The Visionary

by | December 2021

Photograph by Yvonne Albinowski

Warrensburg’s enterprising businessman Ash Anand


W
hen he was 12,
Ash Anand’s youngest uncle took him to an open tract of land outside his home in West Bengal on the eastern side of India. “His motive was to inspire me to know that big things can be done,” Anand said. “This was that year he achieved success, and this was his proud moment. I asked him how far his land went, and he said, ‘As far as you can see.’”

But lessons can be lost on 12-year-old boys.

Anand couldn’t have known that his uncle would go on to subdivide the land into a lucrative array of apartments and event centers. Nor could the boy, who at the time had scant interest in history or the wilderness, have known that he himself would settle in a thickly wooded park a half a world away in a town called Warrensburg, where the Schroon River meets the Hudson, and from which he would run a global company of 350 people, along with an eclectic collection of interests, from daycare to auto parts.

COVID delivered a gut punch to his enterprise, followed by a fire that gutted his Grist Mill Restaurant in late 2020, but by 2021 things were returning to form. In January, Anand was named Global Indian of the Year by AsiaOne, a media conglomerate based in Singapore. This summer he hosted a garden party un­­veiling his most visible local project yet, the opening of The Bond 1786, an elegant Adirondack restaurant and inn that saved one of Warrensburg’s most storied homes. Anand named it for the 18th-century settler William Bond and the year Warrensburg was founded.

If his uncle’s lesson didn’t have an immediate impact, neither did Anand forget that moment and the allegory of unlimited potential. Forty years ago, his family was beginning to claw its way back from a September day in 1972 when the Indian government nationalized the copper mines, stripping his family of its wealth and relegating former executives, including his grandfather, to truck drivers.

“It was a very poor environment; it was tough growing up with limited resources,” Anand said. On his 15th birthday, all he wanted was a bicycle, but through thin walls, he could hear his disheartened parents lamenting that a new bike was beyond their reach. His response was to stop eating. He remembers the time, 7:45 at night in a driving rain, that the taxi pulled up, and out wriggled his father to retrieve a bike from the back.

“There are turning moments in your life, and five years later it hit me,” Anand said. “I was ignorant, not knowing what life takes. I was a demanding person, not a deserving person, and that [realization] is what changed.”

He worked three jobs to attend college, becoming the first of his family to do so. At night he would fill his stomach with water, saving his money for brunch, a meal timed to last the whole day. And he came to America, where he eventually became CFO for an AT&T subsidiary in Southern California. If there was a job, or anything else he wanted, he found a way to get it, sometimes through self-sacrifice, sometimes through brash initiative.

When he met his future wife, Jamie, who grew up in Johnstown and was working for T-Mobile out of Albany, he entered his number as a contact on her phone. “I saved her the work of dialing,” he said. She called him the next day.

Today Anand directs his Lotus Group of Companies from an office on the second floor of a converted warehouse. The day is spent juggling a dizzying array of businesses, inventions, philanthropies and ideas. Anand is not shy about investing, but believes the currency of karma is just as valuable as dollars. “Sometimes it’s good to do something and not expect anything in return—except blessings, we can always use those,” he said.

Lotus’s main focus is a global network that analyzes business systems and makes them more efficient, or in some cases, performs the services itself. If a business isn’t working, Anand takes it as a personal challenge to turn it around, even if it means buying out the company himself—which explains how he got into the business of selling auto parts in the Adirondacks.

Necessity is the mother of invention and all that, but in truth Anand never needs much of a push to experiment. When lack of local childcare interfered with his ability to find help, Anand started a daycare center. When employees needed housing, he began assembling a portfolio of rental properties. For Anand, problems are opportunities, said former state senator Betty Little. “If Ash sees a need, he fills it. He has a lot of irons in the fire, and I’ve enjoyed cheering him on.”

This drive is a blessing and a curse. Anand can’t relax in his own pub—which was already named Ashes when he bought it, coincidentally—without watching the bartender’s motions and scribbling 17 ideas for making the job more efficient.

There have been failures too, of course. Plans for a transportation company and a wood-pellet plant ran into government roadblocks. When school security and gun-toting “resource officers” were being discussed in many districts, Anand—who sits on the local school board—developed facial recognition software that would have enhanced safety without the need for armed patrols. But that initiative ran into a state moratorium on such technology, which is deemed by some as discriminatory.

Anand seems slightly irritated that society has trouble keeping up with his ideas—“I talk to myself quite a bit; that works for me.” He also moves furniture. Because, who knows, maybe the current configuration isn’t the best configuration. “Jamie gets very annoyed,” he said. “She’ll come home and say, ‘Can’t you even leave a coffee table in the same place?’ But you can always put it back. I hate to regret, and I hate to look back and wish I had done something” that might have worked.

It was his proclivity to take chances that, a dozen years ago, rousted him from his comfortable telecom job on the West Coast, where he had learned two things: staring at numbers on a computer screen all day was not for him, and neither was doing so on behalf of someone else. So he walked into his boss’s office after lunch one afternoon and said, “That’s it, at four p.m., I’m done.”

Ash and Jamie had discussions about the environment in which they wanted to raise their children, and concluded that the rural lifestyle was the healthier choice. As they were driving around looking for landing spots, it was Warrensburg, with its grand old homes and industrial sites, that caught his attention.

Warrensburg has 400 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the most between Saratoga and the Canadian border, said town historian Sandi Parisi. “Ash is trying to get up to 10 percent [ownership] of those buildings, and he’s getting close,” Parisi said. “Every piece of property he has owned has been improved and is much, much better than what it was. The fact that he has done what he has done [at The Bond] just makes my heart sing.”

But not everyone’s heart. Anand’s acquisitions caused grumblings that an outsider was buying up the town. And not just any outsider, but an outsider of color. His children have been bullied, he’s been accused by Facebookers of being part of the Islamic State, and the family cars have been vandalized.

These are tensions not just of race but of class. It can sometimes be difficult, Little said, to tell where racial conflict ends and class conflict begins. “There are people who don’t have much, and they don’t like people who do,” she said.

Yet beyond the ugliness, there is an appreciation and understanding of the role Anand has taken in the community. He has supported social causes as varied as his business interests—poetry, youth and senior programs, literacy and education. And word gets around in ways that transcend social media.

Anand was in a meeting a few years ago when his assistant passed word that a woman from Thurman was there to see him; she was behind on her taxes, and having heard of Anand’s reputation for philanthropy, she was wondering if he could help. Anand did not have time to meet her, but he did pay the tax bill.

He never gave it another thought, until his attorney called and asked him what in the world he had going on up in Thurman. “I had no clue,” Anand said.

The woman had in fact just decreed that at her passing, the home and 82 acres would transfer to Anand. Karma had once more appeared upon the stage. Someday Anand wants to take his son to see the property. He wants to show him the land to inspire him and demonstrate the possibilities of an open mind and an open heart. And when his son asks how much land is his, Anand will answer, “As far as you can see.”    

Learn more about the Lotus Group at www.lotusus.com and Ash Anand’s new inn and restaurant at www.thebond1786.com.


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