Sam Shah – Chief Operating Officer at Influence Tree

Sam Shah is a pizza and diet coke lover and the chief operating officer of Influence Tree. He’s a husband and father of two children who lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. Sam ran his own trading desk, management consultancy and worked across Wall Street at Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Morgan Stanley and New Star. He’s also worked at New York University and Viking River Cruises.

Hi my name is Sam and I come from an interesting background. I was born and raised in New Jersey, all around Hudson County. My parents emigrated from India but they met at a pizzeria in Queens, dated for a while, got married and moved to Jersey where I was born. A part of me wants to make my parents proud because they left the country of their mother tongue and learned a brand new language. My mom’s entire network of family and friends put money into a pot so they could buy her an airplane ticket to come to the US cleaning people’s homes. I couldn’t let her think of her son as just some kind of bum, so I aspired to do big things in my life, even at an early age.

Sharing a One Bedroom Apartment With the Four of Us Growing Up

While growing up, it was the four of us, my brother and my parents, who shared an 850 square foot one bedroom apartment together. We all slept in the same bedroom until I was about 11 or 12 years old, when I started sleeping in the living room. It wasn’t easy for our family as my father worked at car washes and factories and my mom worked for 32 years in a factory. My mom didn’t drive so there were times where my dad would work late, so my mom would have to walk a mile and a half to drop me off to daycare, then pick me up and carry me back home.

Our household was filled with love where we would have family meals together. My dad and I didn’t have too close of a relationship growing up, but that was probably due to a traditional Indian culture and the fact that he was hardly ever home from working so much. My mom really took care of everything in the household and both my brother and I have a closer relationship with her than our father. Our parents tried to give us everything we wanted and we had amazing gifts during Christmas, but it was hard with the financial struggle that they faced.

Discovering My Passion for Team Sports and Chess

Since I only had nine channels growing up on television and there wasn’t really any type of Internet until I was about 12 to 13 years old when I first started using AOL, I always stayed to myself and did my own thing. I spent a lot of time playing outside in a lot of team sports like baseball, football, basketball and karate, many of which I won awards for (and drained my parent’s bank accounts to get the uniforms for). It wasn’t just leagues I was playing in either. Growing up, I lived in a high-rise building and would go from floor to floor and knock on friends’ doors, to get a squad together to play any sport we wanted, whether it was basketball, football or baseball. But it wasn’t all fun and games, even though I came in second in the state for chess.

Growing up in the Hood, Getting Jumped and Facing Racism

Since I grew up in the hood and the neighborhood wasn’t that great, it made me a subject of bullying and racism. I was jumped so many times in front of my building, behind my building, in the elevator at home and walking home from high school. I would only be given $2.50 from my parents, to go to and from school on the bus. One time when I was jumped, beat down and threatened to be killed with a knife, the guy took everything from me, which was just my $1.25 bus fare. Other times, it would be just because another kid didn’t like me and I would be picked on constantly. When I was jumped in the elevator one time, a group of kids hurled racial slurs at me and punched me up and down my entire body. I was screaming so bad that when the elevator opened on my floor, my mom stopped cooking, came out of our home with her rolling pin and started running after the kids. She took me downstairs, said, “Let’s find them,” and we saw them all hiding behind cars and stuff because they were scared of what my mom was going to do to them.

Another incident I faced was a few years later, when my mom was taking my brother and I to the library. A group of kids just started pelting us with rocks and called us dot heads and all these other racial slurs. I couldn’t believe that a 30 something year old lady walking with her two children would have rocks and racial slurs thrown at them in America. We just ran past them, but those incidents made me grow up with a bit of a chip on my shoulder.

A Strict Environment Growing up That Shifted Who I Am

Growing up, I didn’t get involved with gangs or anything, and when it came to academics, I wasn’t that great of a student. I usually ended up with report cards with grades between a B minus to a C plus. Because I got such horrible grades, my mom used to punish me by making me hold each earlobe with both of my hands, one hand per earlobe and have me squat over and over again until I learned my multiplication tables. One time, my mom watched me do a thousand squats and she wouldn’t turn away for a second. I told her I didn’t want to study anymore and that I didn’t want to read, but none of that stopped her from laying down the standard Indian, aggressive punishment.

After high school, while in college, I gained a lot of weight because I was always at home. I would roll joints to smoke and would hardly ever meet my friends. And if I did, it was just to smoke. My metabolism slowed significantly and one day I just woke up and realized I needed to make a change. I got into bodybuilding and weightlifting and completely transformed who I was.

Meeting My Wife for the First Time and Starting My Career on Wall Street

While at Rutgers, I did fairly well. But the highlight of being there was meeting my wife. We dated for three months then broke up, remained friends and didn’t talk much. But I knew who she was and she knew who I was. And because of the emergence of Facebook over the course of that time, it allowed all of us who attended school to stay connected together so we were always linked together, but we never really spoke. She went off and dated someone for another six or seven years, but we ended up meeting again afterwards.

A few years into college at Rutgers, I received an offer from Morgan Stanley and while I’m not exactly sure how it happened, I decided to take the job. At the age of 20, I was earning more money than most people in their 30s, so I decided to take a year off school, thinking I would one day return, but it never happened and I just started earning more and more as my career progressed. I thought I would go back to school in the future, but it never happened.

