YPO Family Business Feature June 2023
This month's Family Business Feature comes to us from Chocko Valliappa (YPO North Star Integrated), Chief Executive Officer at The Sona Group: VeeTechnologies Sona University and Global Family Business Network South Asia Regional Champion.
The year the company was found:
The founder’s name:
Mr. Kalaithanthai Kurumuttu Thiagarajan Chettiar
How many generations have worked in the company:
Sona Group’s Founder was a pioneer who established the spinning mills and grew into the largest textile operator in the world. My grandfather, Mr. M S Chockalingam, then expanded into coffee plantations. My father and Chairman, Mr. C Valliappa, is a builder in the true sense and established a leading real estate brand.
What generation are you (Mr. Chocko Valliappa):
Countries the business operates in:
We have operations and customers in North America (USA and Canada), Singapore, The Philippines and the Middle East. End customers from our Plantation business – mainly coffee and spices – can be found in scores of countries. We have a biotech joint venture with Australia.
Family mission statement:
Coming from the Indian freedom movement generation, our mission has been to challenge ourselves to change for the better and impart knowledge and education to the future workforce.
How many family business members are involved in the business as shareholders and employees?
There are three members from two generations working in the family business currently. Business structure and management evolve every generation. The educational foundation which runs our institutions we run commonly as a family.
What keeps the family united and aligned in running the business and sustaining the family business legacy?
The family values of doing business ethically and giving back to society. The Nagarathar Chettiar community has had a great sprit of entrepreneurship for over 100 years. Even today, we empower our frontline employees to think and act as entrepreneurs through a system called micro company. We have over 150 teams competing with each other and implementing new ideas and innovation which fosters entrepreneurship.
Globalize success to makes lives better.
THE STORY OF THE SONA GROUP
My grandfather, Mr. M S Chockalingam, and father, Mr. C Valliappa, expanded the vision of the Sona Group by re-committing to invest in the education and knowledge industry as a mission, by each starting colleges as their legacy.
In 1957, post-independence, at the brink of industrialization in India, the family business launched Thiagarajar Polytechnic to provide technical education. Many of our graduates are leaders in the industry and this institution has today grown to become one of the best polytechnics in the world.
In the late 90s, at the turn of the Y2K era, Sona College of Technology was launched to capitalize on the engineering and technology boom, developing Indian talent to serve computer science, IT, electronics, etc. Recently, in 2018, we launched the Sona College of Arts and Science to meet the growing interest in arts and science education.
Today, the Sona Group operates in diverse areas ranging from agriculture, textiles, construction and education.
When I was looking at the landscape of educational institutions that my forefathers had started, I was initially thinking along the lines of studying at an advanced research center. But thinking deeper, I asked myself – what is the most significant need for India? The answer was clear. There were 1000’s of colleges, but the need now was to have a job portal with a built-in assessment service. This led me to create HireMee with the goal of democratizing jobs.
As part of the corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative, HireMee strives to democratize employment, bringing inclusivity and diversity with a vision to assess and skill ten million job aspirants and provide one million job opportunities in five years.
With its expertise in assessments, skilling and content management, HireMee emerged as the only non-US company to be on the list of five finalists shaping the future of work in the prestigious XPRIZE $5Mn Rapid Reskilling competition with the goal of quickly reskilling and providing jobs to 5,000.
The flagship educational institutions are known for firing up a quest for knowledge and providing new-age skills through its 48 research laboratories. They have played a legendary role in forging a deep connection with the industry, having been recognized as the ‘Best Industry-Linked Institution’ by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the All India Council for Technical Education (CII-AICTE) for the past eight years.
The Sona Group has meandered with the times and metamorphosed many times. In the 1980s, it brought IT to India with brought Texas Instruments. In the 1990s, I saw many companies wanting to set up global delivery centers in India. This led us to start VSTP, a full-service infrastructure company. This led companies like Verifone, Oracle and Cisco to foray into India.
The next step was to staff these centers and offer full-service offerings. In 2000, Vee Technologies, a leading consulting and professional services organization, was set up. Vee is today a trusted partner to enterprises and organizations globally, working with over 150 US hospitals, including six of the top 10, touching nearly 30 million lives while handling clinical coding and revenue cycle management services.
Vee+ is the firm's Preventive Healthcare initiative to promote public health through automation and technology-led assessment of population risk, stratification and predictive analysis. This leads to reduced healthcare costs, better health monitoring and improving health outcomes for all – a paradigm shift from the traditional curative care regime.
Some of the largest academic health systems in the US draw on Vee Technologies’ expertise in optimizing clinical documentation along with robotic process automation (RPA). Client satisfaction achievements have consistently qualified Vee Technologies for the IAOP Global Outsourcing 100 list of the world's top outsourcing service providers and for the Best Places to Work in Healthcare by Modern Healthcare.
Vee Technologies and Sona College of Technology have a long-term collaboration with Canada’s University Health Network (UHN) to contribute to the multi-institution research and commercialization effort as part of the FIBRE project to develop smart fabric-based wearables that will improve the lives of people living with health-related challenges.
The Sona Group’s Joint Venture with Australia’s Mycelium Biotechnology group aspires to lead in the fungi world - mushroom and mycelium-based extraction, research and drug delivery applications. Billed as one of the largest mushroom laboratories in India with the best global manufacturing practices, the MSB laboratory will research and grow high-end mushrooms, extract mushroom and mycelium compounds, and produce nutraceuticals that conform to FSSAI and FDA certification.
Recently, I was nominated as a member of the Syndicate of Anna University, India’s foremost technical University with enrollment of 750,000. The Syndicate is the executive government of Anna University headed by the Vice Chancellor and its recommendations and decisions are forwarded to the Senate for any final nod.
During the recent pandemic, the Sona Group invested in the welfare of the less fortunate thus contributing well beyond community development. Its free VeeTrace app was a timely effort to help contact trace those infected in many companies and districts of India.
Valliappa Foundation’s Anadhanam is a platform to solve global hunger through technology for NGOs striving to eradicate hunger and connect hunger hotspots with surplus food centers. The foundation is also working towards the betterment of people living in the rural areas near Salem and reaches students, job aspirants, micro-entrepreneurs and women. It launched community radio ‘Sona FM 89.6’ in 2022 to give a voice to the people in and around Salem, and promotes local culture, music, sports and business, and disseminates news and information.