After graduating a year early from St. Xavier’s College in India, Sam Ganga was figuring out his next steps. He was 20 years old and decided he wanted to pursue a master’s degree. He went to the library, researched universities and discovered the University of Missouri–St. Louis and its management science and information systems program.
With little money and resources, he reached out to the department, explaining his inability to afford full tuition.
“I knew I didn’t have the ability to pay my tuition,” Ganga said. “When I reached out to somebody – I don’t know who that individual was at this point; I wish I’d kept that note – I said, ‘I don’t have money. I’ve just got enough to make it there and maybe pay my first semester tuition.’ The only response that I got back basically was, ‘Come on over, and we’ll figure it out. We will take care of you.’ I ran to my father and said, ‘Listen, this is my ticket.’”
That show of support was not only personally meaningful for Ganga but ultimately helped change the trajectory of his life. Now, Ganga, who earned his MBA at UMSL, is a partner at KPMG, one of the top four accounting firms in the country. He is responsible for business growth and serves as a technology and digital executive, helping clients launch digital businesses and deliver value through enterprise data and cloud capabilities.
Ganga’s UMSL story was just one told at the annual Salute to Business Achievement Awards held on Thursday in the Century Rooms at the Millennium Student Center. With a crowd of about 40 people in attendance, the UMSL Business Alumni Chapter celebrated Ganga and four other alumni – Cathy Arshadi, Rebecca Boyer, Patrick Chunn and Sarajeni Hammond – for their achievements and leadership in business.
Ganga, joined by his wife at the event, felt honored to be recognized by his alma mater after it took such good care of him while pursuing his studies.
“I just came on a hope and a prayer,” Ganga said.
He not only credits the UMSL community, including professors, roommates and friends, for helping him acclimate to a new culture and succeed but also for helping him develop the work ethic that’s helped him stand out in his career.
“I worked two jobs,” he said. “I finished work, went home, ate dinner, came back and went to school. Just the work ethic, the fundamental shaping of my ethos happened here. I never worked in India. I just came here directly.”
The fundamentals of hard work is something Arshadi, now a senior vice president and director of financial, management at Commerce Bank, developed as well while pursuing her BSBA at UMSL.
Arshadi has spent 31 years at Commerce, where she manages the strategic planning, financial performance and budget for Commerce Trust. Until this year, she was also the first and only woman on the executive trust committee.
She was flattered to be recognized by the UMSL Business Alumni Chapter for her accomplishments.
“It’s really exciting to have my whole body of work recognized,” Arshadi said. “I do a lot of nonprofit work as well as my job, and I really enjoy that. I’ve done a lot of things and achieved a lot of results. It’s really, really special to be recognized for that.”
Arshadi, who is married to Professor Nasser Arshadi, chair of UMSL’s Department of Finance and Legal Studies, also crafted her work ethic while attending UMSL and working full-time. She chose UMSL out of necessity and received the help she needed to hone in on her aptitude for business.
“My family situation was such that I wanted to stay in St. Louis,” she said. “Not going to college was not an option, and it was very affordable at the time. It was a natural fit for me. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do when I got out of high school. My whole family, they’re all teachers, and I knew I didn’t want to do that. So business worked for me. I knew I wanted to do that. I’m that driving personality. UMSL was a perfect place for me to get my degree.”
Boyer, the managing partner at SLR Executive Services, a financial executive consulting firm, holds UMSL in high esteem in her personal journey as well. The theme of hard work also carried throughout her UMSL experience.
“I’m humbled and honored,” Boyer said. “It’s made such an impact in my life. Starting at UMSL just showed me everything you can achieve with some hard work and perseverance. So it’s always nice to be honored by where you got your start.”
Boyer, who received her bachelor’s degree in accounting from UMSL, provides fractional CFO services and has experience in planning, finance, change management and talent development. She is also the founder and managing member of BBBK Holdings, a real estate property firm, and serves on several boards, including the Missouri Society of CPAs.
Chunn, who received his BSBA from UMSL, chose the university out of financial need but got more than he originally imagined.
“I think the world of this university because it’s done a lot for us,” said Chunn, referencing himself and his wife, Christina. “Originally, it was exclusively a financial decision, but what we didn’t realize at the time was that there’s a lot of value in this university. They do a good job teaching their students, and like I mentioned, they have a real placement office. I got my first real job, internships and all of the big eight accounting firms recruitment out of here.”
Not only did UMSL impact Chunn professionally but also personally in the support he received from faculty.
“I have fond memories of a lot of the professors that I had,” he said. “The thing about them was that they actually cared about their students. They taught you a lot about the subject matter, but they taught you a little bit about life as well. They were people that, if you had a problem or you had a question, you could sit down with them. You can’t fake compassion for people. I think that’s a big difference – to actually care about their students.”
Hammond, a native of East St. Louis, Illinois, traveled in from California, where she works as the vice president of human resources of Consumer Health North America at the Bayer Corporation. She was joined by multiple members her family to celebrate her award.
She received a BSBA from UMSL and has over 20 years of experience in human resources leadership with expertise in the areas of global talent management and labor relations.
“UMSL was such an important part of my education,” Hammond said. “It’s such an honor to be back on campus and to see all of the capital investment that’s happened. I’m really proud to be an alumni and glad to be back.”
Hammond echoed Chunn in describing the support she received from the UMSL community, and feeling seen at the university has factored into her professional success.
“I think the relationship between not just the professors but the administration was so pivotal because you knew that they cared about you, not just as a student but as a person,” she said. “You’re able to bring your whole self to class and be authentic in your conversations, and you didn’t have to be careful with what you said because you knew you were accepted for who you are. Your ideas were welcome. It was a really a safe place to really flourish as a young leader in the community.”