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CEO Insights

One Night in Paris and Who I am Today

Jay Sidhu
Jay Sidhu (Image courtesy: CEOWORLD magazine/FILE PHOTO.)

Ask any traveler about their first night in Paris and they are likely to smile. There may even be a twinkle in their eye. 

I laugh because I am remembering my first night — in jail. (My only night in jail!!!) 

A Bold Beginning

During my teenage years, when backpacking from India to London, my friend and I hitchhiked from Geneva, Switzerland, to the outskirts of Paris, France. We took a train the last miles, arriving in the Gare du Nord station. There were offices on the second floor of the train station. My friend and I were just so exhausted that we stretched our sleeping bags out on the floor outside one of these offices, and off we went to sleep. 

The next thing I knew, a huge German Shepherd dog was about six inches away from my face, barking hungrily. A tall guy was holding the leash. It was the French police. The cops were shouting at us, and their dogs were barking, but we couldn’t speak French and they couldn’t speak English. What they were saying was, of course, that we were trespassing. They put us into a police van, blared the siren, and took off. We had no idea where we were going or what their intentions were. We ended up at a local jail. 

An Unexpected (and Most Welcome) Turn of Events

As it turned out, the Superintendent was very nice and, while we did have to spend the night in jail, he kept the cell doors open so we would not be afraid. (He had taken our passports so we could not run away.) 

The following morning our passports were restored and we were put in a police car and driven to the Indian embassy. At the embassy, we were brought to the military attaché for the government of India. And wouldn’t you know, the military attaché just happened to have a friend in common with my dad! It’s such a small world. The nice police Superintendent had contacted the Indian Embassy to verify our story and make them aware of our situation. When we arrived at the embassy, everything was already sorted out. The officials wanted me to try to reach my dad, but he was stationed at a post in the mountains in Northeast India and I couldn’t reach him. Nevertheless, the embassy took care of everything, and we spent the day pleasantly walking around Paris. 

Lessons Learned

From that one single night, I learned three very important life lessons:

  1. Don’t get arrested.
  2. Make connections with people and maintain networks. You never know when you will need to call on these people.
  3. There will be unexpected turns in life. Take advantage of them. Don’t deviate from your mission. And never ever, ever give up.

Making and Maintaining Bonds

My father had introduced me to the social and networking aspects of business (and golf) at a young age. He taught me the importance of interpersonal communication in leadership. Now it was starting to make sense. Old friends and colleagues matter. 

The power of networking was reinforced to me by Dr. Warner, Dean of the Department of Commerce, and Dr. George Ralston, Dean of Students, at Wilkes University, when they put me in touch with the Chair of the Board of Trustees, Reese Jones, the CEO at First Valley Bank in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and his close associate Dick Ehst. Reese gave me my first job in banking. That process involved developing a relationship with Dick, who has since been my friend and business partner for more than 50 years. 

I networked when I took executive management and leadership classes at Harvard and Dartmouth. Connections from each school led to future banking jobs and business opportunities.

I joined the Young Presidents Organization (YPO) and still attend meetings regularly and am active with my Forum brothers. (We’re not so young anymore.) These YPO Forum members still support one another personally and professionally. The connections have resulted in developing authentic life-long friends. 

People Are Your Most Important Product

I watched what happens when bank leaders put too much emphasis on theoretical analysis and not enough on communication, marketing, and interpersonal relationships. They fail.

 At Penn Savings – the forerunner to Sovereign Bank – my business partner Paul was highly intelligent and approached problem-solving with financial research. In contrast, my approach was to emphasize the people side and the customers, not just the numbers. To me, superlative execution depends on people. And in banking, the most important criterion for giving a loan is the customers’ character and their ability to repay it. Most of the time, Paul worked in his office studying. But I spent most of my time interacting with people rather than sitting behind a desk. 

After 20 years at Sovereign Bank, I explored the world by traveling, and I explored business opportunities by networking. My network, including Dick Ehst, was critical to the effort to save New Century Bank and transform it to the very successful and continually growing Customers Bank. 

Wilkes University today includes the Jay S. Sidhu School of Business and Leadership. In addition to traditional business classes, the curriculum also focuses on mentoring, emotional intelligence, and developing authentic human beings as tomorrow’s leaders. Currently, under the leadership of Dean Abel Adekola, we have developed a value-based approach to authentic leadership: the development of the whole individual. And we stress the importance of creating relationships and building networks. 

Giving Back

I want to help others with this book and use it to give back to society. Every dollar earn from this endeavor will go to help educate someone who cannot afford college. 

Networks are important for your success.


Written by Jay Sidhu.
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CEOWORLD magazine - Latest - CEO Insights - One Night in Paris and Who I am Today
Jay Sidhu
Jay Sidhu serves as Chief Executive Officer of Customers Bancorp, Inc., and Executive Chairman of Customers Bank. Under Jay’s management, Customers Bank grew from a $250 million troubled bank to over $20 billion in assets in approximately ten years. Prior to joining Customers Bank, he served as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Sovereign Bancorp, Inc. There, he grew the organization from an Initial Public Offering of $12 million into the 17th largest banking institution in the country with a market cap of $12 billion at his retirement. Sidhu has received numerous recognitions in the industry, including Financial World's CEO of the Year, Turnaround Entrepreneur of the Year, and was named the Large Business Leader of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of Never Ever, Ever Give Up: An Inspiring True Story about Leadership, Commitment, Resiliency, Happiness and Making Your Dreams Come True.


Jay Sidhu is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with him through LinkedIn.