From Undocumented Immigrant to Visionary Leader: Leadership Talks with Martin Rowinski and Shehzad Batliwala

In the latest episode of Boardsi Leadership Talks, host Martin Rowinski, CEO of Boardsi, sits down with the inspirational Dr. Shehzad Batliwala. Dr. Batliwala, an eye surgeon with a keen entrepreneurial spirit, shares his incredible journey from being an undocumented immigrant to becoming a pioneering medical professional and successful business owner.

Dr. Batliwala founded Smartphone ER during his teenage years, transforming it into a thriving multi-store franchise. He broke barriers in the medical field as the first DO admitted into the prestigious MD Ophthalmology residency and explored space medicine at NASA. Currently, he is pursuing an MBA in the space economy, adding yet another layer to his diverse and accomplished career.

 

Throughout the podcast, Dr. Batliwala discusses the challenges he faced growing up without legal documentation, his innovative approach to entrepreneurship, and his passion for space medicine. He also emphasizes the importance of ethical leadership and the need for compliance officers to transition from reactive problem-solvers to proactive business advisors.

 

Takeaways:

  1. Resilience and Innovation: Dr. Batliwala’s journey highlights the importance of resilience and innovation in overcoming personal and professional challenges.
  2. Ethical Leadership: The need for compliance officers to evolve into proactive business advisors is crucial for fostering an ethical, values-based corporate culture.
  3. Pursuing Diverse Interests: Dr. Batliwala’s diverse career path, from medical practice to space medicine and entrepreneurship, underscores the value of pursuing varied interests and continuous learning.

 

Sound Bites:

  • “I had to get creative to provide for my family, which led to founding Smartphone ER during my teenage years.”
  • “Breaking barriers in the medical field as the first DO admitted into the prestigious MD Ophthalmology residency was a significant milestone.”
  • “The space economy is the next frontier, and my MBA in this field is helping me merge my interests in medicine, business, and space.”
  • “Ethical leadership is about being proactive and involved in the daily decision-making process of the company’s management.”

 

This episode is a must-listen for anyone interested in leadership, entrepreneurship, and the complexities of navigating professional and personal challenges. Dr. Batliwala’s story is a testament to resilience, innovation, and the power of pursuing one’s dreams despite the odds.

Martin Rowinski (00:00.814)
Welcome to another episode of Boardsi Leadership Talks. I’m your host, Martin Rowinski CEO of Boardsi. And today we have a truly inspirational guest with us, Dr. Shez Batliwala. Shez is an eye surgeon with an eye for entrepreneurship and a visionary leader who has experienced incredible journey from being an undocumented immigrant,

Shehzad Batliwala (00:01.216)
Welcome to another episode of Bordzai Leadership Talks. I’m your host, Martin Rowinski CEO of Bordzai. And today we have a truly inspirational guest with us, Dr. Sheth Batliwala. Sheth is an eye surgeon with an eye for entrepreneurship and a visionary leader who has experienced incredible change from being an undocumented

Martin Rowinski (00:30.574)
to becoming a pioneering medical professional and a business owner. He founded Smartphone ER during his teenage years, transforming it into a successful multi -store franchise. He also broke barriers in the medical field as the first DO admitted into the prestigious MD of Tomology residency, and he has explored space medicine in NASA.

Shehzad Batliwala (00:31.136)
to becoming a pioneering medical professional and a business owner. He founded Smartphone ER during his teenage years, transforming it into a successful multi -store franchise. He also broke barriers in the medical field as the first DO admitted into the prestigious MD ophthalmology residency, and he has explored space medicine in NASA.

Martin Rowinski (01:00.622)
Currently, he is pursuing his MBA in the space economy, adding yet another layer to his diverse and accomplished career. Dr. Bhattwala, welcome to the show.

Shehzad Batliwala (01:01.184)
Currently he is pursuing his MBA in the space economy, adding yet another layer to his diverse and accomplished career. Dr. Bhattwala, welcome to the show. Thanks for having me, man. What a, what an introduction. I know it ran a little bit long. I love it. I love the kindness and generosity. Thanks for having me. It’ll be a great conversation. Absolutely. It’s a.

