I was born and brought up in a simple middle class family. My father was a drama artist who had a crew to take care of. While I was pursuing B.Com, the sudden demise of my father broke our family. We did not have even a penny to pay rent; hence paying a tuition fee of INR 1500 for my college semester was close to impossible. I had to run the family as well. But my morale fibre was strong and through sheer will power, I completed my degree.
At a very young age, I understood that education is the prime factor to both survive and succeed. It motivated me to establish the Vaels Educational Trust in 1992. Since then I established one new institution every year that offers job-oriented courses and ensures immediate employability upon graduation.
I knew there would be young kids who may go through difficult times. I sponsor the education, boarding and lodging of 500 students from socially backward section of our society and 100 students with sports potential, annually.
Traits to create something new
To create and drive a new business, one has to coordinate between traits such as passion, clarity, discipline, determination, creativity, competitiveness, work ethics and most importantly, strong people skills.
Vision behind VELS University
“Making India a knowledge power” is our vision. This was the vision of former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam. I made it the mission of all my institutions in India.
One unique feature of VELS University
VELS University is the only multi disciplinary university that offers more than 150 courses in 16 fields of study, located in the heart of Chennai city. Our strong industry institution linkage provides us with regular feedback on the skills expected in fresh graduates, thus, motivating us to establish facilities such as, Center for Advanced Research & Development and Central Instrumentation Lab, the best in Asia and the only one in Chennai. Vels is the first to offer maritime courses and nautical science programmes in private education sector. It has a real ship on campus and a unique full mission bridge simulator that can simulate all major ports and sea experience in the world.
Changes in the Higher education that you wish
The higher education system in India needs a shift from 70% text based to 70% hands on. Local to global exposure, industrial visits to immersion trips, exam based evaluations to project based assessments and traditional lab sessions to on-job training.
From regulatory perspective, our higher education systems can be more flexible. It is unfair for students with fast track degrees from institutions outside India, who may have clocked more academic hours in a specific field of study, but not granted an equivalence certificate to further research programmes in India. Such flexibility can fetch more numbers in transfer of technology, patents and cross industry innovation.
A parallel of success with your life
Overnight success is always a short-lived sense of happiness and there is no such thing as continuous success as well.We must first realize that, success is not a destination. It is a state of mind. It is happiness or a sense of accomplishment that is bound by time.
As soon as I finished my college in 1991, I established my own college with 36 students 10 staff members and a rented building. I would consider that as a huge success for a 24 year old youngster that I was. But, would you believe if I told you that, within six months, I was in a situation where I could not pay the rent for the building space. I had two options, either accept the defeat or push further. I pushed. With the support of a bank loan, lots of dedication and self confidence, I established more than 30 institutions in India, Singapore and London within 25 years of my journey as an educationist. All of them are unique, highly ranked and recognized as eminent institutions.
As the Chairman of Vels Group of Institutions, I have contributed more than 100,000 graduates to our nation. In this journey, I became the youngest founder-chancellor of a deemed University in India but, I have also fell more than a hundred times. I have faced countless inspections from regulatory bodies such as UGC, AICTE, Medical Council of India, Dental Council of India, Directorate of Shipping, NAAC, CBSE, IGSCE, ICSE… you name it, and I would have faced it.
There will always be room for improvement and we must be willing to adapt.
Your favourite books
(Laughs)… Although, I have dedicated my life to the field of education, ironically, I am not really a book person. Even as a student, I was average. But, interestingly, since my father was a drama artist and an actor, am naturally inclined to feature films. When I am stressed or when I make time for myself, I’ll watch a movie. If you take it in the right spirit, trust me, movies can also teach you a lot. I am also the chairman of three film companies. I have produced more than 15 films since my college days.
My Father is my hero and he wanted to start a school but could not live his dream as he passed away while performing on stage. My father’s name is Isari Velan. Everyone in his circle called him ‘Vel’. The reason for all my institutions being named as Vels.
After my father, my next inspiration is Dr APJ Abdul Kalam. I worship him to the extent where I made his vision for India, as the mission of all my institutions. I continue to follow his dreams every day. I am also a part of the 1 crore tree plantation drive led by Abdul Kalam Foundation.
Your dream for the society
Traditional values and social bonding is fading away. We used to bend our heads before teachers, parents, when we made a mistake and felt sorry. But today’s young talents bend their heads to mobile phones.
Human emotions are losing to mobile connections. Technology is the future, but how good is a future without emotion, compassion and harmony?
Three important persons in your life
I would start with my parents, followed by Dr MGR (the most beloved former Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu), my wife Dr Arthi Ganesh, my relatives and most importantly my friends, staff and students of the Vels Family. Everyone played and still continue to play important roles in several episodes of my life.
A word of wisdom for the youth
Life is a precious gift. Find a purpose. If you don’t find one, then make one. Follow your dreams and remember three values forever — Honesty, hard work and dedication. Be a lifelong learner.