Fireside Conversation with Dr. Shiv Nadar

The first anniversary talk of The Chennai International Centre had a rather prominent philanthropist Dr Shiv Nadar to talk “Beyond Business”.

In a fireside conversation with the Billionaire and Padma Bhushan recipient was Mr Pradeep Gupta, Chairman and Managing Director of Cyber Media Group; also Mr Srinivasan, Founder of Redington, one of India’s foremost supply chain management company and a knowledgeable Chairman of SSN Institutions.

The guests for the evening were introduced by The Chairman of TVS Capital Funds, Mr Gopal Srinivasan, who also happens to be a Trustee and committed board member of Chennai International Centre. Mr Gopal looked back on the first ever talk of CIC where he stood on the same dais and introduced Nandan Nilekeni to an eager audience. From there the numbers grew to 230 members who devotedly look forward to every event by the CIC fraternity. He extended his gratitude to Dr Rangarajan and the Madras School of Economics for their location courtesy as it had become close to a home to CIC.

Mr Pradeep Gupta initiated the conversation with his guest by giving the audience little facts and figures on the body of philanthropic work Mr Shiv had caused to action. He told us how Mr Shiv Nadar started at 30 years of age and how to think he’d managed to pull all this off within a short span of time was inspiring. He went on tell us more on how after a Padma Bhusan, Lifetime achievement award, E & Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award and several other recognition, Mr Shiv was a true pioneer in the arena of Information Technology. Despite all this, he said, that there was massive public-spirited, benevolent facet to Mr Shiv that we were to explore in the conversation ahead.

Where it all Began

The conversation’s first question was on Mr Shiv’s stimulus to his expansive humanitarian effort, especially during the 1990’s when not many were in a philanthropic line of thought- other than big names like Tata or Birla.

In reply to this Mr Shiv gave a little anecdote from early life- of a young, prosperous Shiv and how he was telling his mother of the kind of fortune he had made from HCL Technologies. His mother listened and at the end of it remarked that his money had come of no use to anybody than himself. That his money served the betterment of not one person other than his immediate family members. Mr Shiv explained that he then started processing thoughts that were to have a larger impact. To strive hard to change lives other than his own- these thoughts were seed to his titanic philanthropic deeds that stand before us today.

My mother told me to stop looking at the things I’ll have in the future, instead look at what I have today to give.

SSN Institutions

At this point the conversation brings to forefront Mr Shiv’s most promising venture thus far- SSN Institutions. Mr Shiv recounted how he borrowed an idea from the affluent PSG family of Coimbatore. Their building an educational university had given him much inspiration to strive to do so himself.

The SSN group of institutions marked a niche for itself even as early as the 1990’s as a college to operate on no-capitation business model with over 4 crore rupees worth scholarships given every year to deserving candidates. Mr Srinivasan chips in with details- SSN Institutions had given 64 hundred lakh rupees worth scholarships to over 40,000 students thus far.

Mr Shiv said that he was inspired to build a college like that of the IIT Mumbai campus. He wanted to give his students the experience of a lifetime and not just a college to graduate from. That lead him to commission a sprawling 239 acres of land for a campus to be built- and SSN College took shape like that.

Rural Scholarship Program

Intellect is not distributed according to income pattern.

While on theme of SSN Institutions, Mr Srinivasan advanced the discussion toward the college’s distinctive ‘Rural Scholarship Program’ and asked of Mr Shiv to share his thoughts on what lead him to implement the idea.

The Rural Scholarship Program brings in diligent students from rustic backgrounds to the college, bears their expenses of food and accommodation, inculcates in them what it requires to be recruited into top firms, and sees them fare well in what we’d call a metropolitan life.

The students didn’t know a word in English nor were they from economically stable family situations- we cast aside all such factors and decided to experiment with 20 students to begin with. It took a lot of coaching, training and mentoring, but it turned out to be a benefitting scheme for them.

Mr Srinivasan also had a student of the Rural Scholarship Program introduced to us. Jenome, a 2016 year graduated student had been working at Accenture for a year. Her story was more than inspiring when we learnt that she’d secured a first rank in her government-run school in the village of Keelakudi and that they had no teachers for 5 of those subjects!

