From India to Wal-Mart

    Ten years ago, Bhupit Bohra arrived from India in the United States with a plan.

    Bubba – that’s what everyone calls him – would get a job in the computer industry, and he’d work hard.

    But then five days after he arrived, terrorists attacked the World Trade Center. And his plan was useless.

     

    “I applied for something like 20 or 30 jobs. I had absolutely no success. I mean zero, absolutely zero. I was really frustrated,” he said.

    No one ever said it, but Bubba couldn’t help but think the rejections had less to do with his qualifications and more to do with other sentiments that gripped the country at the time.

    “I thought, ‘Wow, I’m never going to get a job here.’”

    But a lot has changed in 10 years. Now Bubba, 41, is the manager of a new Wal-Mart at the Aramingo Crossings Shopping Center.

    When I visited him, he was reveling in “Grand Opening” day success:

    More than 300 employees, most from the Port Richmond and Kensington neighborhoods. (There were 5,000 applicants.)

    More than a thousand people waiting to shop before the doors opened.

    And for Bubba, a decade’s worth of hard work realized.

    Looking back, Bubba said he could never have predicted it. He didn’t know much about Wal-Mart when he applied for a job. He definitely didn’t know what to make of his late night interview until he realized it was for an overnight stocker.

    Someone else might have considered that a blow to their ego, or their university degrees.

    Not Bubba. “I was just so happy that someone was opening their arms to me,’’ he said.

    Not that he necessarily planned on staying long. For the first six months or so, he continued to apply for computer jobs. He had that plan, remember?

    But then he was promoted to an hourly supervisor. And then he was accepted into Wal-Mart’s management program. He’s been a Wal-Mart manager for four years, but the Port Richmond store is the first he’s overseen from the ground up.

    It wasn’t easy – what reinvention ever is? He was fluent in the country’s language, but not its culture.

    He still remembers trying to bond with co-workers with deep conversations about values and goals. Not exactly smoke break chatter.

    TV helped, though he jokes that he still doesn’t know why they call it football when it’s a game you don’t play with your feet.

    And stocking the shelves at Wal-Mart helped, too.

    Over time, his hesitation to talk about aspirations and accomplishments passed. Now he often talks to employees about his road to success. And he’s always on the lookout to return the opportunity that he was given.

    During interviews for the new store, a woman from the neighborhood came in to apply for a sales position. With a background in retail, she was clearly qualified. But Bubba saw something more, so he offered to make her head of the infant department.

    “Now when I pass by her, she tells me, ‘Bubba, I thank you for the opportunity. I won’t let you down.’”

    It’s the same thing Bubba told the Wal-Mart manager who gave him his first shot. And look at him now.

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