A Man Who Turned Disability into Dis-coverable-ability: Interview with Sujit Sukumaran

In an exclusive Narada talks to Sujit Sukumaran, an HR professional, TEDx Speaker, thought leader, published author and one of the youngest Distinguished Toastmaster in the Middle East

A Man Who Turned Disability into Dis-coverable-ability: Interview with Sujit Sukumaran

For many, Life is a challenge and struggle where we wish and want to do many things. However, some fall down half way or even at the beginning. Some give up, some try for some time and leave, whereas some are so die-hard that they try again and again. They succeed in life and become real achievers on their own.

Sujit Sukumaran, is an HR professional, TEDx Speaker, thought leader, published author and one of the youngest Distinguished Toastmaster in the Middle East with over 10 years of experience in competitive speaking and coaching students and adults alike in public speaking and academia. He also takes classes on esoteric subjects such as handwriting analysis and Mudras, an ancient Indian therapeutic discipline.

A prelude – Remembering Sujit, his childhood and his parents

During my early days in the UAE, when I myself struggled, being brought into this country without a job and salary and not knowing what to do and where to go. I was connected with Sujit’s parents – Late Sukumaran and Ramani. Joining a temporary job in Dubai, I had to find a place for living and it was the Sukumaran’s home that my favourite uncle Sankarankutty and his wife Renuka referred. There were this little boy and his sister. He was indeed a boy of special challenges, although doctors called it as CP Diplegia. I often found him falling down when he tried to reach me, but he crawled and then again fell down. But he never gave up. He was angry, furious, stubborn – if I can add more to it, there will be no end. It was his plus and positives. His father was the epitome of patience and understanding. He saw in his child a little genius. He was patient and took him through the rigours of life struggle. He gave him life lessons.

Before he could complete his mission, Sukumaran left this world. However, by then Sujit, as a boy had become a beautiful human being with confidence, determination and life ambitions strongly cemented in his mind. He talked very little to unknown people, but never stopped to those who carried the same wavelength. Probably this may be the reason, he went on to become one of the finest Toastmasters, a distinguished speaker and a mentor on his own right to many. His difficulties and drawbacks were his merits. He carried an attitude. An aggressive one that no one can stop him from reaching his  goal.

OPTIMUS Management Consultants is the result of this ambitious life journey of one young boy who grew up in Dubai with a never say die attitude, who set an example to many who cried that “life is difficult!” when they had everything. It doesn’t end there, when everyone ignored him and teased him, a beautiful girl, Harika, found him the most attractive man – the man of her life, and now the pillar of Sujit’s life journey ahead.

Hello Sujit, it is a pleasure reconnecting with you after a long time. Tell me more about Sujit Sukumaran, who is the founder of OPTIMUS Management Consultants:

Hello, all!. It is a pleasure to connect with all of you. I have had a wonderful corporate career in a variety of fields from media to insurance, consulting to academia but all along training and human development have been my passion. Keeping in line with that and chasing my dreams, with the support of family and friends I started Optimus in April 2016. It is chiefly into training, coaching, mentoring and also content writing services.

In terms of credentials, I have served as the youngest District Director in the Middle East for Toastmasters International, USA and was the winner of the Innovation in Training Award for 2012 from the Dubai Quality Group's Continuous Improvement Subgroup.

Your Motto in life:

My motto in life is to inspire people and impart empowerment, skills and know-how to both youth and adults that will enable them to live life in a more aware, awakened and grateful way with a cognizance of the world around them.

What made you decide to go into Coaching and why the name Optimus?

Man's quest from time immemorial has been to be connected, reach out and be mentored in some form or the other. The greatest stars in sports, luminaries in any field have all had mentors and coaches to take their game or craft to the next level. Me too as I was growing up, wished that I could have a dedicated coach but had none. After a decade in corporate life, I still saw many of my colleagues as well as young adults aimless and unhappy and anxious no matter at what level they were in life. Hence the formation of Optimus.
And the name, it is from Latin Optima - Better than the Best!