Martin Rowinski (01:15.15)
Ha ha.

I know, it ran a little bit long.

Martin Rowinski (01:28.014)
Absolutely. It’s a heck of a journey that you’ve been on. So I’m looking forward to hearing it. Can you start with hearing a bit about your early life and challenges?

Shehzad Batliwala (01:30.272)
heck of a journey that you’ve been on. So I’m looking forward to hearing it. Can you start with hearing a bit about your early life and challenges? Yeah. So I was born in India and we moved to the US when I was seven years old. And a lot of the early challenges, you know, there are three pronged for me basically. One is growing up without a green card. You know, my parents came here just like, you know, every other

Immigrant, right? They come to this country of opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their children. And when you’re in that survival mode type of mindset, last thing you really think about is applying for a green card. And so my parents didn’t do that and our whole family became undocumented. And that was a huge part of my early struggles because it really limits you in so many ways, right? Like you can’t even get a driver’s license.

Applying to colleges becomes limited, applying to medical school becomes limited, earning a living becomes really challenging. And so I had to get really creative in order to figure out how to provide for my family. I felt that responsibility from an early age. Like I mentioned, we’re from India and sort of in that cultural…

context, it’s very important for the male of the family to really show up for the family and provide. And so I really felt that pressure early on, especially being the oldest of the family. I have a younger sister and things like that. And so that’s when I had to get creative and that’s when the iPhone first had launched. This was like back in 2006, 2007. And so I was always interested in tech.

Martin Rowinski (03:22.702)
You

Shehzad Batliwala (03:27.296)
And I bought it I saved up some money and I bought the first iPhone and then my heart was just completely broken because I Cracked the screen on it and I was just distraught right? I was like, my god I spent like hundreds of dollars on this thing and now I broke it. What do I what do I do? No one was really offering cell phone repair at that time. This was a very new concept so I just kind of YouTube how to fix phones and I

Martin Rowinski (03:40.75)
Shocker.

Shehzad Batliwala (03:56.448)
You know, it took a while, but I kind of figured out how to really, anything that goes wrong with the iPhone, I made it a point to just really become an expert at it. And then I started offering that service in my local town in Tyler, Texas. And that’s really how I had to get creative to be able to provide and make a living, right? Financially, that became a very successful thing. As the iPhone grew in popularity, you know, so did the issue of screens cracking.

And I was the guy that could solve that problem. So, you know, between having financial constraints growing up and not really having any legal documentation to solidify my ability to provide, like those were really the primary challenges growing up. You know, that really shaped how I show up now. It just, it was probably one of the toughest times of my life.

you know, growing up without a green card. And once I did get my green card, my life completely changed, right? I mean, like once I became a US citizen, it’s like, my gosh, all kinds of opportunities open up for you, you know? I mean, there’s nothing you cannot do if you have a passport, a United States passport with your name on it. I mean, I really believe that, you know? So yeah, those are some of the early challenges.

Martin Rowinski (05:21.262)
Yeah. And then you kept going, obviously with more opportunities.

Shehzad Batliwala (05:21.728)
Yeah. And then you kept going, obviously. Yeah. Yeah. Well, opportunity. Once you get the US citizenship, then it’s like, man, the world’s my oyster. You know, what do I want to do next? And so, yeah, I mean, it is the land of opportunities, right? So medicine was always in the back of my mind. That’s why even the cell phone repair company, that was sort of my first venture into entrepreneurship. You know, I named a smartphone ER. It was like this emergency repair.

Martin Rowinski (05:32.558)
Exactly.

Shehzad Batliwala (05:51.36)
you know, ER sort of concept for your smartphones. And so I was always on that pre -med track in school. and I never lost sight of that. So, when I got into college, I just kept on the pre -med track, did biology and you know, all of the, all of the boxes that you have to check. I checked them. I got into medical school, finished medical school, you know, near the top of my class. I did well enough to.

be able to apply to a very competitive residency like ophthalmology. And, you know, was able to become an ophthalmologist. And, you know, so many other things happened along the way. I mean, there’s like the whole space kind of detour that I took as well. But yeah, since then, you know, I got my citizenship in 2015. I got my green card in 2012. Like around that time is where…

I just remember like this shift happening in my thinking where like I can do anything. You know, I really believed that and I still do. Like if you’re willing to work hard and be resourceful, the fact that you are a citizen of this country makes you eligible to really pursue your dreams, whatever they might be. And that’s, you can’t really say that in, you know, any country of the world.

