To say that the four members of the Kumar family lead packed lives would be an understatement. Suresh and Aditya Kumar are the only father-son duo working in the Obama Administration, with Adi joining the Obama-Biden family back in July of 2007 during the campaign, and Suresh coming on board in February 2010. Sworn in as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce, Suresh is also the Director General of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, while Adi is the Deputy Assistant to Vice President Joe Biden, as well as Senior Advisor to White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel. Mother and daughter, Sheila and Pooja, are Vice President of Marketing Research at Johnson and Johnson, and physician and Rhodes scholar currently working in global health consulting at McKinsey, respectively. All in all, theirs is a family well-versed in the art of giving back.
In his position at the Department of Commerce, Suresh is mainly concerned with exports. The U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service that he heads is essentially the trade promotion arm of the government, whose purpose is to help American exporters increase their global footprint.
We grow exports. We connect exporters here with vetted buyers in other markets. We make sure that the trade agreements this country has are actually adhered to and that people follow the same principles. And we believe in free and fair trade, he said.
The familys story involves making a home in six countries, speaking as many languages, heading multinational businesses, working for interests both private and public. Suresh and Sheila call themselves global nomads, having lived in places as far flung as India, Indonesia, Singapore, and Canada, before touching down in the United States and finally making their way to Princeton, where they now live.
This is home, Suresh acknowledged, noting that the beauty of this country is that its open, its welcoming, and if you have the skill set and the desire to serve, you have the option to do so.
Suresh said his entry into public service was largely inspired by his children. My own story was reversal learning from them, he smiled, noting that even in their youth Pooja and Adi were motivated by the desire to serve others.
But the way Adi tells it involves a deep appreciation of his parents, who have taught him that you dont have to officially be in public service to serve your community, your country, or your fellow global citizens, he said, adding that one doesnt have to draw boundaries around the way in which they can try to make the world a better place.
Unbeknownst to their parents, when they were in ninth and eleventh grade respectively, Adi and Pooja wrote to Mother Teresa asking whether they could volunteer with the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta over the summer. To their surprise, Mother Teresa herself wrote back saying that they could come over, but that they would need a chaperone over 18 to accompany them.
By the time they asked their parents, they had already convinced their grandmother, who was living in New Delhi, to spend the summer in Calcutta, and Sheila and Suresh reluctantly agreed to let them go. The children were assigned to Prem Dan, a home for the dying and destitute, where they provided basic care to the impoverished in their last days. Adi, who was 14 at the time, called the experience tough but eye-opening.
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