The fact that Software Solutions Integrated (SSI) played a pivotal role in providing IT education to the masses in our country, is not news to any of us. But did you know that its founder, Mr. Suresh Kalpathi, an alumnus of IIT Madras, is currently a very successful film producer? The name “Santosh Subramaniam” must ring a bell.

From the moment we met Mr. Suresh Kalpathi, it was clear to us that we were in the presence of a visionary. Mr. Suresh Kalpathi did his B.Tech in Electrical Engineering at IIT Madras, Class of 1986. He did his Master’s from Clemson University, South Carolina.

On being asked about how this idea of SSI occurred to him, he says, “Around 1990, when I returned to India, there were two major software training providers – NIIT and Aptech. But, they were teaching word processing and dbase – basically, the MS office package on a PC. You see, I had been working for about four to five years with Sybase in the US before I came here in 1990. The first thing that I noticed was that there was no awareness about relational databases in India – forget being taught, the usage itself was very rare even in the commercial companies.”

He goes on to describe, “You need to understand that even at that time, people with skills in Oracle and Sybase were being paid around USD 70 per hour in the US. In India, companies like TCS and Wipro were trying their best to build similar skill sets. But, unfortunately, they had to train their resources from scratch. So, at this juncture, it was a no brainer to think of teaching these skills to college kids!”, with a modest smile on his face. Despite an electrical engineering background, he has been working predominantly with software.

At present, Mr. Kalpathi is one of the owners of AGS Entertainment. Needless to say, this was an enormous change in his life. When asked about the reason for such a drastic change, he says, “In 2003, we decided to come out of the IT industry. By that time, we had already acquired Aptech and it merged with SSI, making it the largest education business in the country. We started selling it, part by part, and then went into property development. A plan was in place for a seventy story apartment in Chennai. We got all the approvals necessary and even installed a Jain temple in the complex.”

At this point, he pauses and then continues slowly, “You need to understand that at that time (2007) the markets were going berserk. And, one fine day, I got a call from someone in Hong Kong offering me INR 650 crores for that property. Till that time, we had invested only 65 crores in it. But, I was really excited about the whole project as it would have been a seventy-story building with 28 tennis courts. That guy kept pestering me and so I told him that I would consider his offer if he raised his bid to INR 1000 crores. I thought that would keep him off my back. But in ten days, he offered me INR 1000 crores! So, we sold it off to him in December 2007. On January 20th 2008, the markets crashed.”

After the awed silence that ensued, when asked if he had any idea about the impending market crash, he says, “Whenever you see a level of exuberance in the market, where people believe that making money is no big deal, in other words, whenever goddess Lakshmi feels that she is not treated with respect, she will come back with a vengeance and it happens every time!”

When asked about his entry into film production, his smile widens as he continues. “A peculiar thing about the film production business is that people keep borrowing money (at interest rates like 2- 5 %) all the time. When the markets crashed, they borrowed even more. At this point, someone we knew approached and asked us if we were willing to produce a film. All of our family members felt that it was a nice idea as it was something that we had never done before. Also, when we started producing, our funding was at 0 % interest. If the movie made profit, we got a share and if it doesn’t, we bore the losses”, he says. The passion which Mr. Kalpathi shows in each and every one of his ventures is inimitable.

 

A SNEAK PEEK INTO PART 2:

At this juncture, when asked about how his education in IIT helped him later on, he says, “The biggest event that happens in the journey of an IITian is the JEE exam. This ensures that the students who enter the IITM campus are among the best in the country. And therefore, one factor that really helps toughen the students is the policy of relative grading at IITM. While this might instil a sense of rivalry among the students, it is also important to learn to compete…

Interviewed by: Sriraghav, Bragadeesh, Rama Srinivas, Udith Krishna, Ravi Teja

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