It really is something special about the opportunities that we have here in the US.

Martin Rowinski (07:23.118)
I couldn’t agree with you more because I’m an immigrant too, so I know firsthand. Born and raised in Poland.

Shehzad Batliwala (07:23.584)
I couldn’t agree with you more because I’m an immigrant too. So I know firsthand. Where? Born and raised in Poland. Okay, nice. And that was.

Martin Rowinski (07:34.19)
And that was a long time ago when it was still communist. So yeah.

I totally get it, 100%. It is a land of opportunity and my mom had a dream for me and her and we set out and here we are.

Shehzad Batliwala (07:43.648)
It’s a land of opportunity and my mom had a dream for me and her and we set out and here we are. It’s amazing. So it was just you and your mom that came? Just me and my mom. Yeah. And my sister joined later and then my aunt was here. yeah. In my residency, my program director, his name was Michael Sikowski.

Martin Rowinski (07:54.478)
Just me and my mom, yeah, and my sister joined later and then my aunt was here. Yeah.

Shehzad Batliwala (08:08.608)
And he was from Poland as well. and you know, he, you, you definitely have a more positive outlook than he did. So I love that. That’s funny. Well, I had my struggles, but I appreciate them. Yeah. Well, they’re, they’re a gift, you know, like that’s what I’ve realized is if there is no struggle, then what is there? You know, I mean, how do you then grow? No one likes.

Martin Rowinski (08:21.07)
That’s funny. Well, I had my struggles, but I appreciate them.

Shehzad Batliwala (08:37.952)
the feeling of being in the thick of the struggle, right? But who was it? I think it was the CEO of NVIDIA, right? The chip company that’s like taking off with all the AI stuff, you know? I think it was Andy Wong, maybe is the CEO. He gave a commencement speech, I think it was recently, and he said, you know, I don’t know how to say this, but I wish pain and suffering and struggle upon you guys.

upon the college graduates, right? Because that is what sharpens, you know, your character, right? And your resilience. And I really like fundamentally believe that, you know? Yeah. Once you go through really hard things, you just kind of get into this mindset of like, I’ll be fine. Let it come. Whatever comes my way, I’ll be fine, right? And I think that’s really the superpower is if you can cultivate that level of just,

stoicism that nothing is going to shake me, right? No matter what happens. I’ll figure it out.

Martin Rowinski (09:44.91)
Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of figuring things out, your interest in space medicine led you to explore opportunities with NASA. And you’re currently pursuing an MBA in space economy. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Shehzad Batliwala (09:45.152)
Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of figuring things out, your interest in space medicine led you to explore opportunities with NASA. Yeah. And you’re currently pursuing an MBA in space economy. So I finished it. Can you talk a little bit about that? Yeah. Yeah. So I finished the MBA in 2022. I guess I need to update my bio at some point. But yeah, so I…

I got into space medicine in medical school. But even before that, right? Like if you back up a little bit, through some of those early challenges that I was going through in life when I was, you know, in my teenage years, there’s this thing that I would always do and I still do is I would just, I would step outside of my house. I would look up in the night sky, you know? And,

I don’t know, there’s just something about seeing the night just lit up with stars, right? And when I started learning more about space and stars, I was just fascinated. I was like, man, like what’s happening out there, right? Like what is up there? And then I read about the fact that some of the stars that we see, they don’t even exist anymore because it has taken light that long to get to us, right?

because these stars are light years away. So by the time we’re seeing the light, those stars have already gone through the evolution of their life and have turned into supernovas and some have disappeared. And I was just blown away by that concept. I think it helped me understand how insignificant I really am, right? How insignificant my own problems are. Because back then, and even now, sometimes we tend to catastrophize and like,

my God, like this horrible thing is happening to me. Like how am I ever gonna get out of this and all this stuff, right? Like we put way more weight on some of our struggles and problems than perhaps they deserve. And that perspective of space always helped me kind of minimize my struggles in a way, you know? And so I never lost sight of that. I always kind of carry that with me. That always helped me go through really tough times.