Sparking up Self Growth Through Reading, World Theory and My Career

Even though I wasn’t much of a reader growing up, I started feeling bad about not finishing college and wanted to finish. But then I realized that I didn’t need school and turned my continual education to books. One time when I was around 21 years old, I went to the library to see if anything would spark my interest. I picked up a book about Plato by Bernard Williams and it was so good that I just ended up stealing it from the library and never returning it. I dove deep into many ancient works like the Many Worlds theory and philosophers like Plato, Socrates and Aristotle. Now, I’m a voracious reader, reading close to 25-35 nonfiction books a year, from Robert Cialdini’s book Influence, Carol Dweck’s book Mindset, Pete Carroll’s book Win Forever and more. Reading has sparked a passion for me to want to continually grow and learn new things.

When I was 25 years old, my entrepreneurial drive kicked in and I started my first trading desk. I had a few traders that were trading for me, but I was a subsidiary of another company. The parent company was raided by the SEC and the owners were hauled off in handcuffs, so I decided to shut my business down. I was too naïve at the time to know that you need to look out for the risks and how you’re supposed to measure or analyze your future partnerships. I thought money was the only reason to get into business, but quickly learned to be more diligent in the process of looking at business opportunities and partnerships.

I took a break from entrepreneurship and I spent the next 12 years of my life working across the entire block of Wall Street, from Deutsche Bank, HSBC, Goldman Sachs, AIG, Morgan Stanley and New Star. The next four years, I started a consulting company and worked with New York University and Viking River Cruises. For most of the past 15 years, I’ve initially started out managing projects, but now I build organizations and help standardize things through efficient processes and creating an operation like a Chief Operating Officer, like I do here at Influence Tree.

A Whirlwind of an Experience That Led to Tying the Knot With My Soul Mate

Back in 2009, I took a trip out to Miami and went to Shelbourne Hotel for a party. I saw a girl there and I went to grab her hand. She immediately moved her hand away and told me to get away, but someone behind me turned to me and asked if I was Sam. I turned around and it was the same woman I dated for three months over at Rutgers. I was like, “Oh my God, how’s it going?”

We started dating immediately off the bat and married a year later. Six months after that, we got divorced and just stopped talking. We spent an exorbitant amount of money on our wedding where a lot of our friends attended and here we were, divorced for 14 months without ever talking to each other and all of those hopes and dreams just went down the drain. We didn’t have common friends or anything, but one day she asked me out for a drink, and after that night we were back in our relationship. We dated for another year then married again and have been happily married, with only having maybe one or two fights a year for the past 10 years.

How My Children Reshaped Me Into a Better Person

Having children really changed my perspective on life too. I spend a lot of time with my two children and it’s just so amazing how much I’ve learned from them, from how they view life to just how forgiving they are. My wife and I could get into an argument over something small and I would be upset for half the day, but with my kids, I could yell at the top of my lungs and five minutes later, they’ll come up to me and give me a hug. The lessons on patience and forgiveness have been inspiring and it’s just so amazing to have those crucial moments of reading, spending time with and teaching them about the values that were instilled in me as a child. Fortunately, my wife comes from a very similar household and has very similar values, such as giving more to others than you take, showing compassion and being understanding. What is absolutely unbelievable though is how my children are changing me where it counts and how that trickles into my friendships, my professional environment and my relationship with my wife.

My Insatiable Desire to Get to Know Who People Truly Are

One of my favorite things to do is people watch. Where I currently live is in a high rise and it just sparks up my natural curiosity for people. I always wonder who people are and wish that I could be at that person’s house for dinner one day just to see what type of conversations we would spark up. I wonder what bothers a person and what makes that person truly happy. People may find it weird, but I tend to shy away from people that have too many similarities to myself because I kind of know who they are already. I find immense passion in learning from people who are different from myself and those are values that we’re instilling into our children.

A Random Mid Life Crisis That Made Me Look at Life in a Whole Different Way

When I was turning 40, I went into this crazy bout of depression and questioned everything that I was doing in my life. I felt I wasn’t anywhere close to where I wanted to be in my life, especially after all of the reading and businesses I ran. Paying for college for my children, retiring comfortably and situations like that made me question exactly what it was that I was doing and put me into a situation where I just needed to put things into perspective. I knew I was doing better than 95% of the country, both financially and academically and felt that I could’ve been putting too much pressure on myself. I realized I just needed to take my foot off of the gas and slow down the pace of trying to acquire more knowledge or income.

I almost went into a nervous breakdown, had crazy anxiety and was super depressed and it all just came out of nowhere. I couldn’t really pinpoint exactly what had happened, but it was the biggest pivotal moment of my life that helped me find more balance.

Reach Out and Connect With Sam Shah

Now aside from working at Influence Tree as the Chief Operating Officer and building out a legacy to pass onto my children, you can find me with my head buried in a book or at the local pizzeria devouring a whole wheat crust. If I could put a ring on pizza I would. There’s this amazing pizza parlor in Brooklyn that serves pizza on naan bread; it’s life changing.

Even though I’m trying to do a better job at being extroverted, I’m a natural introvert at heart who really has no desire to leave the house because I get to be a king of my own castle. However, if you want to meet to talk business and learn about what we do over at Influence Tree or grab a pizza and a diet coke together (or a nice single-malt), I’d love to get to know more about you and who you are. I just hope my fascination for truly getting to know who people are doesn’t scare you off. But feel free to drop me a line at [email protected] and let’s talk more!

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