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From studying under the streetlights to peace with whatever that happened to us.

We
CEO of a US firm! knew our father would not come back to lift us
up from poverty. We also knew our salvation
Here is the rags-to-riches story of an extremely
was a long way away."
talented boy from a small village in Tamil Nadu
who has risen to be the chief executive officer He didn't know why he used to tell his mother,
of a company in Seattle, USA. "One day I will give you so much money that
you will not know what to do with it!" Years
It is also the story of how Kalyana Raman
later, he did exactly that!
Srinivasan, who was so indigent that he had to
study under a streetlight, but then managed to First turning point in life
score excellent marks, rose in life and became
Kal Raman believes that God played a hand in
today's Kal Raman.
all the major turning points in his life. The first
At every turn in his life, he took the difficult turning point in life was after his 12th standard.
path and it turned out to be the right one and in He got good marks in both the engineering and
the right direction. His rise to the top is more medicine entrance exams, and for engineering,
dramatic than a thriller. Today, he is a very he got admission at the Anna University in
successful entrepreneur and the founder-CEO of Chennai while for medicine, it was in the
GlobalScholar. Tirunelveli Medical College.
Difficult childhood "While going in the bus with my mother to join
the medical college, I told her, "If I join for
Kal Raman was born and brought up in a small
medicine here, the high probability is that my
village called Mannarakoil in Tirunelveli district
life may begin and end in Tirunelveli. I really
of Tamil Nadu. It was a comfortable normal
want to see the world.' She agreed with my
middle class life for him and his siblings as his
decision to go to Chennai and join Anna
father was a Tahasildar there.
University and study Electrical Engineering and
But the sudden death of his father at the age of Electronics."
45 changed everything overnight.
So, he stepped into a new world outside
Kal was 15 then. "My mother got a pension of Tirunelveli, and that was Chennai. Though he
Rs 420 a month and you can imagine how had got merit scholarship and a lot of good
tough it is to educate four children and feed five people helped him pay the initial fee, the
mouths with Rs 420?" scholarship amount never used to reach him
regularly or on time.
Hi life changed dramatically after his father's
death. The family moved from the rented house "The mess fee was Rs 250 a month and I used
to a hut that had no proper water supply or to be a defaulter in the mess at least six
electricity. Kal Raman remembers, "All of us months in a year. Till you pay the mess fee, you
used to study under the streetlight and, thank cannot eat in the mess. So, I used to live on day
god, the streetlights used to work those days! scholars' lunch boxes and also use to fast. That
MGR (M G Ramachandran) was the chief is when I learnt to fast ! I must say a lot of
minister then. We had to sell the plates to buy friends helped me with money and food."
rice to eat and my mother used to give us rice
Scarcity of money was so bad that he had no
in our hands. That bad was our situation."
money to buy food just before the final
But his mother, who had studied till the 8th semester exams. When he gave his final
standard, was very particular that her children semester exams, he had not eaten for a day-
studied. "All our relatives wanted my elder and-a-half. "After finishing the exam, I almost
brother to stop studying and take up the small fainted."
job offered by the government but my mother
The day after the exams came all the
wanted him to continue studying."
scholarship money that was due and it was
"Then they wanted me to learn typewriting and around Rs 5,000. "So, I went home a rich man
shorthand so that I could get some job after the and that helped us repay some loans."
10th standard. But mother said, 'My children
First job
are going to get the best education I can offer.
Education is our salvation.' She was my hero for Like opting for Chennai and joining Anna
her vision and she still is my hero." University instead of a college in Tirunelveli, Kal
Raman took another risk with his first job also.
What kept the family going? "We were sad but
His first job was with Tata Consulting Engineers
because we accepted our fate, we were at
(TCE), and he had a choice of joining either He was at the right place at the right time. "God
Chennai or Mumbai. was there at every step guiding me to take the
right decisions. I was also willing to take risks
Although he knew nobody in Mumbai, he chose
and tread new paths," Kal says.
the capital of Maharashtra.