Shehzad Batliwala (12:09.024)
And then in medical school, when it came time to kind of figure out like what kind of doctor I want to become, I discovered this field called space medicine, just randomly. I don’t even remember how I stumbled upon it, but I was like, man, what is this? Right? Like, like I, I had this fascination of space from a very early age and now I’m in medical school, but now there’s this thing called space medicine. And it’s basically like, you know, astronauts have a lot of vision issues and a lot of different types of issues when they go to space.

Your entire physiology changes because you are no longer in a gravitational field, right? As soon as you leave Earth, zero gravity. So everything changes. And for me, the fascinating part was the vision issues that astronauts have. So I did a lot of the initial kind of research into that. It’s a condition called SANS, space flight associated neuroocular syndrome. And I kind of stumbled upon that.

in medical school. So I applied to be an intern at NASA and in Houston at the Johnson Space Center and I got accepted. So I spent two months doing a lot of research into this particular condition. I got to live with an astronaut for two months during that time, which was like one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was so, so cool to be able to live with Chris Cassie. That’s his name. And

Martin Rowinski (13:30.766)
Mm -hmm.

Shehzad Batliwala (13:37.408)
So, you know, I kind of kept up with that. I finished medical school, got into ophthalmology. And as I was finishing my ophthalmology residency, I, you know, I kind of was like burnt out almost of medicine, you know? Like when you spend so much time doing one thing.

And, you know, residency training is extremely hard. You’re working 80 -90 hours a week, right? You’re waking up at 3 -4 o ‘clock in the morning and going to see patients. When you do that repeatedly, day in and day out, and you do that in that culture, right? Where you’re at the bottom of the totem pole, you’re just a resident, right? Your opinion and all of that matters very little, honestly, right? You are…

first and foremost, a worker of the healthcare system. The United States healthcare system operates by and large off of residents. And in return, we get an education, yes, but that work that you have to put in, in that culture, can definitely predispose you to just getting burned out. And I never thought that that’s what would happen to me. I never thought that.

Along the same time, this was like during COVID, you know, 2020, there were some really challenging things going on in my personal life, which goes back to the immigration story. I had gotten my green card and my citizenship, but my dad hadn’t yet. And so my dad was actually, my dad actually had to leave the country, leave the U .S. to go to India during COVID to get his green card. Very crazy logistical scenario that made it so that he had to do that.

And he lands in India like February of 2020. And then COVID was declared kind of a worldwide pandemic in March of 2020. So he was supposed to be gone for like three weeks and he was stuck in India for 18 months. And this is during my own residency journey where I’m kind of going through this burnout and all of this stuff. And so it was just a lot, right? And so I…

Shehzad Batliwala (16:04.896)
I finished my ophthalmology residency, but as soon as I finished my ophthalmology residency, I said, you know what? I don’t know. I kind of want to figure out what it is that I want to do with my life. I’m not entirely sure. I was very confused. I was like, I’m not entirely sure if it’s fully ophthalmology or what. And during that time, randomly, I discovered this MBA program on the space economy.

right, that had just come out. It was the first, I was going to be part of the first class. This was January of 2022. So I was like, my God, I got to do it. Right. Cause I had this background in entrepreneurship with smartphone ER very early on in my life. Always been interested in business, always been a fan of space. And now there’s this thing where it’s all going to merge the space economy, right. And the business of space comes together. I was like, I got to do this. So I applied for the MBA. I got it.

