Chemist Dayal Meshri has a zest for life and is proud of how some exciting twists and turns in his education eventually led to a stellar career in Tulsa. Born in British India, he says the Oklahoma plains were the last place he expected to end up.
After 40 years of raising a family, building the successful chemical application company Advance Research Chemicals Inc., and establishing himself as a philanthropic force in the community, Meshri still calls Tulsa home.
Where did you go to school/university? Why?
I spent 23 years in school. When British India divided into Pakistan and India, we migrated to India in January 1948. I was 11 years old and didn’t know anything about the local language. I attended M.N. High School in Patan, India, in the state of Gujarat. Gujarati was the local language and Hindi was the national language. I only knew the Sindhi language, but luckily I had taken one year of English in the fifth grade. I could also do math — add, subtract, write — in English. That knowledge helped me become one of the most distinguished students in the whole state, and I received a scholarship to go to the prestigious Gujarat University in the city of Ahmedabad. This was a really big challenge because I had lived in a town of about 60,000 and now I was going to a big college in a city of about 2 million people.
I received the No. 1 first class distinction in my chemistry group in 1958 (undergraduate degree) and then had an opportunity to do research and earn a master’s degree from Gujarat University in nuclear chemistry. I conducted research at the M.R. Institute of Science, then got a scholarship from Notre Dame to study nuclear chemistry. I came to the U.S. on Sept. 12, 1962.
Tell me about your journey to America.
I booked a ticket on Aug. 12 to leave Mumbai for London on the S.S. Stratheden. There were about 7,000 people on it. I had never been out of the country and saw the world from a boat; we sailed from Naples, Italy, to Lisbon, Portugal, to Marseille, France, and then to London. I explored London for seven days before leaving for New York. Once I arrived in New York, I took a bus right to Notre Dame. I was at Notre Dame from 1962-63, and then took another bus to Moscow, Idaho, at the University of Idaho where I started my doctorate. I finished my Ph.D. in 1967 and worked at Cornell University until 1969 as a post-doctorate fellow. I specialize in inorganic fluorine chemistry and wanted to learn more about the organic form, which was Cornell’s specialty.
Why were you drawn to the field of chemistry?
When I was 17, 18 years old and starting college, I didn’t know what I wanted to be: a lawyer, medical doctor or scientist. I tried law school on the side during college, but I didn’t like it. I got admitted to medical school, but it was expensive and the fees were more than I could afford. At the same time, a professor of chemistry and top-notch Indian scientist, Barunchander Haldar, who had worked in nuclear chemistry with Nobel Prize recipient Dr. Glenn Seaborg, returned to India from the University of Southern California. I worked under Haldar for my master’s degree in nuclear science (at the Institute of Science, Mumbai). He really inspired me in this part of chemistry.
How did you find your way to Tulsa?
When I was at Cornell, for the first time in Moscow, Russia, an American Chemical Society meeting was going to be held. One of my professors who was attending the meeting was on the same charter flight from New York to Moscow with Wayne E. White, an executive of Ozark-Mahoning Co.-Pennwalt Corp. in Tulsa. White told my professor he was looking for a foreign chemist and asked if he knew of any students.
My goal was to come to the U.S., learn fluorine chemistry and go back to India to teach. I love to teach; that is my hobby. Dr. White called me when I was in Ithaca, New York, and told me I came strongly recommended. I had never heard of Tulsa, and I said, “No, thank you very much.” He invited me to visit anytime. In August there was an ACS meeting in New York City, and I was giving a talk there. Dr. White decided to visit me there, and when I gave the talk, he came out of the auditorium and shook my hand. He invited my wife and me to dinner. We had a wonderful dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, and at the end of the night he gave me a plane ticket to visit Tulsa.
In September, I took the flight to Tulsa and went to the company’s laboratory. They were having a problem with a chemical material that’s used even today in toothpaste. I said OK, give me the lab coat and I will work in the lab. In three hours, I’d resolved the issue easily, and I was offered a job for $15,000 a year. I started working for the company on Oct. 23, 1969. I worked there until Dec. 31, 1986, and then in 1987 I started my own company, ARC.
What was one of your most defining moments in life?
Like anybody, there are different times of excitement in life: marrying my wife, having children, starting my own company. But the most exciting thing for me was to leave my motherland. We left our house in the middle of the night. I was a small child, and my family was frightened. People were getting raped and tortured. We escaped out of that situation and lived for a month where there was no running water in horrible conditions. That was an experience of my life I have not forgotten.
Other defining moments were getting a scholarship and funding to come to the U.S., finishing my Ph.D. and getting married. When my wife was still in India and I was in the U.S., we wrote each other over 600 letters. In June 1966, she flew over to the states and we married in Spokane, Washington.
What age do you feel right now and why?
I’m 84, but I feel 30 years old! I feel young because I enjoy my work, my friends.
How would your friends describe you?
They would say I am an easygoing guy. I love to smile and see other people smile. I’m a very good listener, and I’m helpful.
What would people be surprised to know about you?
I’m frugal. Every penny that is spent should be thoughtfully done. Instead of spending money on myself, I’d rather give it to students for scholarships. I like to use my time, money and resources for a better purpose. You have to be grateful. Nothing is unlimited, so don’t waste it.
If you could witness any event in the past, present or future, what would it be?
I would like to witness the availability of our company’s new products that could be very useful for mankind. My goal is to leave this world better than I came in to it. If you want to do something for your fellow human beings, do research. Yes, making money is important — you need money, you need support, you need to pay your employees — but at the same time you must make very good products so people can enjoy them.
What was a “worst time” and how did you pull through it?
Migration (leaving Pakistan and going to India and staying in the refugee camp). That was the worst part of my life. The second worst time was starting ARC — I started from scratch. I wore out many pairs of shoes talking to bankers, my friends, my family, looking at my savings. My kids were preparing to go to college. That was a pretty tough challenge, but you have to have faith in yourself and make a budget. I had only $500,000 to start ARC. Back in those days, you needed $2 million to $3 million to start that kind of company. We are the only company you’ll find now with zero debt. We paid back our debts one by one.
What concerns you today?
The future of younger generations. That worries me a lot. Many children have little encouragement and not much education. Youth need to be educated and know how to be frugal. They need to be energized and learn how to work and work hard.
How do you measure success?
Whenever you reach a level of success, you must maintain it politely with humility and not be arrogant about it. Whatever you have, share it with those who are less fortunate.
What is a favorite Tulsa memory?
I have beautiful memories of Tulsa. It is a beautiful city with very nice, helpful and courteous people. My son’s wedding in 1995 was the wedding of the century. We had a procession of about 500 people with wine, dining and music. My Tulsa memories involve good relationships and good business.
Describe a perfect weekend in Tulsa or elsewhere.
Nice parties, good food, dancing, music and a lot of good fun.
What do you miss the most in Tulsa?
I have sweet memories of Chandler Park. In the evening, my wife and my two little children used to go to Chandler Park and play. And I miss, of course, my wife (Dr. Indu Meshri), who I lost in 2005.
What are the most significant changes you’ve experienced in Tulsa?
It’s a day and night difference. When I came to Tulsa, I-244 was not there. Highway 169 was not there. There was no traffic. There was only a very small shopping center at Utica Square. It was a really small town. Memorial and 31st was considered farmland. Now, it has grown to five or six times its original size with beautiful, multi-million-dollar homes.