Her call letter from SSN Institutions came to let her know she’d been selected for the program and that, she said, was an opening that transformed her life. Although we would expect a winning streak of her after she’d gotten into the program, Jenome explains that the battle had only begun post that. Students of the program had probably never used a computer before or spoken in English language or lived in a city. She said that her journey wasn’t easy but then she’d toiled hard and in the end it was worth it all. Jenome had completed her Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology and had gotten placed in 5 companies through campus recruitment.

I came into SSN not knowing to turn on a computer, but then by the end of 4 years of Information Technology I could code well enough to be able to choose from lot, a company to work for.

Thought Behind Transformative Education

A thought provoking question was raised by Mr Srinivasan, who wanted to know if Mr Shiv’s philanthropy toward education carried an underlying personal agenda or intention of any kind as people, on a widespread basis, tend to work toward a cause they’ve resonated with on a personal level in the past. Countless students’ lives have been transformed thanks to Mr Shiv. He asked if because Mr Shiv himself studied through scholarships for the most part that SSN Institutions now gives out so many of them.

In answer to this, Mr Shiv explained that right from a young age he understood the capability of proper education. He recounted how a number of times in college, he would get so bored during class- that he would go up to the professor and request him if he could go to the library because he understood the subject well and would like to read up on something else.

I was impacted by all great things one could do if they were properly educated. It is more to do with education than the course of study.

In his view, education isn’t about going to class to learn and give exams on it. It was the learning, exploring your liking toward the concept that mattered- for one to be able to find his calling in a subject, to work further on, to progress.

Shiv Nadar University

Mr Pradeep posed the next question saying that it was one on the minds of almost everyone in the room- he asked why Mr Shiv chose to establish the Shiv Nadar University in Uttar Pradesh and not in Tamil Nadu or if there was any factor that Tamil Nadu lacked or posed a problem to its establishment, as Mr Shiv too had no real ties to the northern state until the Shiv Nadar University happened. To this Mr Shiv explained that his sole purpose in mid while building the Shiv Nadar University was wanting to give a truly international learning experience to his students- factors such as location did not impact his decision of building one in Uttar Pradesh in any real way.

Support from bureaucracy in UP was a good reason for me to establish Shiv Nadar University there, but not the lack of it in Tamil Nadu.

Vidyagyan Leadership Platform

In line of conversation, the next topic was not another of Mr Shiv’s brain child but that of his daughter’s. Ms Roshni Nadar Malhotra was the idea behind Vidyagyan, a leadership schooling program for under-privileged, yet meritorious children of rural Uttar Pradesh. The program takes in 200 children from over two lakh applying students and are admitted to class 6. They are trained, schooled and guided by the best minds and graduate in class 12; expenses of food, accommodation, etc. borne by the Shiv Nadar Trust.

Mr Roshni explained that the purpose this program was not that of a regular school for students of a village but to create leaders among them. She noted how close to nine-ten leaders of the nation, since Independence, were from the state of Uttar Pradesh. Vidyagyan had identified Uttar Pradesh as the leadership capital of the country and had set out on a quest to groom the next leader in the offing. They’ve had 2 batches of students graduate since establishment and Ms Roshni affirmed that one of these students is going to have to become the next president of the country- the stage had been set.

If Madras is the intellectual capital of India, Uttar Pradesh is its leadership capital.

A Philanthropy Census

Mr Srinivasan cited an article that had gotten published a year ago. It had a census taken and stated that Mr Shiv’s charitable deeds had worked out to a 650,000 lakh estimate until then; he questioned what or how do the numbers work out for him between running a successful Information Technology company and one of India’s leading educational institutions. Mr Shiv explained that the dividends from HCL was enough to fund the process and that when it comes to giving there is no set limit of minimal or maximal amount that he’d like to stick to because then the purpose diminished.

When it comes to giving it is never about how much money you have; you’ve to have a heart to give.

Donning Many Hats

Mr Pradeep Gupta brought about the next question on how Mr Shiv multi-managed his empire- with so much happening it could be overwhelming or could lead to side-lining of few missions. Mr Shiv, in response, explained that his success lied in understanding where exactly he needed to step back- at which point onward it might be better to place the responsibility to a more able, young, dynamic individual. He told that he is one to think that he might be a hurdle in the progress of the company if he didn’t step back at the right time. The future of his ventures according to him, is best given to aspiring minds to take forth.