And I spent a year getting that MBA and I’m telling you, it was one of the most like interesting and fascinating years of my life, right? There’s so much going on in the space economy. In our lifetime, in the next 20 years, probably, I have no doubt that you and I will be able to buy a ticket and just go to space, you know, in terms of like just space tourism, right? There is going to be, you know,

there’s definitely going to be like hotel accommodations in space. There’s definitely going to be implications in terms of like manufacturing in space, right? Like 3D parts and things like that manufactured in space and then brought back to earth to use as resources, you know? There’s all of this really, really innovative stuff going on in terms of like, you know, can we…

get to an asteroid or get to certain parts of the moon and mine some resources and bring those resources back to Earth, right? To benefit Earth and people here. So there’s so much going on and very little people know about this, right? And it’s gonna be a game changer. So I spent 2022 doing that. And then I realized what it is that I really wanna do with my life, right?

Shehzad Batliwala (18:29.12)
I realize that I’m not someone who just is going to do one thing and that’s going to be my life. I am a multifaceted individual. If you look at my entire life history, it shows that. I’ve always done a lot of unique kind of things.

And in a lot of ways, all of those things have come together for me, right? And so what I’ve realized is this is what I wanna do, right? I absolutely love ophthalmology and eye surgery, you know? And that is sort of my way to give back to humanity, right? And I’m never gonna give that up, but I’m probably gonna do that, you know, like right now I practice ophthalmology about three days a week, right? And the rest of the time,

I do podcasts kind of like this. I engage in conversations to bring awareness to some of these other things that I’ve done in my life that I feel like, you know, there isn’t a lot of awareness around like what’s happening with the space economy, right? Like what’s happening in space medicine. And so and perhaps the biggest thing that I really want to do out of all of them is what have I learned?

about my own self and about the human condition through going through my struggles and going through burnout and all of that, right? What have I learned? I have learned that you have to understand yourself first and foremost. You need self -awareness in order to understand why you do what you do, right? So many of us like, and I was one of those guys, I was just going through life. I would call myself a sleepwalker.

I was just going through life. I had no idea really why I was doing it. I had these superficial reasons. I had this fascination and things like that. But I really didn’t understand myself to a depth that is required to really be happy with the decisions that I’m making in the life that I’m living. And that was the biggest change that I had to make in my own mindset. When I was going through burnout,

Shehzad Batliwala (20:56.064)
and I took a step back, I took a huge step back. I was working in medicine after residency, like one or two days a week. I went on like retreats and all of these things just to understand like why I was so unhappy. And once I really understood the why, now there’s so much clarity that comes after building that type of self -awareness. So that’s what I really wanna.

want to do and talk about and perhaps help others with, right? Because I know I’m not the only one. You know, like I said, I never thought I would experience burnout and never thought I would be that guy. And I did. I crashed and burned big time. Right. I was depressed and unhappy. And so I’m absolutely certain that there are other people like that in this world who are probably in medical training, you know, early on.

who are either going to hit burnout or are perhaps already in that cycle. And those are the people that I really want to help. So that’s kind of what I want to do with my life overall. I know that’s not what you asked. You asked about the NASA space angle. But it all kind of builds on itself for me. You know, it all sort of comes together. So…

Martin Rowinski (22:19.726)
That was perfect. You took away a lot of my questions. So I may jump into something ahead. What? We’d love to get to know you on more of a personal level outside of your professional. What’s a fun fact about you that not many people would know?

Shehzad Batliwala (22:42.342)
I am actually a very silly person. I’m actually a very silly person. Like this conversation right here, this is not like me in my element, you know, because this is, I gotta like, you know, be all professional and all like, you know, proper. Like I, I just like to have fun, man, you know.

Martin Rowinski (22:50.318)
Ha ha ha.

Shehzad Batliwala (23:10.656)
I just like to have fun. I like to let loose. I like to let my guard down. Honestly, I trust people inherently. I trust human beings inherently. And so I let my guard down pretty quickly. And, you know, so like I’ve been doing some standup comedy recently, like over the last year, you know, and it’s for that reason is to get in touch more in touch with my silly side, right?

