Skip links

The odds of wasted talent

Born in Suriname to a Curacaoan mother and an Indian-Surinamese father. I moved to the Netherlands at a young age, where I was raised by a single mom on a secretary salary. The odds were not in favor of an international banking career.

“Too much talent is wasted if we cannot find the connection with the corporate world. When we reduce the odds of wasted talent, everybody wins!”

Sergio Panday

I chose a nearly all white high school, because they had a basketball court right on their schoolyard, but when some of the kids started greating me with “yo, yo, yo”, I sort of gave up on even trying to fit in. The basketball court is where I felt at home and often, I didn’t really see the point of going to class. Nevertheless, my grades remained high, so when the school offered me to take my final exams a year early, I absolutely took it.

University was more of the same: not a lot of ethnic minorities studying Econometrics and Operations Research. They called my the ghost student, because I never showed up for class, but my name kept popping up at the top of the exam result lists. Meanwhile, I spent my time competing in kickboxing and trained twice a day; that’s where I felt more at home.

Needless to say that the transition to a predominantly white corporate world was not well prepared. I was navigating two completely different worlds and remember feeling almost ashamed of wearing a suit on my way home from work. Looking back at my career now, there was a defining moment that changed things for me. I decided I could do better and started looking for a job elsewhere.

“Finally, some colour in the room!” was the first thing he said when he entered the room, where I was waiting for my job interview. A big smile on his face; this guy meant it! He was interested in my story; who I am and what I can bring to the table. I was completely different from him and that’s why he hired me.

The team I ended up in was a complete mixture of different skill sets, different industry backgrounds and different personal backgrounds, purposely put together to breathe creativity and come up with the smartest solutions. Diversity was our power. Still I had strides to make: I even remember being a bit nervous when we had a team celebration dinner. I had never really learned proper restaurant etiquette, let alone all those fancy names on the menu. But these guys never looked down on me (I am over 2 metres tall, so that is hard to do anyway).

Moral of my story is that I could have very well been wasted talent. All it took was one manager, one team, that made me feel at home and appreciated the skills and perspectives I had to offer. It gave me the confidence that I needed to do well and aim high. I started to find my connection with the corporate world and slowly merged the different worlds I was operating in. Now, having that different cultural background that offers a fresh perspective, actually works in my favour.

I co-founded Roots Inspire, because I want to help ethnic minority talent speed up the process I went through. Too much talent is wasted if we cannot find the connection with the corporate world. When we reduce the odds of wasted talent, everybody wins!

For more insights and podcasts, take a look at our blog!