The Doctor With The Midas Touch
Date: Friday , March 31, 2006
To say Dr. Sudhir Parikh has the healing touch would be only part of the story. This New Jersey-based allergy and immunology specialist is also an entrepreneur of international renown with what can only be described the Midas touch.
When not being sought after by patients, those at the highest level of business and finance are courting Dr. Parikh. He was recently offered multi-millions by a Wall Street private equity firm to buy-out his practice. “I told them I am not selling yet,” was his reply. And that's because his thirst for expansion is just not satiated yet. He has one of the largest conglomerates of super-specialty practices in the United States, and myriad chapters to his story, all woven with the common thread of success.
A 59-year old native of Gujarat, Dr. Parikh has risen dramatically from his modest roots to receiving the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman-the Government of India's highest civilian honor for non-resident Indians. His achievements have even been recorded in the U.S. Congressional record. These days, Dr. Parikh sees his success as a simple result of doing what he thought as right, noting that, “perhaps it has all been worth it.”
Born and raised in an extended joint Gujarati family, Dr. Parikh is the second of five children. Like all of his siblings, he graduated from medical college, but with the highest scores and a citation to boot.
After getting his Doctorate in Medicine, he left for England, where, after only six months of working in a small hospital, he found himself being recommended to work at one of the most prestigious medical institutions in the country: St. Bartholomew Hospital in London, the equivalent to Harvard medical school in the U.S. Commendably, of the 600-odd physicians at St. Bartholomew at that time, Dr. Parikh was one of only a handful of Asian doctors.
The St. Bartholomew experience proved to be a blessing; two years later, when he came to the U.S., he was immediately accepted into 2nd-year residency at St. Lukes-Columbia Hospital in New York. A Fellowship in allergy, asthma, and immunology followed, which was itself a rare honor. As a super-specialty course, the program was not open to many applicants in those days. “Whether it was my luck, focus, or way of impressing people with hard work, I was always on the fast track,” smiles Dr. Parikh effacingly. “I came to the U.S. in 1975, and in four years, I was ready to practice.” And that's just what he did, setting up a private practice in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1980.
Dr. Parikh's practice flourished. For him, however, it was just a stepping-stone towards a larger goal. “Working for myself, I realized I would probably make a million dollars or so in a few years and retire,” Dr. Parikh recalls. “After all, how much can a man work given a day and lifetime? The idea was to create wealth enough to be able to give back to community.” So he hit upon the idea of acquiring well established practices from physicians who were about to retire.
It seemed an odd idea to many, but as he looks back on what made him choose that route, Dr. Parikh credits his "god-given gift of envisioning outcomes.”
It was Dr. Sidney Smith's asthma & allergy practice in Highland Park, New Jersey that set the ball rolling. "Dr. Smith was a pioneer in the field of allergy and immunology in New Jersey,” explains Dr. Parikh. “At that time, he had an established practice of over three decades. He had tremendous goodwill, was 75 years-old and about to retire.”
Dr. Smith, an orthodox Jew, believed in the ambitious yet sincere and forthright Indian, and the first block in the creating of Dr. Parikh's empire was cemented. That was 1980. "I must say, it paid off," he laughs, looking back.
On a buying spree ever since, Dr. Parikh began acquiring flourishing, well-established practices from retiring physicians, without a penny of financing. He knew each of these practices would be leveraged by its own capacity to generate profits. Today, Dr. Parikh runs an empire of 20 practices, in 20 office buildings, with 150 staff members and 18 full-time allergists.
It's no dumb luck then that whatever Dr. Parikh touched turned to gold. “Touch wood, whatever I have ever taken up in my life has never failed,” he reports. “On the contrary, whether it is my practice or private investments, they have only doubled.”
Over the years, Dr. Parikh has donated more than $2 million to various charities and causes in India and the U.S. “Money has no value unless it is used to give away to the needy,” has long been his firm belief and first took concrete shape when he set up the Parikh Foundation 15 years ago.
He's always been there in times of trouble to help out as well. When the killer earthquake struck Gujarat some years ago, the doctor was part of the high level delegation that accompanied President Bill Clinton to the affected areas. However, it was his effort to help tsunami victims last year that brought him the limelight. He not only personally visited the affected areas in Tamil Nadu, but also helped the Art of Living Foundation in providing humanitarian relief. He also supports various initiatives to provide education to the needy.
