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Betty Vakil Class of 1965
18 October 2007
India: After graduating in Zoology from Delhi University, I worked with Air France at Palam Airport for four years leveraging my French. That job got me vacationing around the world and confirmed that life could be better elsewhere. I started dating a Parsi guy who had a motorbike (you remember that motorized wheels were a huge asset in Delhi); we got engaged and rented a flat. One day I turned on the tap, there was no water as usual; and I said "Let's immigrate to Canada." My mother had worked for the Canadian High Commission for 10 years, so the formalities took just three months for my mother, fiance and me. Some of you may recall my cousin Zarine; she gave birth to a baby, Ayesha, who was left with my mother and me since birth; I adopted her and she is my only child, now 35.
Canada: I joined American Express's Credit Card division as a clerk on the night shift within a week of arriving in Toronto, again on the strength of my French. Most difficult challenges: understanding Quebec French, learning to operate a washing machine, waiting for buses in -17c. But I thrived at work, was promoted several times in 9 years, and became Manager of Credit Granting. Unfortunately my marriage lasted a whole 6 years. Ayesha and I managed OK on our own. We got Canadian citizenship the moment we were eligible, and haven't ever regretted the move to Canada.
Brazil: In 1982 Amex launched a credit card in Brazil, and I moved to Sao Paulo as Director of Credit Operations along with Ayesha who was 10. As we exited customs with 11 suitcases, we heard gun shots, so we and everyone else dropped to the ground. Lots of incomprehensible shouting. It transpired that the foreign exchange counter was being held up, again. I did not get onto the next plane out, but I did learn to cruise through red lights at night when driving alone. The Amex male colleagues openly questioned a woman's ability to lead Operations, but they changed their minds when I began to speak and write in Portuguese within 3 months, and put in solid processes. Most difficult challenges: learning to drive a stick shift.
New York: after 3 years in Brazil, in 1985 Ayesha & I set off for NY, me as VP Worldwide Quality. We lived in Great Neck on Long Island, and I worked at the southernmost tip of Manhattan. I hated the commute, Ayesha was mugged in Great Neck, and I couldn't afford NY. Most difficult challenges: everything. So after 11 months I was able to get a transfer out.
Hong Kong: As VP Customer Services East Asia, I was based in HK and also had responsibility for Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Philippines. During my 5 years there, Ferdinand Marcos was deposed, Tianamen Square happened, HK residents were emigrating in droves, and my glorious harbour view was blocked by new high rises. HK was fabulous, and it was intriguing comparing the Chinese customs and beliefs to Indian. I tried learning Cantonese but is was too difficult, and there was no incentive as everyone spoke English. We traveled throughout the region. Most difficult challenge: managing a teenager in an environment where drugs and alcohol were freely available. In fact Ayesha followed her boyfriend to Minnesota in 1989, and she has lived there every since.
Canada: I returned to Toronto in 1991 as VP Customer Services and Technologies for Canada, and to my amazement stayed put for 15 yrs. Amex's business in Canada went through the normal global economic and credit swings, which I enjoyed managing. Greatest accomplishment was to 'insource' service and software development work from Amex US into Canada, creating 1100 jobs. During this time, Ayesha married a Native American on a Minneapolis rez; probably the only India Indian to marry an American Indian. Her son Austin is now 13 and daughter Aylia is 8. They are from the tribe that owns the Mystic Lake casino, and money is no object. Unfortunately, Ayesha and Don divorced too, so money is an object for her now, and Mummy is her sole financier; she does not work.
UK: In 2005, I decided to make take my last assignment with Amex in England, and moved there as VP International Technologies. That is when I went back to my maiden name Vakil, 24 yrs after the divorce. I had hoped to live in London, but the commuting to Burgess Hill in south England was too tough, so I lived in Brighton and hated it. Also found the English very resistant to change, prone to lengthy deliberation, not risk takers. While I drove a lot of improvements, I did not have the energy or motivation any more. So in May 2007 I retired from Amex after 34 years, and returned to Toronto in July.
Retirement: I've bought a flat in downtown Toronto that will not be ready for occupancy till about May 2008. So I'm currently in Minneapolis, going to Bombay for Christmas, and probably some months in Toronto in a serviced flat, and also visit friends in Miami and LA. I do not miss Amex; completely turned off, although all these years I had lived and breathed Amex. Am enjoying the grand-kids when I see them, planning for the new flat, looking forward to vacations that are longer than a week. Once I'm in my own home, I plan to upgrade my French, and also take some courses on art appreciation. I enjoy art, museums, theatre, reading; never remarried; still introverted, socially shy though assertive in business.