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Tuesday, June 1, 2021

the HERO who put Mathalamparai, Tenkasi on global map .. donates


My brother and co-founder Kumar visited the Honorable Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu to hand over our Rs. 5 crore contribution to the Chief Minister's Relief Fund, read a tweet of a person whom we must adore, admire and hero-worship !  

Sundarapandiapuram is a panchayat town in Tenkasi district, known for its scenic beauty,  and this became a household name after Maniratnam film ‘Roja’.  Now searching the web about this GREAT HERO, I read that his father hailed from -  Chidambaranathapuram, a small village  around 30 km down the Kaveri, not far from the Kollidam branch of the river.   Our hero was born and spent his childhood here.  

Serious Software, Friendly Company.  ~ reads their Web.  Software is our craft and our passion. At Zoho, we create beautiful software to solve business problems. We believe that software is the ultimate product of the mind and the hands.

This company was earlier known as   AdventNet, Inc. AdventNet expanded operations into Japan in 2001.  In 2009, the company was renamed Zoho Corporation after its online office suite.  It was not only change in the name but a paradigm shift  in geography: While AdventNet Inc was a US company with an India development centre, Zoho Corp is incorporated in India and the company’s Pleasanton, California, centre remains the global headquarters.  Sri Vembu, worked  out of the Pleasanton office which is sales-facing,  then shifted to Chennai and .. .. .. now to Tenkasi, nearer Courtallam.  

‘தேனருவித் திரையெழுப்பி வானின்வழி ஒழுகும்’ is how it is hailed … ‘Thiru Kutrala Kuravanchi’ written by ThiruKooda Rasappa Kavirayar praises the place Courtallam and ThiruKutrala Nathar, the deity at this place.

Zoho Corporation, is an Indian multinational technology company that specializes in Software as a service, software development and cloud computing.It is best known for online office suite named Zoho. The company was founded in 1996 by Sridhar Vembu and Tony Thomas and has a presence in seven locations with its global headquarters in Chennai, India, and corporate headquarters in Pleasanton, California.

One of its branches is located in Tenkasi, situate about 620 kms away from Chennai in the Tirunelveli district of Tamil Nadu.   Tenkasi, which means ‘Kasi of the South’ is located in the foothills of the Western Ghats, and is dotted by many magical waterfalls, beautifully carved temples, and lush green rice fields. No matter where you go, you cannot escape the sea of greenery, intermittently marked by towering palm trees. In the midst of these beatific green fields, there once lay an abandoned, nondescript fruit pulp manufacturing building. One would still mistake it to be an insignificant structure while passing through this small town but for the small billboard on the gate which reads – Zoho.

What brewed out of this Tenkasi centre is something that will put it right up there on the world map – Zoho’s sixth product – Zoho Desk – the industry’s first context–rich help desk software built right out of rural India. Or as Sridhar Vembu, founder and CEO of Zoho speaks of it – “Made in rural India, Made for the world.”  Nine years ago, a Chennai-headquartered software products firm purchased 4 acres of land in one of the villages, Mathalamparai, to begin operations from the district— roughly 650 km from the Tamil Nadu capital. 

Sri Sridhar Vembu, its  founder, born in a village in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur district into a family of farmers, studied at IIT,  went on to study at Princeton University, New Jersey, work at Qualcomm in San Diego, California, and later live in and around the San Francisco Bay Area, had a vision: To take Silicon Valley to the village. 

Zoho today provides cloud-based customer relationship management (CRM) solutions and over 40 apps for, among other activities, online accounting, human resource and inventory management. A few of those products, including Zoho Desk, a customer service software, were built out of the Mathalamparai office, vindicating Vembu’s vision that you didn’t have to be in the urban hubs to develop world-class products.

Sridhar Vembu has featured few times in Forbes and every other Business Magazine and   awarded India's fourth highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, in 2021. 

As of now, Zoho has two rural offices, one in Tenkasi and the other in Renigunta in Andhra Pradesh with 500 of its 9,300 employees globally working out of these; the plan is to have many more of its 8,800 India-based employees working out of non-urban India. His motivations to go rural are two-fold: “One, I want my employees to live in these villages because it brings a lot of cross-fertilisation of ideas.  Once some high-earning people come in, they bring in good and bad habits.”  The good stuff, like mentoring and coaching, is what Vembu hopes the city folk can lend to the local youth, who Zoho can then recruit. “So it would be a two-way exchange here... It was a new challenge, but then I decided that if I’m going to start these rural initiatives, I’m going to need to set myself up in the village, too.” A typical day begins at 4 am when he does calls to the US offices. By 6 am, he’s off for a long walk and, on occasion, a swim in the village well. Vembu steps out to the fields to grow paddy, vegetables like tomato, brinjal and okra, and fruits such as mango, watermelon and coconut. Life in Tenkasi opened up new horizons even as the hubs of commerce stayed locked down. 

As India endures a reverse migration of millions, Vembu’s blueprint for a world in which folk get educated in the village and stay back to work there takes on huge meaning.  Even as  Mr  Vembu’s idea of cross-fertilisation begins to play out, he’s also embarked on a mission to build an army of engineers—not those with conventional degrees but those trained in-house. In 2004, the founders started Zoho University, now known as Zoho Schools, to onboard and train students with skillsets and abilities. Students are not charged a fee but are paid a stipend  throughout the tenure of the two-year course.

Building capabilities is Vembu’s idea of wealth creation, not financial valuation. “I am a capitalist and I don’t care about net worth.” He gives the example of Japan to explain (in pre Covid-19 times, of course). “When you go to rural Japan, you can see a wealthy society. Roads are good, infrastructure is great and you don’t see any homeless people, you don’t see any poverty. On the train station, the trains run on time. The trains are clean, high speed trains, all of that. That is wealth. Clearly Japan is wealthy. And to me, wealth actually also connotes resilience. Capital is something that protects you from adversity.”

At dusk, Vembu sets out for another walk in the village, and ruminates: For instance, he observes that farm animals like cows and chicken roam around all day, but they come back at a fixed time—they know what is home. He likes taking long walks and swimming, as these activities allow him the mental space to think. Vembu doesn’t watch TV, but sometimes listens to music. He retires to bed by 8 pm, spending some time reading or online (on Twitter).

(partially excerpted from an article in June 2020 issue of Forbes India).  Go back to read the first para of their donation of Rs. 5 crore to CM’s Fund at Tamil Nadu – and conclude with reading that in Apr 2020, Zoho Corp made a donation of Rs 25 crores to the PM Cares Relief Fund. These are the real heores whom the Society must be admiring !

With great regards to Shri Vembu 

With regards – S. Sampathkumar

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