It was standing-room only at CSUN’s Orchard Conference Center on March 8 as the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics welcomed its first in-person distinguished speaker since 2020. Investor, philanthropist and alumnus Ramesh Damani ’79 (Business Administration), M.S. ’81,  joined the esteemed ranks of the college’s Younes Nazarian Distinguished Speaker Series, which aims to inspire students and alumni by bringing high-level executives to campus.

Damani’s extensive career has encompassed global technology, business and innovation. He currently serves as the Chairman of the Board at DMart. He also hosts CNBC’s long-running “Wizards of the Street” program.

In his prepared remarks, “Leadership in a Global Economy,” Damani advocated for a closer economic partnership between the United States and India. “India’s importance to the U.S. and the world rests on the three-legged stool of demographics, democracy and digitization,”  he said. Adding that an economic partnership between the two nations could bring much-needed reciprocity, allowing each country’s strengths to shore up the other’s weaknesses.

As India has developed pathways for foreign direct investment, attracting companies such as Apple, Airbus and Boeing, this has opened opportunities for job-seekers. Damani encouraged his audience to think of themselves as global citizens and familiarize themselves with the nuances of other cultures.

“See opportunity wherever you see it in the world,” he said. “Not just within the 50 square miles or so where you live.”

Following his speech, Damani sat down with moderator Wendy Greuel, executive-in-residence in the CSUN Nazarian College, and took questions from her and the audience. Their discussion covered topics that ranged from Damani’s first job in the tech industry to his investment advice. Throughout the evening, Damani returned to the idea that immigration plays a critical role in maintaining the health of any economy.

“It’s symptomatic of the greatness of America,” he said, “that you allow merit to rise to the top. That you’re not judging people who are fit for the job based on ethnicity or on whiteness, or based on how long they live in this country — but by saying: ‘Who is the best person for this job?’ It’s an extraordinary culture you’ve created by attracting the best and the brightest in the world.”

This prompted Greuel to ask the room, how many in the audience were immigrants. Nearly 40 percent of those in attendance raised their hands.

“That’s the story of America,” Damani said, marveling. He himself was “a middle-class kid from Mumbai, India, who grew up with a few dollars of pocket money.” His mother worried he’d never make a living. He said that coming to CSUN opened up the world to him and provided the skills and the confidence to become what he is today. “If I can do it, so can you,” he said.

One student raised his hand and asked what it would take to get just 2 minutes of the executive’s time.

“Buy me a cup of coffee,” Damani answered, laughing. Then added, “Of course, I’ll give you my business card.” Damani has mentored students at CSUN and provided educational services to students throughout India for decades. He believes that mentorship and the right educational opportunities for everyone will create a better world for us all.

In 2009, Damani joined the Avenue Supermart grocery store chain and, as chairman of the board, took the Indian company public and led it through a multi-year expansion. Using Walmart as a model, Damani led Avenue Supermart, now DMart, to become India’s highest valued retail chain. Damani credited the American values of openness and honesty that he learned at CSUN for his business success.

“The influence of America runs deep within me and within the companies I serve,” he said.

Past speakers in the college’s Distinguished Speaker Series include Jane Wurwand, founder of Dermalogica, and alumni Steve Rabuchin, head of Amazon Alexa Voice Services, and Michael Grillo, executive producer on the Marvel’s “Avengers” films.

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