Shree Ashwinbhai (also known as Ash in short) Soni was born in Kampala, Uganda. His wife Elaben and he have two sons Brijesh and Sunil and daughter Kajal and have two beautiful grandchildren, Aarya and Annika.
Ashwin did his “O” levels and “A” levels in Kampala (Uganda) and then immigrated to UK for further studies completing Chemical Engineering at Bath University and obtained BSc (Hons) in 1974. He is now settled in Crawley, West Sussex. UK.
In 1974, he joined Kimberly Clark a Graduate Trainee and remained with the same company for the 35 years. In 1989, Ashwinbhai and the family moved to Barrow-in-Furnace (Cumbria) where he worked in the plant first as a Process Engineer and then the Site Technical Manager. Prior to Barrow, from 1974 to 1989 he worked in process and project engineering functions at Central Engineering at Northfleet in Kent. Ashwinbhai is a fellow of the Institute of Chemical Engineering and a Chartered Engineer and he looks after the career development of young engineers joining Kimberly Clark.
1) Which place or city or country do you most feel at home in?
Definitely the UK. I was born and brought up in Uganda, where there were a lot of uncertainties for Indians. Due to the discrimination, I could not secure a place at university. In 1970, through my parent’s financial support, I got the opportunity to study in the UK to pursue Chemical Engineering from University of Bath. However, in 1972, my parents were expelled from Uganda and hence I had no funds to continue my education. The UK Government welcomed my parents into the UK and took care of them and me, in addition to covering my university costs. Hence I am grateful to this country and have so much to give back.
2) What are your proudest achievements?
There are three things that are my proudest achievements; First, my family. I have three beautiful children and two grandchildren. I believe my heritage is amazing as my parents looked after my sibling and me so lovingly and brought us up with good values and a positive outlook on life, while keeping in mind the love for the family, general community and religion. Second, my career. I was one of the first to achieve high grades in my community in Uganda and passed my O levels with very good scores. This was all thanks to my parents who pushed and supported me. Hence I was able to come and study in UK and graduate as a chemical engineer. In 1974, I joined Kimberly Clark working there for 35 years. I started off as a trainee, later becoming a senior manager, looking after very important business aspects of the company in Europe. Third, my community. I have been lucky to have been given the opportunity as an engineer to manage a project that aimed to build a Hindu temple in Crawley and serve the community of Crawley.
3) What inspires you?
As a professional, I aim to see how I can better whatever I do and what I’ve done so far. In other words, I especially believe in a process of continuous improvement, in not just myself, but in others around me. I want others to see that there are a lot of good ways and means of being better at what they are tomorrow, than what they are today.
4) What has been the biggest obstacle in your career?
I cannot think of any! But an incident that shaped my life was, at the tender age of 4, my mother passed away. But I was lucky that mymaasi (aunt) stepped in and gave me all the motherly love and affection that I missed in yearly days. Had it not been for her, I would have not achieved what I achieved my life.
5) Who has been the biggest influence on your career to date?
I would say, my family, because despite being from a moderate income family, they managed to send me to university in the UK at a great expense. They made a lot of sacrifices so that I would get a great education and an excellent career. Another influence would be my two bosses at Kimberly Clark. I was very lucky to have two senior managers who guided, helped and supported me to become bigger and better in my career.
6) What is the best aspect about your current role?
Now that I’ve had much experience and expertise in my career and with the community, I’m able to help, support and advise the new generation in various fields, including their education, personal lives and business.
7) And the worst?
The lack of support and difficulty in overcoming obstacles that are placed by local and national authorities. I’ve learnt that there are not many people you can turn to, to give you genuine support.
8) What are your long term goals?
I want to see my family settled down and be very happy. I have two children who are yet to be married and that’s what worries all parents! I also want to see real progress in the community I serve. My temple has a debt of £1.2 million pounds and I want to help and support the community to repay that loan. Additionally, I am very keen that the Hindu organisations of the UK reconcile and make up from their differences that they have and speak with one voice, so life becomes a lot easier for this generation and the next.
9) If you were Prime Minister, what one aspect would you change?
I see a lot of wastage coming from industries when I see how our local authorities and government departments are run. I see a lot of duplication, unnecessary bureaucracy and tremendous amount of waste. As a PM, I would look at improving all these areas, while taking the leap from how the industries in the UK work and implement a system of organising around work and not people
10) If you were marooned on a desert island, which historical figure would you like to spend your time with and why?
Swami Vivekananda, with no question. He was full of vision and ideas for all mankind. He single-handedly changed the world for Hindus, not just in India but throughout the world. It has been 150 years since he passed away, but his words of wisdom, vision and ideas for all mankind are so true, even today. Hence, I would like to understand and learn a lot from him, so that I can pass it on to others in the world.