CEO Chronicles #17: Victim To CEO – Miracle Of Self-Belief

Part 1 – The Victim Years

Episode 1 : 1968

The boy stood at the edge of the playground.

His classmates were kicking the football, running and laughing.

Two of his classmates ran past him. One looked in his direction.

“See, there’s Black Sambo! Hey Black Sambo!”

The other looked back.

“Hey, Blackie! What are you doing here? Go wash yourself!”

The boy turned to go. Just then, two seniors walked by. As they looked at him, one said something to the other, and both laughed.

“…what the hell does he eat? How did he get so fat…” their words trailed as they went past.

The boy dipped his head and walked to the classroom. He pulled out a book from his bag and started to read, even though his eyes were too moist to make out the words.

Episode 2 : 1970

The boy looked around at the vast wedding hall. Boy, was it huge! And so many people…

“Hello, boy!” It was an older couple dressed to their nines. “And who are you?”

The boy mumbled his parents’ names.

“Ah!” the man said and began moving away.

“…his brothers seem to be smart and handsome young men. But this one, no one knows where he came from. I hear they wanted a girl, you know. What a shock it must have been to get a fat darkie instead…”

The boy walked to the side doors of the hall, and sat on the steps, and pulled out a book.

Episode 3 : 1972

The boy stood in front of the teacher’s desk.

She looked at him sternly. “If this is your standard of work, you are never going to amount to anything! How can you make so many mistakes? Why can’t you check your work?”

The boy lowered his head and said nothing. He heard his classmates tittering behind him.

“Useless. Absolutely useless!” the teacher said. “Go back to your seat!”

Episode 4 : 1974

The boy walked past his parents’ bedroom.

“He wants to attend singing classes,” he heard his mother say.

“But he can’t sing. He can’t hold a tune!” his father replied.

“Yes, but I don’t want to hurt him. So, I told him that the teacher accepts only girls.”

Their voices faded as he moved on.

Part 2 – Breaking Free!

Preparing to launch : 1980

The young man sat on the college dormitory terrace, back against the wall. Four others lounged around him. In the centre were two bottles of cheap rum and a pile of potato wafers.

“So, what’s your story?” asked one of his friends, “What made you so good in academics? You’ve been topping every subject, every term! Were you always like this?”

The young man looked up and laughed shortly. “Absolutely not! Things were terrible when I was younger.”

“When I was a boy, no one believed in me. Not my family, not my teachers, and definitely not my classmates. So, I had no choice. I had learn how to ignore everyone else’s opinion and believe in myself.”

“Then, I realized that I did not have many talents. I wasn’t too intelligent. But I wanted to be someone. I wanted to be worthy of my belief. I learned that even if I am not clever, I can still work hard and start early. So, from the first day of the semester, I read the subjects again and again, until I understand them completely. I solve every question, twice or thrice, if necessary. I revise continuously. Basically, I make up for my shortfalls by planning, preparing and working.”

“If you hear a voice within you say, ‘you cannot paint’, then immediately start painting, and the voice will be silenced.”

Another friend spoke. “Isn’t it painful? Is this really what you want to do, or like doing?”

“Well”, said the young man, “I read somewhere that if you can’t be with the one you love, then you should love the one you’re with. To me this means – be happy in whatever I do, rather than just try and do what makes me happy. Does this make sense?”

The friend laughed. “I am not sure. So, let’s see – you believe in yourself, push yourself to your limits and try to find happiness in whatever you do. Most people would find that much effort and commitment too difficult to sustain!”

The young man nodded. “Nothing worthwhile is ever easy,” he said, as he sipped his drink.

Reaching orbital velocity : 1995

The man adjourned the meeting. His team and he were exhausted. It had been a grueling few weeks.

“One last word from me,” he said. “Thank you. Thank you to each and every one of you for the amazing efforts and commitment you have shown over the past two months. We have done everything we can. Now, win or lose, you are all my heroes!”

Smiles and applause broke out across the room.

“Also, for those of you are not going straight to bed, drinks are on me!”

His words were greeted by a cheer.

Later that evening, at the bar, he looked around at his team with affection.


The man turned. “Yes?”

“I’m not sure if this is the right time to ask,” said the young executive, “but I heard that you have been promoted more times than anyone else. How did you manage this?”

“Well,” the man said, “I have often asked myself this, and this is what I have come to believe –

  • One, I think it’s because I know and believe in my purpose. I know who I am, what I want and where I want to go.
  • Two, I am focused – I plan and prepare and persist until I get what I want.
  • Three, I have you guys – without you, I can achieve nothing. A manager is only as good as his team, and you have always made me proud!”

“I really hope to be like you someday!” said the young man.

The man smiled. “That’s a nice thing to say. But take my advice – be who you are, and not what others are or expect you to be…”

Reaching the moon : 2009

The man looked out of the window. Well, the view from the CEO’s office is not very different from the other offices, he thought to himself.

He turned and walked to his desk. Behind it hung the poster he had had with him for more than two decades. He read it aloud as he had done a thousand times before :

“A flower does not care about what people think of it. It just blooms.”

He sat down in his chair.

That was a long and amazing journey, he mused. So much luck, so many good friends. So many wonderful teachers and mentors. Such superb colleagues and teams. Fantastic opportunities and amazing outcomes…

Well, I have reached my destination. Time to deliver expectations…

He leaned forward and opened his laptop.

Venkatraman Sheshashayee

Venkatraman Sheshashayee (Shesh) is Managing Director of Radical Advice, a business transformation advisory based in Singapore. He has over 34 years of experience in manufacturing, shipping and offshore oil & gas. Shesh’s previous roles include CEO of Miclyn Express Offshore, CEO & ED of Jaya Holdings Limited and Managing Director of Greatship Global. In his new avatar, Shesh helps SMEs, start-ups and aspiring professionals achieve their potential.
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