I used to be and I still am but back in the day I used to be a you know, like a class clown You know, I always make people laugh like in elementary school and middle school at my expense, right? Like I’m not saying like I had graded jokes. Like I just make fun of myself, you know and And I think I just lost that Over the years, especially like it starting in my teenage years 14 15 when some of the the really

you know, difficult challenges I was going through, I just kind of matured like way earlier than probably necessary. Well, way, way, way earlier than expected. Right. And then medical school and all of that stuff, like I just kind of lost sight of, of, of that funny person, that inherently like silly person that I know I am. So last year,

I was like, man, I want to do comedy actually, you know? Like, why can’t I do comedy? Like, I think I’m good at public speaking. And so I started taking comedy classes and things like that. I actually like took classes to like learn the art form, you know? And it’s just been so fun. I’ve done like, I don’t know, like seven, eight shows now, like five minute shows and stuff. And I have one next weekend actually in Atlanta. And it’s so cool because it’s like,

I get to be silly, which is who I am, but I also get to share my truth. Comedy, good comedy I’ve learned, I’m still trying to make my way towards that, but good comedy is about sharing your truth in a vulnerable yet humorous way. If you listen to any good comedian that you really relate to,

Shehzad Batliwala (25:31.008)
You’re like, my god, like I can so totally see myself in that guy, right? In terms of the struggle or whatever it is that they’re joking about. So yeah, that’s something that probably not a lot of people would know. I mean, my closest friends do, but yeah.

Martin Rowinski (25:49.198)
That’s awesome. I definitely can agree and being silly definitely keeps the burnout away or at least helps you get through it for sure.

Shehzad Batliwala (26:01.44)
Absolutely, absolutely. Yeah.

Martin Rowinski (26:03.95)
Yeah. Well, it’s been awesome having you on the show. I think your journey and insights are truly inspiring. I mean, you’ve been through a lot. No green card. You don’t even belong here to becoming a US citizen, to keeping yourself busy. And I mean, you’ve done a lot. So to wrap it up, what’s next for you?

Shehzad Batliwala (26:28.48)
Yeah, so you know as I was mentioning earlier, I really think like at some point it comes back to contribution, right? Like how do you give back to the world and to other human beings? And I’m very lucky in that I’m an ophthalmologist and I can, you know, I have a skill set that helps people see, right? So from a professional standpoint, that’s how I give back to the world.

From a personal standpoint, I think it’s my story and understanding my story really well so that I can help others who are maybe struggling in the same way that I was, right? Maybe five years ago. And so to that extent, I’m building out a platform called Visionary Doc. It’s a coaching platform. And I am very passionate about helping other high achievers, right? Highly ambitious, highly driven people.

Just really get clarity about what it is that you’re chasing exactly. Because we are very good at chasing things. Highly ambitious, driven people. Some of it, like for me, was survival. I didn’t have a choice. But to figure out a way to provide for my family to start that business. Part of the reason I went to medical school was because I felt like I didn’t really have a choice. Like I…

wanted to secure myself financially and otherwise so that I could provide for my family. So a lot of the chasing that I was doing early on in my life was coming from this survival and scarcity mindset, right? I think now though the shift is becoming into something more intentional, right? Like I know what I’m chasing and I’m doing it out of an abundance mindset, not out of a scarcity mindset.

And that’s something that I really want to help other people, other highly driven, highly ambitious people get clarity on. So that’s kind of the next thing that I really wanna focus on.

Martin Rowinski (28:45.198)
Sorry about that, I lost you there for a second.

Shehzad Batliwala (28:45.696)
Sorry about that, I lost you there for a second. Saying like that’s the next thing that I wanna focus on is how to help other highly ambitious people get clarity on exactly what it is they’re chasing in terms of their goals and why, right? Understanding the why behind our aspirations I think is key. So that’s what I’m, so Visionary Doc is a coaching platform specifically for that purpose.

Martin Rowinski (29:14.158)
That’s awesome. Thank you once again, Shez, for joining us and to our listeners. Thank you for tuning into Boardsi Leadership Talks. And don’t forget to subscribe for more inspiring conversations with industry leaders like Dadak here. Until next time.

Shehzad Batliwala (29:32.224)
Awesome. Thanks a lot, man. Appreciate your time. Absolutely. Bye, Martin.

Martin Rowinski (29:34.222)
Absolutely.

 

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