MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Penn State has alumni living all around the world. With the largest dues-paying alumni association in the world — over 177,000 people — you’re likely to find a Penn Stater wherever you go. Many of these Penn Staters are international alumni who come to Penn State, get their education, then return to their home countries.
Others, like Hasu Shah, stick around.
Shah, the owner and proprietor of the Hersha Hospitality Trust — named for his wife and business partner — left India when he was 19 years old. He got his undergraduate degree from the University of Tennessee before moving to Pennsylvania.
“It felt very natural to me to have global experiences and study in America,” Shah recalled.
He began working for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg, in the Department of Health and Environmental Resources. While there, he decided he wanted to pursue his master's degree.
“It’s something that I always wanted to do, but I could not afford to do school full time,” he said. Over three years, he attended Penn State Harrisburg part time, completing six or seven courses. Finally, the state began a program to offer its employees the ability to take a leave of absence to attend school full time. With only three courses left, Shah took the leave and completed his master's degree in public administration at University Park.
Now, one might wonder how Shah ended up owning a group of hotels.
“I always wanted to run my own business and work for myself,” Shah said. “So for the first ten years of my job with the Commonwealth, I took 10% of both my and my wife’s salary and put it in savings.” Those savings were used to purchase real estate in the Harrisburg area. Within ten years, he had purchased eight homes and four apartments.
This real estate venture proceeded a step further when he decided to start a 125-room hotel in downtown Harrisburg. Shah continued to work for the state while his wife took over running the hospitality business. Under her leadership, their revenue doubled, which allowed Shah to quit his job and help run the hotel full time. Within five years, the Shahs and their partners owned ten hotels.
It felt very natural to me to have global experiences and study in America.
Since starting the Hersha Hospitality Group, Shah has received many awards, including the Entrepreneur of the Year award, and the Central Penn Business Journal Hall of Fame award. Shah was also the recipient of Penn State’s Alumni Fellow Award in 2002, as well as the United Way Award, which saw previous recipients such as Presidents Reagan and Carter, as well as Bill Gates.
Regardless of his long list of achievements, Shah remains humble when speaking about his accomplishments, attributing his success to the American people, his community, and hard work. “I like to give credit to the American people and the community of Central Pennsylvania for being so accepting of foreigners,” Shah said. “And I also believed in working very, very hard, no matter what I was doing.”
Shah has seen a lot of success in his business. He is widely seen as a leader in the local Harrisburg community, as well as in his home country of India. He is a Rotarian in Harrisburg and helped to establish a sister city Rotary club in India. Both clubs work together to complete projects around the world.
Shah credits his philanthropy to his religion and his guru.
“My guru told me, ‘Each and every human being in the world owes the God who gave us life.’ So I started to think — how do I give back to God for the life we have received? God doesn’t need your money, so how do you give back?”
Shah has a framework for how to do this.
“Out of 24 hours of the day, you spend 10 sleeping and 14 awake and doing activities for yourself,” Shah explained. “Out of those 14 waking hours, at least 5% of the time — which comes out to about 42 minutes a day — you should be giving back to your God for the life he has given you. So, for 42 minutes a day, you should be giving back to a philanthropic effort in which you receive nothing for yourself.”
Shah’s major philanthropic project revolves around cataract surgery. In 1996, Shah decided to start a project to give back to the people of India with funding for cataract surgery. Cataracts affect many Indians and can have severely damaging effects, including blindness and family rejection when they cannot contribute to household and family.
God has provided for me, so I want to take some of the money that I make and give back.
At the time the project started, there were about 5 million people in India who were blind due to cataracts. Shah and his wife decided they would try to sponsor cataract operations for 20% of those 5 million affected. So far, they have helped to fund and sponsor 345,000 cataract operations. His goal within the next three to four years is to reach the initial goal of helping 1 million people.
“God has provided for me, so I want to take some of the money that I make and give back,” he said.
Shah is still very involved with Penn State, especially Penn State Harrisburg. He sat on the board of the campus for four years and has worked closely with many at the campus. He has scholarships for minorities and women for master’s degrees.
“Penn State is a great organization,” he said. “As long as the students keep faith and work towards their goals, they will do very well in anything they are working on.”
For more information about Hersha Hospitality, visit https://www.hersha.com/
For more information about Shah’s cataract project, visit http://shreekrushnfoundation.com/