When Bharat Bhisé, MBA ’78, CEO and founder of Bravia Capital, established a distinctive new program for the Levermore Global Scholars program at Adelphi University, he said one of his objectives was to help students learn to be critical thinkers.
The Bhisé Global Learning Experience, which is sending eight Adelphi undergraduates to India in January 2023 for an intensive, all-expenses-paid study tour, also advances one of the main goals of the University’s Momentum 2 strategic plan: to strengthen Adelphi’s distinction for academic excellence through valuable experiential learning opportunities.
Bhisé, an investor and leader in the global transportation, leasing and logistics industries, said another goal for him is to give back to the University that made it possible for a then 21-year-old from India to earn his degree while working on campus. Here, he talks about his time at Adelphi, his business experience and why the new Bhisé Global Learning Experience matters to him.
You came here in 1975, at age 21, with an undergraduate business degree from Delhi University in India. Why did you choose to attend Adelphi for your MBA?
I graduated college at 18 and worked for almost three years in a company in India. The America of Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong had always been a beacon to me. More importantly, I was fascinated by the financial services industry where the U.S. had created new and exciting products. Adelphi offered international business and corporate finance, and I combined them as a double major to get an international finance degree.
Where did you work on campus as you earned your degree?
In 1976, I was hired as a graduate assistant in the computer center. I also worked in the Rathskeller making pizza and drove a checkered cab at night in New York City. As a grad assistant, the tuition for my MBA was covered, so anything I’m doing for the school today is making up for the tuition that I would have paid back then if I hadn’t been a grad assistant.
While you were here, how did you experience being part of the campus?
I was at school almost every day. And even though I was a grad student, I spent a lot of time on campus and most of my friends were undergrads. I have very good memories of that time.
Was Adelphi diverse in 1976?
Absolutely. I found students from everywhere, both foreign students and people from different parts of America, which I didn’t expect for a school in Long Island.
Your first job took you to London, Tokyo and Paris, then you started your own company leasing aircraft. How did that come about?
Luck is such an important part of life. After working for five years for a Japanese multinational corporation affiliate in Long Island, I did a brief stint working as the U.S. general manager for an Indian multinational corporation. In 1985, I started my own debt trading business that bought and sold distressed Latin American debt. In 1987, I had an opportunity to negotiate a lease for two 737-300s for the Costa Rican national airline, which at the time was the newest technology airplane. But I didn’t know what to do with that lease.
That comes back to Adelphi. In 1978, the head of the career center had given me a strategy to reach decision makers: to call them between 5:05 and 5:45 p.m., when his secretary would have gone home but he likely was still in the office. So, I called the chairman of Texas Air who had bought the Eastern Airlines fleet out of bankruptcy, and he invited me to fly to Houston the next day. That ended up becoming my first aircraft deal.
I then had three dry years during which I didn’t close a single deal when I had a family to support and I was heavily in debt. In 1990, I bought a fleet of old 727-200s from American Airlines and traded them to a Japanese investor. I then got the idea that many 15-plus-year-old planes were built to last 25-plus years, so why not convert them to freighters? That led me into the business of converting older passenger planes into freighters. I was then in the aircraft leasing business for over 30 years.
Why do you feel a liberal arts education is important?
The purpose of an education is to figure out what you want to do in life and college is the time to do that. In India, I wanted to study math, which was nixed by my father who vetoed the idea on the grounds there would be no good job opportunities for mathematicians. So, my college degree was what’s called a Bachelor of Commerce, which is kind of like an undergrad business degree. I regret that I wasn’t able to also study literature or history or philosophy and many other subjects that I was interested in as a teenager. Now I spend a lot of my time reading on these subjects and specifically studying art and antiquities, which I’ve always wanted to do.
What drew you to create the Bhisé Global Learning Experience?
I’d never seen a program like the Levermore Global Scholars. This is something for which my interests are completely aligned. In terms of my personal experiences, I now have the opportunity to work toward Adelphi becoming a leader among American universities in turning out graduates who value being global citizens of the 21st century. I expect these eight students to come back and be ambassadors, to share with their peers the concept that education is about understanding diverse and different ways of thinking, not about dogma. I feel that the way our schools teach in America is very inward looking. The single most important purpose of education is for you to be able to think for yourself, not to simply follow what your teachers or parents or local media tells you. That’s a big problem, and in my very small way I hope I can help. That is the core of the program.
How will you demonstrate that?
For instance, the students will visit the Taj Mahal while in India. While this mausoleum is extraordinarily beautiful, the building was built by an emperor who captured architects, artisans and workers and turned them into slaves, including maiming key designers and artisans after completion of the Taj. That’s telling both sides of the story. I want to open the students’ minds.
What are your ideas for the program’s future?
We are looking at extending the program to Ireland, Ghana and South Korea over the next three years.
Is there something else you think is important for others to know?
I think that the direction that Christine Riordan has taken the school in the last five years has a momentum that will lift Adelphi’s standing in the global educational community to being a responsible and thoughtful educational institution for the 21st century. Also, I’m humbled by the importance that’s been given to me by Adelphi. I’m really not that unusual a person. I’m practical and have common sense and I’ve been fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, but I’m not some brilliant financial genius. My philosophy has always been to hire people smarter than myself.
You recently gave a lecture in the Robert B. Willumstad School of Business about the five pillars that contribute to a globally successful business. Can you explain what these are and how they apply to your experience?
A business is five very distinct things: equity of the owners or the shareholders; your management; your customers; your vendors; and the community you live in. When I look back on the things that I did in life, I concluded that when at least three of these five separate stakeholders are not aligned, the business will probably fail. I have owned a few businesses that failed, and in all those businesses, fundamentally misalignment of interests was the problem. And there were other businesses that may not have been as likely to succeed but did because all five were completely aligned in their goals.
You’re in the process of selling parts of your business, so what is your next chapter?
Two of my major portfolio companies are under sale contract; for one I will exit completely and for the other I will exit over the next 12–24 months. At Adelphi, in addition to the Bhisé Global Learning Experience, I’m now an executive in residence teaching finance classes. I’m also giving lectures such as a review of the crash of 2008, which I think is a very important lesson. I’m also moderating a seminar on entrepreneurship. And in addition to my involvement at Adelphi, I’m on the board of the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. My family’s focus is now geared toward gender equality challenges we face in America. My wife, Swati, teaches a Women’s Empowerment Program at the University of Nevada that is focused on AAPI [ Asian American Pacific Islander] women.
You’re wearing a tie that has a dog pattern. Does that reflect your interest in dogs?
Indeed, it does. I’m a big lover of dogs, who I believe are the most anthropologically advanced mammals on the planet. I currently have four, two Dobermans and two boxers. (Here he opens his phone.) I have several hundred photos and videos I can show you of my dogs.