Starting GlobalScholar
He remembered the first day. "It was
interesting. With bag and baggage, I went to Philanthropist Mike Milken who had donated
the TCE office after taking a shower at the more than a billion dollars to education, wanted
railway station as I had no money to go to any to use technology so that high quality education
hotel. After the first introduction at the office, was accessible to ordinary people.
the manager noticed that I was wearing slippers
Milken convinced Kal to join him. That was the
to the office. He called me and said, "I don't
time Kal was building schools in his village for
care which college you are coming from but this
poor students.
is not acceptable. You should come in shoes
tomorrow." In October 2007, GlobalScholar was launched
targetting both teachers and students by
I said I couldn't come in shoes the next day and
acquiring four companies -- National Scholar
this the manager construed as arrogance. "How
(USA), Classof1 (India), Excelsior (USA), and Ex-
could you talk like this?" he asked me. I said,
Logica (USA) -- that were into education.
"Sir, it is not that I don't want to, but I can't
afford to buy shoes. Only after I get my first pay "Three months after the launch, I travelled all
cheque, can I buy shoes. Sir, I request you not over the US, India, Singapore and China talking
to terminate my job because of this. I and my to teachers and companies and the public. I
family need this job." found that the only way to impact education
was by impressing teachers. The biggest
Shocked to hear the explanation, the manager
scarcity in the world is good teachers. We
asked, "Where are you staying?" and the reply
decided to help teachers with teaching
was, "Dadar Railway Station."
practices and kids, learning practices."
So distressed was the manager to hear Kal
Kal Raman decided to concentrate on the US
speak that he immediately released a month's
market as the US is more advanced in using
salary in advance and also arranged for him to
technology. "They are also willing to pay money
be at his friend's place till he could find a place
for technology. At present, schools buy the
to stay.
material which can be used by teachers,
"He bought me a pair of shoes and those were students and parents."
my first shoes. The next day, I sent Rs 1,500
Today, they have 200 people working for
from the advance to my mother."
GlobalScholar in Chennai and 150 in the US.
From electrical engineering to programming The study material is prepared in the Chennai
office.
Kal's rise in career was meteoric in a short span
of time. Within a month, he got a chance to The company that was started with $50 million
move to Bengaluru (then Bangalore) and also to will have in excess of $32 million and will
programming. generate $5 million of profits. In 2008, the
turnover of the company was Rs 40 crore (Rs
Soon, he was in Chennai with Tata Consultancy
400 million) and in 2009, it was Rs 80 crore (Rs
Services (TCS). Within a few months, he was
800 million). In the current year it will be 150-
sent to Edinburgh, UK.
160 crore (Rs 1.5-1.6 billion).
From Edinburgh, his next stop was the United
"GlobalScholar is growing at 200 per cent every
States. In 1992, he went to the US as an entry
year. We have 1,000 schools and 10 million
level contractor with Wal-Mart. In two years, he
students, which is one out of 10 kids in the US,
was a director running a division.
using our study material. This is almost 18 per
When he left Wal-Mart after six years, he was a cent of the US population. We are the fastest
man running the information systems for the growing education company in the US."
International Division of the retail giant.
GlobalScholar will soon introduce a pilot project
In 1998, he joined drugstore.com Online in India and China. In the course of all this,
Pharmacy as the chief information officer and in Kalyana Raman became Kal Raman. "The
2001 at the age of 30, he was the CEO of the country gave me everything and took half my
company. name."
Giving back to society
Kal Raman is in India now for the
Kumbhabhishekam of the temple at his village
Mannarkoil. "It is taking place after 500 years. It
is the culmination of two-and-a-half years of
work. I have spent more than one and a half
crore rupees (Rs 15 million) to renovate the
temple and do the Kumbhabhishekam. More
than anything else, I have given jobs to all my
friends in the village who are masons and
carpenters."
Other than this, he has also adopted all the
orphanages around his village and he takes
care of around 2,000 kids, some of whom are
physically handicapped.
"I feel if I can educate these children, eventually
we can make a difference in the society. We
also help 100 children in their higher education.
Around my village, everyone knows that if a kid
who studies well cannot afford to pay fees, he
has to only come to my house; his education
will be taken care of."
"I do not do this as charity; its my responsibility.
I am giving something back to the society that
fed me, taught me, and took care of me and
gave me hopes. "

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