Athar Siddiqee often contemplates Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. There aren’t many tiers in which he’s deﬁcient. Siddiqee lives where he’s lived most of his life, in the picturesque Sunnyvale, Calif., amid the hustle and business bustle of Silicon Valley. He lives five houses down from his parents, whom he calls his “inspiration and role models.” A proud Muslim, he and his wife are philanthropists, spending time in homeless shelters and soup kitchens. He has one college-graduate son and a daughter starting her sophomore year of college in the fall. All of this on top of a successful and mentally fulﬁlling professional career. Are there any tiers above self-actualization?
You were born in Mumbai, India, but moved to the United States very early on. Why did you move, where did you move and what was it like?
My parents moved to the U.S. when I was one year old, so I decided to come with them. They fed me, they changed me, so I ﬁgured I should stick with these people! But seriously, I’ve lived in the Bay Area since then. I grew up in Redwood City, was there until age 10, then moved to Sunnyvale for the school district. I left at 18 to go to UCLA for my undergraduate degree in math and economics.
Despite the focus of the undergrad degree, you had a diﬀerent interest at that time, right?
I wanted a job while on campus and knew I couldn’t go too far from campus. I asked myself what I could do that would be somewhat business-related, since that’s what I wanted to get into eventually. So, I ended up at the school newspaper, creating and selling advertising campaigns. I then worked at the Daily Breeze, a paper in Santa Monica. I realized I wasn’t using my degree. I also realized it was pretty cool creatively, in terms of the ROI and how much it can help someone’s business, but I wasn’t intellectually challenged.
So, after four more years of work following the degree, I decided to get my MBA. I wanted to stay in California and ﬁgured I’d go back to near where I grew up. So that’s where the master’s of business administration from Santa Clara came from. That was in 1993.
What about hobbies? You said you love to travel, as one of your main goals is to travel to 50 states and 50 countries.
I’m at 42 states and 40 countries as of now. I’m well on my way.
I’m a big sports fan, too. I’ve been to 22 of 30 baseball stadiums. I just ﬁnished my bucket list of going to the championship games of professional baseball, basketball, hockey, football, college basketball and football. The latter of those was crossed off this past January when I went to the national championship game featuring Alabama vs. Clemson, which was played at Levi’s Stadium, just 10 minutes from my house.
You and your wife are also incredibly charitable. How do you sum up an area that you say gives you the most fulfillment?
I think sometimes we forget how blessed we are. We live in Silicon Valley, which, to me, is the best place on Earth. We have basically everything you could want. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a job you enjoy, like where you live, a loving family and a roof over your head, I just feel there’s little to complain about. You’re in an enviable position, where you have a responsibility, maybe even an obligation, to help our fellow human beings who may not be in as good of a situation.
We spend a signiﬁcant amount of time doing community work, often volunteering at homeless shelters or soup kitchens. My wife works at the Rahima Foundation, which helps people of all faiths. I serve on the board of the Human Development Foundation, which is a U.S.-based organization that helps empower very poor and uneducated people in Pakistan.
You’re also involved in interfaith efforts, even speaking at a synagogue following the synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
Basically, I said we’re all in this together, an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. As a Muslim, I know all too well what it’s like to have your faith stigmatized by an administration that is clearly not a fan of yours. So, it’s more important now than ever to do bridge-building, interfaith work, or anything else to dispel the misconceptions that exist. At the end of the day, it’s all about people of conscience working together to demonstrate that we have far more in common than we have differences.
As far as a bucket list, being relatively young with both children in college, what is it you want to accomplish going forward?
I'd like to leave society in a better place than how it was when I got here. Retirement, when it happens, isn’t time to relax. Rather, it provides more time to help.
My father, Dr. Waheed Siddigee, has a Ph.D. is electrical engineering. He retired about 22 years ago and he had that same feeling. He gives back to the community. He goes to local centers and gives free math tutoring to anyone who walks in. He’s done this every Saturday and Sunday for the past 21 years. You’ve got refugees, you’ve got low-income people. These people need help in subjects like math, but they can’t afford a tutor. It’s so admirable to see this — although he’s 88 years old, he’s sharp as a tack — and it makes you realize the value of keeping one’s mind active. That’s my role model. My mom, Sabiha, does the same thing at a domestic abuse center. I want to do something similar. Whether that means starting an orphanage, building a halfway house, or something on those lines.
My parents live five houses away from me. They’re my best friends; they may actually be my only friends, aside from my cat! I see them every day. I saw them this morning before I left for work. They’re my inspiration, my role models, and people I emulate, a standard I try my hardest to live up to.