintains those relationships. I have met many busy, successful business people and it is very rare to see this level of deep personal connections.
It is Arun’s humility and hunger to learn that makes him a great friend and the most desirable advisor for everything personal as well as professional!