At 42, non-resident Indian (NRI) restaurateur Prasoon Mukherjee has everything that money can buy.
A booming business spanning six countries, a jet set lifestyle and unbridled fame that sees him rub shoulders with presidents and prime ministers – Mukherjee's life is an inspiring Indian success story.
But the yarns of this rags-to-riches story were spun more than two decades ago in the by-lanes of a Central Kolkata neighbourhood where a strapping young boy, fresh out of high school, had dared to dream big.
The dream has taken Mukherjee to many continents, seen him franchise across Asia about two-dozen casual dining restaurants of the US-based group Outback Steakhouse and liaison between governments for bilateral deals.
"But the beginning was not at all easy," reminisces Mukherjee, who started by doing a course in hotel management from a premier institute here in 1981.
"It was difficult for my father to provide the Rs 1,600 fee every quarter for the four-year hotel management course. But eventually I did go through with it," Mukherjee, who is now based in Indonesia, said.
Once out of the Institute of Hotel Management, he landed a job with the Indian Tourism Development Corporation (ITDC), where he worked his way up from a trainee to be a food and beverages manager.
After 10 years in ITDC, he was sent by the company to the US for an advanced course in hotel management.
"On my return, I was to become the general manager in one of the ITDC hotels, but I was ignored by a partisan management," said the suave restaurateur, his eyes glimmering behind a pair of brown square monochrome spectacles as he recalled the discrimination.
But on hindsight, that single incident emerged as a blessing in disguise as a hurt Mukherjee then got in touch with an acquaintance in Singapore and he soon found himself working as a kitchen manager in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.
"Within six months, I was made the regional manager of the TGI Friday group's Malaysia operations and I had to supervise the functioning of 11 restaurants," said Mukherjee, taking calls on his mobile phone intermittently as he spoke.
In 1994, he became South East Asia's director (operation) of TGIF (Thank God It's Friday) and was posted in Singapore. But soon enough Mukherjee quit this cushy job and shifted base to Jakarta where he took up a job with one of Indonesia's biggest corporates – the $ 25 billion Salim Group, where he worked till 1999.
"In this company, apart from my salary I received annually received two per cent of the company's shares as part my whole package. In five years the share value was $ 11 million," he said.
Mukherjee, who by then had begun dreaming of starting off on his own, sold half of his shares and with a capital of $ 5.5 million left for Los Angeles, where he was first introduced to the Outback Steakhouse chain, arguably one of the world's best casual dinning restaurant groups.
Once at Outback Steakhouse, Mukherjee knew what he wanted to do in life. He had to become a restaurateur.
"It took me three gruelling days of parleys to convince the Outback management in Atlanta to let me open franchises in South Asia. First, they weren't interested in expanding their operations in Asia. Second, they weren't convinced about my financial health.
"In 2000 I opened my first Outback Steakhouse franchise in Singapore."
Since then, he has opened 21 other Outback restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Manila and Jakarta.
"But, my biggest regret is that my father, who was the only soul to encourage me to go abroad leaving the ITDC job, couldn't see me start my own business. He died a few days after I had signed the Outback deal, but I hadn't been able to inform him," said Mukherjee.
Mukherjee, the franchise holder for all of Asia barring Japan and Korea, is opening three more Outback restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok by December.
Outback Steakhouse's Asia operation, barring those in Japan and North and South Korea, reports a turnover of $ 20 million.
Mukherjee's India plans too are in the offing. Outback president Tim Ganon was in Delhi in January to "study" the market, and Mukherjee said the chain's founder was "happy with the situation". He, however, did not specify when Outback could open an outlet in India.
Besides his entrepreneurial skills, Mukherjee is active in the diplomatic circles and he is liaisoning between the Indonesian and Bangladesh governments on a road building deal.
He is in a delegation being led by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri to Bangladesh on June 21 to formalise the deal that will see an 80-km road being built to connect Dhaka with Khulna.
Mukherjee, whose immediate aim in life is to "open 100 Outback Steakhouse outlets", said his mother, who died of diabetes, was the principal inspiration in his life in whose memory he wants to build a charity diabetes hospital in Kolkata.