Tell me about your family:

We are a family of 4. My father Late. E.N. Sukumaran, my role model and the person who made me surpass my disability of CP Diplegia as a child and took me from Disability to Capability to Opportunity, my mother Ramani Sukumaran, a career banker with UNB who is now completing over 3 decades with the same bank, my sister Smita and her husband Sudheesh , both practicing dental doctors in Fujairah and the latest addition to our family, my wife, Harika who is a Chartered Accountant and Finance professional with a leading property firm here. I am very happy to have my these four strong pillars in my life whose moral support and encouragement encourages and support me and my life goals.

How can you connect your new project with UAE's vision on education, happiness?

All of our programs namely “Youspeak”, “Study Skills” which are into skills development as well as our wellness and psychology related programs of Mudras and Handwriting Analysis are very much in sync with work life balance mandates and vision of the UAE. I am a child of Dubai and have grown up seeing Dubai grow and always admire the way rulers of this country strive to achieve excellence. It is in a way my return gift to the country to come out with something that is aligned with the vision and innovation of the country to develop youth. I strongly believe that these life skills are to be imparted to the youth from a young age so that grow up to become a responsible citizen. Our programmes are modelled with these core objectives in mind.

What are your language skills/extra-curricular activities?

I am fluent in English, Hindi, Malayalam and Tamil, with Basic Arabic skills having learnt in school.

What about your achievements/citations – can you please list them for us with brief details?

There are several important ones, in fact, each of them is precious as I had to work for each one of them and they are purely on merit as a performing individual and not out of compassion. Here they are:

    • Invited by the jury of TED to speak at TEDxAlain in April 2012 – on the “Opportunity in adversity”

  • The 2012 Dubai Quality Group Award Winner for Innovation in Training for a Leadership workshop conducted for 25 C-suite executives.

  • Conducted a lec-dem on Holistic Education – Breaking the barriers of stigma in education for disabled people at Abu Dhabi Educational Council (ADEC) for over 600 teachers.

  • Among the world's youngest recipients of the Distinguished Toastmaster (DTM) Award from Toastmasters International, USA.

  • Served as the youngest District Director of Toastmasters International in the Middle East.

  • Trustee of Prerana, a disability support group under the aegis of Indian Consulate, Dubai

  • Featured as a Young Achiever and a person who has survived despite all odds in newspapers and publications in UAE.

What is your key message or quote to the youth and also to the adult?

“Life is not about what happens to you. It’s about what you do after what hits you. That's what matters the most. Strive for a bit of improvement every day and if you are able to lead a happier, aware and richer standard of living each successive day then you are truly living a full life.”

It will be interesting for us to know about your wife, so please tell me few words about your wife, her professional background, etc.

My wife is a Chartered Accountant and a finance professional working with Propertyfinder FZ LLC in Dubai. She has interests in dance and has an eye for art. Personally, she is my pillar of support and is my bouncing board for most ideas.

What do you find special about Harika, your life partner of choice?

Ours is a love marriage and for her to accept me as soulmate, despite the fact that I have a very evident disability in the form of CP Diplegia is a testimony to her broad-mindedness. She was understanding from day 1 and was instrumental in convincing parents also. Today we are more like friends despite being married and her greatest strength is a calm, measured and analytical mind with a firm focus and steadfast devotion, which is a perfect foil to my excited, often precocious self.

So, Harika, you have been a patient listener to my question to Sujit. Now, it is your turn, tell me in short about Sujit?

Sujit for me is a very loving husband, he's more of a friend and an amazing human being, what amazes me most is his determination and tenacity. Most people might have an issue with his disability but I'm among the few who chose to look beyond that and indeed it was and is definitely worth it. He's intelligent, articulate and most of his conversations are very lively. Contrary to popular perception of being outwardly very serious he's actually a very warm and jovial person inside.