Inspiring women CEOs are few and far between, so it is refreshing to see Anusha Ravi as the CEO of the Park Group of Institutions in Coimbatore and Chennai. In an exclusive chat with Richa Tilokani, Anusha shares the details of her interesting journey to the United States and back to her homeland, while she juggled many roles as an engineer, educationist, humanist and environmentalist.
Anusha Ravi wears many hats. She is the CEO of the Park Group of Institutions in Coimbatore and Chennai. She is also an engineer, philanthropist, humanist and environmentalist, all rolled into one. But this was not what Anusha had planned for her future when she went to the United States for higher education.
Elaborates Anusha on her exciting time in US, “I did my early schooling in Tirupur and Chennai. After completing my UG from PSG Tech, Coimbatore, I went to US to do my MS in the Old Dominion University. After that, I worked with Onair communications (an Airbus subsidiary) and Anheuser Busch, USA. I was part of a pilot project at Onair to add internet on planes. I was the only woman engineer on the team and also the only Indian. It was a very exciting time and I was very happy to be part of that pioneering effort. I worked for many airlines like Singapore, Emirates, Cathay Pacific etc. I had already traveled to 25 countries, before I turned 25. With Anheuser also, it was a very prestigious assignment as it is a 150-year old company with about 1 lakh people. I automated their entire recruitment process and streamlined their systems. But my heart was always in India. So in 2007, I came back.”
A pioneering family
Even then, Anusha always assumed that she would be in the IT sector and pitch in to help her parents whenever necessary. Anusha’s parents are pioneers in their own right who started the first English medium in Tirupur in 1973. In 1982, they started the first private polytechnic school in Tirupur and in 1984 the first private engineering college which were till then aided by the government. They were also the first to start the aeronautical course which is a flagship of their college now.
Elaborates Anusha on what happened next, “When I came back, I never thought I would join the education sector. I belong to the IT sector and wanted to concentrate my energies there. But when I saw the potential of the education sector in India, I decided to join in.” And as they say, the rest is history. Anusha dedicated herself to the education sector and has since started 3 schools of her own – the Park Global School of Business Excellence in Chennai and Coimbatore and the Park Global School in Coimbatore. Adds Anusha, “I am thankful to a lot of people who have helped me in my endeavours. I have been really lucky to get to do so much and now I want to do my best to give back to society.”
Socially responsible citizen
Clearly, Anusha is passionate about being a socially responsible citizen. She says, “We used to think education is the solution to poverty, corruption and everything else. But we have seen too many corporate scandals and scams by educated people to believe that now. Many of the major corporates are engaged in polluting activities which harm our environment. This needs to stop. I believe education can achieve that if it can inculcate humanity within the students.”
Thus, all her institutions aim to foster a sense of responsibility to the community. They have many activities wherein the students visit orphanages, local schools, old homes etc. to sensitise them to the needs of the under-privileged. She adds, “Social responsibility is a must. We adopt several children a year and help them in every way possbile. For culturals, we invite visually impaired or hearing and speech impaired children to perform. On World Elders day, we visited a senior citizens’ home and spent the entire day with them. The elders had a good time and the children were able to learn a lot.”
Anusha is also an active Rotarian and was the president elect for 2010-11 for the all-women Rotary Club AAKRUTHI of Coimbatore. She is the trustee of ‘Aravanaippu’ which helps motherless or fatherless children with school and college fees. They have helped 1000 children till date and hope to help 25,000 children over the next five to 10 years. As Rotary president, she donated life-saving equipment for the pediatric wing of the Government Hospital and extended support to Shanthi Ashram, an NGO that works with HIV-positive children.
Excellence – her benchmark
Anusha is also passionate about imparting the best education to her students. Innovation is important to her but she worries that the Indian education system is not holistic enough. Shares Anusha, “International exposure helped me understand the strengths and weaknesses of the Indian education system. Of course, a lot of things are good about our system. As a result, Indians have achieved a lot in the global arena. It’s like athletic stamina – you should be able to run as far as you want by training every day. You can’t just get up one day and start running the marathon. So Indians are well-trained by our rigorous academic system. But what we lack is holistic education. This is why 2 years ago, I brought the MIT media lab to give them international exposure. I always try to balance and offer the best of eastern and western education.”
To that end, we also need to support our teachers, says Anusha. “I think it is very important for society to support teachers. We have about 1500 teachers in our schools and we offer them a lot of encouragement and motivation as they are doing a very important job. Earlier, people would love to take up teaching as a profession but now everyone wants out of it. If we don’t have good teachers in the system, how will the students prosper?”
It is very important for Anusha to see her students prosper. She adds with a smile, “Recently, one of our students came first out of 13 schools in an international aeronautical competition. It was a proud moment for all of us.”
Anusha uses the TED community, of which she is an active member to connect with the international audience. She was one of the distinguished speakers at TEDx Tirupur 2011. She spoke about her dream of a green Tirupur by educating people on the effects of pollution and focusing on research to mitigate its effect. She is also an avid supporter of environmental conservation. The engineering colleges of the Park group were built on barren land but are full of greenery today. She is an organizing committee member of ASTIA.org which is a US-based organization entering India for facilitating venture capitalists for women entrepreneurs.
Anusha also opens up about her private life. “I have two kids, my son is in 11th standard and my daughter is in fifth standard. My parenting policy is to just let them be. I give them a lot of freedom and responsibility. I was brought up like that, so I would like to give them the same upbringing. I don’t believe in forcing them for anything. If you force kids, they face difficulty in adjusting later on in life.”
She also loves to indulge in hobbies, whenever she gets the time. “I play golf and I love reading poetry. I also enjoy reading books on business and motivation. I love traveling – I am planning to go to Rio next month for the Ted Global meeting. I have not been to Rio before, so I am looking forward to this trip.” Anusha also loves to shop during her travels but she is not a picky shopper. “I am not a big shopper but I pick what I like. I like Apple products and love to buy iPhone covers etc.”
Anusha is a very busy woman with manytop schools and colleges to run. There are pressing matters which call her attention so she signs off but not without sharing her exciting future plans, “I am thinking of ways to contribute to the betterment of the IT sector. I would also like to be able to offer help and assistance to entrepreneurs, that will encourage them to pursue their dreams. As for my schools, I dream of making them top ranked internationally.”