Mission Roshni

This is one of Mr Shiv’s under-development-phase projects. His eyesight, at one point, needed corrective cataract surgery. Even though he was to be operated by the best of minds in field of Ophthalmology at John Hopkins University, Mr Shiv told as he narrated his motive behind the initiative, that he valued his eyesight as an irreplaceable resource. He wanted for all to be able to cherish this gift- even individuals that were blind at birth.

Post his surgery, he discussed this with his research and development team and Mission Roshni started off there. The concept was to regenerate vision through stem cell technology- so that every individual can have their own pair of eyes to see.

Leading this initiative is Dr Chandrakasan, Dean of Engineering at MIT. Mr Shiv explained that an oceanic amount of research still needed to be done. That it could take anywhere between 7-8 years of time for complete vision to be restored to the first patient. That he was extremely grateful for having Dr Chandrakasan lead his research board, as he did not know much about the scientific details of it. Retinal regeneration through stem cell technology may not be his forte, but Mission Roshni will still see light.

Not knowing something has never deterred me from doing it.

Dr. Shiv Nadar – An Educative Visionary

The finale to the round of questions had Mr Shiv contemplate his response for more than a couple of moments. Mr Srinivasan asked him of a thoughtful question as to what Mr Shiv would like to be remembered as 50 years from now- as founder of HCL Technologies, as someone who had revolutionized education, touched lives of countless young minds, or even as one who had renovated the Kanchipuram Kamakshi temple, adds Mr Pradeep.

After enough thought, Mr Shiv said that SSN group of institutions will stand ground much longer after him and so it would be what he’d be known for. The audience applauded at the intent of the Padma Bhushan awarded billionaire businessmen wanting to be known for his educational philanthropy.

Prospects in Politics

The last few minutes of the event saw Mr Shiv engage with the audience and answer their questions. The first one was on his possible foray into politics in future and if he did contest in the poll, what constituency would he like to be elected in. Mr Shiv said that the goal of contesting in elections had been transferred for his daughter Roshni to achieve- that her chances of winning were also more promising than his in any one of the Vidyagyan constituencies.

Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Another member of the audience questioned the motive behind the Kiran Nadar museum. Mr Shiv responded saying that the museum was the largest private museum in India and that the entire credit goes to his wife Kiran Nadar, whose sharp eye for noteworthy pieces and good judgement has garnered the museum the name it holds today.

His Philanthropic Inclination

Even though the question was already addressed at a point previously, when someone from the audience enquired if his inclination toward philanthropy was after he hit fortune or was it always there in him, Mr Shiv said that ideas of charity ran the space of his mind even when he was 48 and was bustling with business ventures with huge returns to invest in.

Never is the time right for charity. Waiting for the right time, it would be to stand in front of sea and wait for the tides to die before taking a dip.

Anti-Hindi Movement in College

An interesting exchange took place between him and a fellow PSG alumni of Mr Shiv. He wished Mr Shiv would speak more about his mother who had been instrumental in his journey ‘Beyond Business’. He also appealed to Mr Shiv that he’d not neglect his native language of Tamil- and to look into how an influential person like himself could work toward honouring the magnificent language.

Mr Shiv responded to him by mentioning his mother’s name- Vamasundari and said that she was more than an important person in his life. He also said that all scholarships and prizes were awarded under his mother’s name in the Shiv Nadar Trust. This dialogue exchange must have had an impact on Mr Shiv as the present day SSN College of Engineering has a sparkling new addition to its grandeur- The Vamasundari Park.

This spectator also invoked a light moment in the room when he recounted how they led anti-Hindi movements in campus, but then Mr Shiv went on to be a flourishing king in the heartland of the Hindi language. Mr Shiv also added with a chuckle that his marrying Kiran didn’t help with the image either.

The inspiring event drew to a close with Mr Gopal giving Mr Shiv a gracious title of ‘Son of Chennai’ and that he’d remain a son of this land no matter which part of the country he chose to conquer and build. The educational visionary took a few minutes to interact in private with a few students before parting.

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