Known for his business acumen as well as his philanthropy, Vijay Eswaran is a prominent entrepreneur and thought leader on the world stage. But he didn’t start out in an environment conducive to growing a company or leading others to effect change in their lives and communities. Instead, Eswaran grew up in Malaysia, moving between various small towns thanks to his father’s transferrable government job, in a traditional middle-income suburban family.

Due to his father’s work, Eswaran attended nine different schools before graduating. He credits this upbringing as helping him cultivate a sense of adaptability and an ease with change throughout his adult life.

“The constant moving and changing of schools in some ways gave me the training to adapt quickly to change,” Eswaran said in an interview with Asia Business Times. “I realized in later years that this is a very important quality when one is an entrepreneur. “My parents played an important role in shaping my belief system, in particular, the importance of ‘service above self, a tenet I choose to live my life by every day.”

Vijay Eswaran: ‘Service Above Self’

Vijay Eswaran had many influences in his early life that helped pave the way for his natural inclination to do good in the world as an adult and business leader. Growing up in Malaysia’s naturally multicultural environment, he learned to accept people from all walks of life and backgrounds.

“My mother was a teacher who dedicated her life to the students she nurtured, and my late father was a prominent youth leader during his time,” Eswaran recalled. “He was also a social activist, a deeply spiritual person, and a pillar of his community. My parents played an important role in shaping my belief system, in particular, the importance of ‘service above self,’ a tenet I choose to live my life by every day.”

Eswaran carried this mentality of service throughout his career — but his professional trajectory didn’t start out the way he thought it would. Having completed his higher education abroad, he worked a variety of corporate jobs in the United Kingdom and North America before returning to Malaysia to be near his family. In his first job back in Asia, Eswaran was tasked with the difficult project of turning around an ailing publishing firm. After pouring all his efforts into the venture and achieving success, Eswaran was caught off guard when the owners sold the company and the new leadership ousted everyone involved, Eswaran included. This taught him a valuable life lesson regarding the value of business ownership and the value of the employees brought on to a team. “Once I got over the initial shock, I realized this was the catalyst I needed to take charge of my destiny,” he shared with Asia Business Times. “I’d always been interested in starting something of my own, but I had no one to guide me or turn to for advice. This incident gave me the impetus to take the leap of faith.”

Triumphing Over Mishaps

As he looked for opportunities to start his own business, he came across a direct selling business opportunity, an industry he had briefly dabbled in while in the UK as a student. Realizing that this was a good place to start his entrepreneurial journey since the start-up costs were low and he was naturally a people person, he took a leap of faith. It turned out to be a smart move since he became quite successful and was asked by the organization to move to the Philippines to expand their network. After a few mishaps with an American direct selling company in the Philippines, Eswaran decided it was time to take the reins. He regained control of the situation, realizing that the best way forward was to establish his own business in Southeast Asia and cut out the middlemen in the West. Rather than relying on others for resources, products, and payments, Eswaran and his partners founded their own firm based on the structure they already had in place.

Direct selling was just the start of what has evolved into a multinational conglomerate. According to Eswaran, the business now spans everything, including “a university, a luxury watch brand, hotels and resorts, and a chain of organic retail stores.” He credits his company’s success, in part, with his reliance on what he calls the three A’s: adapt, adjust, and accommodate. These have been tenets that have held true throughout his life, recalling his childhood experiences and early business practices. He explained, “Business is about flexibility and versatility. Be prepared to throw out your best-laid plans, assess the situation, adapt to the new reality, and make the necessary adjustments to fit into the new world and accommodate changes as they come along.”