BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – From escaping to an Indiana University education from a bloody civil war, to a successful business career and then representing the United States as an ambassador in the midst of violent conflict, M. Osman Siddique’s life story sounds like an engrossing page-turner.
Although his father was serving as Pakistan’s ambassador to Tanzania, he sided with his fellow Bengalis and the family fled for England.
In late summer of 1972, Siddique arrived at Indiana University Bloomington, fleeing the Bangladesh War for Independence from Pakistan. As a student at Dhaka University, he survived the “Black Night” massacre a year before, when the Pakistan army encircled the campus and killed hundreds of Bengali students, faculty and staff.
In his new memoir, “Leaps of Faith: An Immigrant’s Odyssey of Struggle, Success and Service to His Country (Transcon Publishing),” IU Kelley School of Business MBA graduate Siddique introduces readers to his family, its strong ties to IU and the business school, his entrepreneurship and what has been a remarkable American success story.
After founding a successful travel management company, Siddique divested his holdings and served as U.S. ambassador to the Republic of Fiji from 1999-2001 under President Bill Clinton, becoming the first American Muslim to be appointed as a U.S. ambassador or chief of mission anywhere. He also was our nation’s top diplomat to other South Pacific nations Nauru, Tonga and Tuvalu.
Less than a year after being posted at Fiji in 2000, Siddique found himself dealing with a coup d’état. “Osman handled the largely race-related crisis with deft and diplomacy,” Clinton said in the book’s foreword, adding that his “leadership demonstrated to the Fijian people what America stood for.”
American education highly valued
Siddique had followed in the footsteps of his father, M. Osman Ghani (pictured below), who pursued an advanced education abroad rather than working the family’s farm. Ghani eventually led Dhaka University, which is how both men came to know an IU legend and Kelley alumnus, Herman B Wells.
“My father worked frequently with American universities, setting up Dhaka University’s first business school in collaboration with Indiana University,” Siddique writes. “American education was heavily valued by my father and that would extend to his children.”
Five members of Ghani’s family would earn doctorates and three became university vice chancellors and one an education minister. Siddique’s younger brother M.O. Yousuf also earned an MBA at Kelley and currently leads a prominent consulting practice in the oil and energy sector. Their nephew founded the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh in 2008.
In his book, Siddique recalls that among the first people to greet him at IU was Wells, then the university chancellor. “When I met Dr. Wells, I was struck by his graciousness and kindness,” he wrote.
Years later, when Siddique was appointed as a U.S. ambassador, Wells wrote him. In the letter, which is one of Siddique’s prized possessions, Wells wrote, “I’m delighted that your education here prepared you for such an illustrious career. I hope you find your appointment extremely rewarding. I know you will be a credit to both our country and the university.”
A particularly poignant story from his IU experience was when a fellow MBA named Mike Winski invited Siddique to join his Northern Indiana family for Thanksgiving. As they drove, they sang along to the Seals and Croft hit “Summer Breeze” while snowflakes fell.
“I felt warmed by the song and by the friendship of Mike, who only hours before had been a complete stranger to me,” he wrote. “Mike’s was a Jewish family and their welcome of me to their dinner table as a Muslim was touching. Overall, it was an extraordinary introduction to an American holiday that I have loved ever since.”
Yousuf, also a Kelley MBA, later set up a fellowship to create a faculty exchange between Kelley and the University of Dhaka as a means of honoring their father and Wells. Since 2012, the school’s Institute for International Business has visiting professors from Dhaka, who spend three weeks at Bloomington to learn business education practice and techniques from some of the world’s top faculty.
In 1974, Siddique graduated with an MBA. After a brief stint with the Fortune 500 insurance company Met Life, he became a prolific entrepreneur and, more proudly, an American citizen on Oct. 17, 1985. Today, he lives with his wife Catherine in McLean, Va.
In “Leaps of Faith,” Siddique writes extensively about his career in business, public service and politics. Several chapters are dedicated to his work in the South Pacific and the stressful period when he led U.S. efforts to address the coup in Fiji in 2000. He also writes about his friendship with “The Lion of the Senate,” the late Ted Kennedy.
“It’s refreshing in this age of divisiveness to read the words of a man with an open mind and a good heart,” Clinton said. “But what shines forth the brightest in this memoir is Osman’s unwavering faith — in himself, in his community, and, most assuredly, in his country.”