In the U.S., he gives generously to the Share & Care Foundation, Nargis Dutt Memorial Foundation, and the American India Foundation. He became a grand benefactor of the famous Vraj Temple in New Jersey as well, where he gave $175,000 towards construction of the temple and a community center. As patron trustee of the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) Charitable Foundation, meanwhile, Dr. Parikh helped raise large funds towards AIDS awareness in India and healthcare-related programs in the country.
Professionally, he says that he has reached a stage where he can afford to play golf thrice a week. "But I indulge in it only once a week, because there is so much more to do to help our community. For my personal livelihood or well being, I don't need any more money than what I already have. So I want to give back to the community," he says with true sincerity.
Community and Political Activism
The Indian American community of the early '80s could at best be called 'fragmented', and lacking leadership. Yet there were plenty of issues that confronted the community and U.S.-India relations, and Dr. Parikh soon saw himself being propelled into leadership positions.
It takes an unyielding sense of social responsibility for a man who is a full-time medical practitioner and head honcho of 20 full-fledged practices to be so intricately involved in community and political activism. His explanation, “I have always been a community person,” probably says it all.
There were the infamous Dot-buster gangs in New Jersey; professional discrimination of Indian physicians around the country; and the anti-India-pro-Pakistan air in Washington D.C.--all tremendously frustrating.
What bothered Dr. Parikh most, though, was the image of India in America. “In the '80s, whenever you opened most of the newspapers, all you saw, if anything at all, was the image of a poor and backward India.” Dr. Parikh continues, “I still remember a picture they published of a poor Indian woman sleeping on a sidewalk with a cow standing next to her, complete with cow-dung splattered around. That was the picture of India at that time. It disturbed a lot of us in our community.”
Indian Americans are no easy community to lead, but Dr. Parikh takes pride in his ability to bring people together. “Whichever organization I was involved in, I always took the lead to do things, stuck my neck out, and most of all, put my money where my mouth was,” he reasons rightfully. “For any given cause, I was always the one who wrote out that first check. So people knew I was not all talk.”
Early on in his career, Dr. Parikh had the distinction of being the first Indian American to be appointed to the New Jersey Medical Licensing Board (Statutory Board of the NJ Government). During his three-year tenure, he successfully fought to change a discriminative law whereby Indian medical graduates were not being given licenses to practice on the grounds that their graduate program did not match that of the U.S.
Politically bipartisan, he's been front and center of lobbying on Capitol Hill, the most spectacular of which efforts led to the formation of the Congressional Caucus of India and Indian Americans in the US Congress, and more recently, the Friends of India Caucus in the U.S. Senate.
From supporting Indian American candidates in elections, Diwali celebrations at the White House, and the Indo-U.S. civilian nuclear deal to opposing the delivery of F-16s to Pakistan, Dr. Parikh has personally lobbied with the powers that be on the Hill.
Awards, decorations, and citations have come pouring in through the years for professional as well as community achievements. Still, Dr. Parikh is nowhere close to hanging up his boots.
While counting his blessings for all these rewards, Dr. Parikh still feels a man's character is shaped mainly because of family values. “What I am is entirely because of my parents,” he insists. And as for his own goals and expectations, they are entirely his own, as he sets new standards for higher achievement for himself. “There's no question of retirement for me, either from my practice or from my community service,” he says vehemently.
Although he does not regret it, Dr. Parikh sure acknowledges that his practice and community work have taken away precious moments of time with his wife and children.
Wife Sudha, a retired anesthesiologist, is the quintessential woman-behind-the-successful man and the mom who filled in for the dad too.
His biggest fear is that the second generation of Indian Americans will not take up the baton of political and community activism from their peers. “They are still confused,” he admits. “They have no alliance with India like their parents. Their politics are completely local and their tendency is to ask ‘what's in it for us?’” If he could, Dr. Parikh says he would like to see the younger generation of Indian Americans keep the torch burning the way the younger people in many Jewish communities do.
So, minus the full-time practice, the running of the Parikh Empire, and his community work, political activism, social activities, and family, does he have a small personal space of his own? “Oh yes,” Dr. Parikh responds immediately. “Whenever I get a little time to myself... the most meaningless thing I do is watch old Hindi movies. I sure enjoy that!”