Started as a small enterprise in the late 70s, they have now transformed one of the leading business groups in South India with business verticals in hospitality, healthcare, education, beverages, media, pharmaceutical, defence and more. Under Aanand’s watchful eye, major expansion plans are being chalked out every day in the emerging FinTech and eSports arenas.

Sundeep Aanand gets candid with Provoke Lifestyle about life, what he’s running towards and why he believes he’s only getting started.

Did you have a dream career when you were growing up?
Growing up, I was fascinated about space and astronomy. In fact, thought it might sound a little childish now, I wanted to be a space scientist at NASA.

Tell us a little about your education.
Even though I was born in Kolkata, I am very much a Chennai boy. I did my initial schooling at Christ King Primary School, Tambaram and, higher secondary at the Madras Christian College School, Chetpet. Like a lot of people back then, I also pursued a degree in Mechanical engineering from Anna University, after which I did my masters in software engineering from University of St Thomas, Minneapolis USA, before coming back to do a PhD at Bharath University. Though I spent a fair bit of time studying, I would say that those life experiences and travels are what have taught me the ways of the world and how to deal with people from all walks of life.

When you began working all those years ago, did you ever imagine that you would build this kind of empire?
To be honest, I only dreamt of moving out of India. The truth is that it was my father who changed my mind and inspired me to follow in his footsteps. I never knew it would be so fulfilling to start something and build a business in our homeland. I started a business way back in 2000, but I wasn’t confident enough to make a mark or achieve anything. It was intimidating because I had seen my dad do it all very successfully. But I was determined to give it my best shot and so I started with the education sector, moved on to the hospitality industry, and then healthcare.

Accord now has three five star hotels – one in Chennai, one in Ooty and one more in Puducherry. All of them are highly regarded for their great service and facilities and we’re looking at expanding our footprint soon. In the education sector, Bharath Institute of Higher Education and Research has consistently been ranked among the top varsities in India. We offer courses ranging from MBBS to MBA and everything in between. Especially after COVID, the need to produce three more healthcare professionals to save lives has pushed us to operate two medical colleges – Bharath Medical College and Hospital and Sri Lakshmi Narayana Institute of Medical Sciences. We have a major research orientation and have established a manufacturing plant for oncology and are set to get approval from the FDA. Today, we are also foraying into the defence manufacturing space, with research and product development on antidrone assault rifles and systems.

What is your approach to building these business entities? Do you have an X factor that makes things tick?
Honestly, it’s simple. I follow three processes – get young minds on board, get them to think out of the box and delegate work without micromanaging. When you see potential in someone, no matter how young they are, I make sure to nurture them and give them opportunities to grow. Besides, delegating work and power has only helped me concentrate on things I really need to focus on and move forward. Also, when you trust people and empower them with responsibility, they create wonders. As a policy, each team in our group works independently and we have a common HR policy for the entire group.

Do you have an inspiration? Someone who made you the person that you are today, perhaps?
This may sound like a cliché, but it has to be my mother and father – Dr Anusuya Jagathrakshakan and Dr S Jagathrakshakan. They are the two pillars of my life. My mother has inspired me to be humble, learn good things and to help people around me. My father has inspired me to dream and achieve things, even when they are ahead of our time. Even today, he teaches me and inspires me to work hard and focus on the important things.

You’ve been investing in start-ups. How do you find good ideas to back?
I read a lot about what’s happening, what’s required and always keep ideating with my team. If someone comes up to me with an idea, and if I see it valuable for our society, I help them grow it into reality. I have also started investing in a lot of start-ups these days, and as a Seed Capitalist, I like involving myself with groups/start-ups that are new, technologically advanced, make a difference.

The world is in disarray because of the war in Ukraine. What are the social causes that you support?
We are in the process of setting up a department for international refugees in the university, which given the political climate and everything that we have seen in Syria and now in Ukraine, could be very important. This has a bit of a back story, thanks to the Ambassador of Georgia, I once got to know about a six-year-old refugee, who had a congenital heart problem and needed urgent medical help. We flew her from Georgia to Chennai, and got her all the medical treatment possible. The Government of Georgia recognised my gesture with their country’s highest medal of honour, the Order of St Nicholas. That is what spurred me to keep a tab on what’s happening to refugees and I realised that it’s important to help them in some meaningful way. I want to stand up and help refugees from all over the world and so, I am planning to set up a foundation to help them get free education and free medical help.

Why politics? Do you think you can really make a difference?
In my case, I think I have great responsibility which I can use only when there is the right kind of power. With business, I might be able to help society in small ways that are accessible to me but with political knowledge, I think I can help society at the largest level. Using my business background, I would like to start more institutions that are accessible to the underprivileged and would like to focus majorly on modern AI-based agriculture to help farmers regain their glory and financial stability.

Is it possible to impact society at smaller levels when you add politics to your already busy business life?
I am sure that by entering politics, I can focus more on identifying and helping people whose needs are massive. Personally, I would love to create policies that are technologically driven and can benefit people. I am sure that with my knowledge and business acumen, I can help our nation build a country that is advanced as well as ensure a great standard of living for all of us.

How much do you believe in the power of planning?
I never used to plan anything in life, (laughs) but not anymore. At a point in time, I was forced to plan things because I had too many things on my plate. As a result, I have set long-term and short-term goals and strictly follow my weekly schedule. I’d say, my planning involves 80 per cent of my mindspace and getting them done requires only 20 per cent.

What’s a typical work day in your life like?
So, my day starts at around 7 am. I’m huge on fitness and so I do some weight training and spend at least an hour on the treadmill. I do go golfing some days, but no matter what, my work starts at 9.30 am. All my meetings, visits and schedules are planned for the day and like I said, it’s easier because things are planned in advance. My work day typically ends at around 9 pm. After that, I make sure that I get some time to unwind by chilling with some of my close friends. I usually have a very light dinner, listen to some nice music, preferably some jazz or blues, and sleep early. Good music and good sleep is very important for a great day ahead!

How do you balance work and life?
Give 100 per cent to whatever you do. Be it fun, family or work, when you’re at it, do it wholeheartedly. Make sure you prioritise well.

How often do you get to take time off?
Something I learned from spending time in the US was their work-life balance. Their work policy helps people get necessary breaks which help them only become better at their work. I don’t work on the weekends, unless there are any special cases, of course, and I make sure to get off work by Saturday afternoon and spend some quality time with my friends. That way, Mondays are never mundane. When not working I spend time star-gazing. I also spend time watching movies and I enjoy listening to all genres of music. Bryan Adams is my all-time favourite, but I also listen to hip-hop, slow rock and a lot of contemporary Tamil and Hindi music.

What were some of the major challenges that got in your way? How did you overcome them?
Technology gap was a huge issue in our country. I experienced this when I first moved back to India from the US. I saw how far behind other countries we were. Bridging that gap was and is a huge challenge. What was started as an experiment to enhance our technology base in the university, became a boon during the pandemic and it helped us very well when we needed to roll out online education. We were prepared ahead of time. By the time the world realised we needed online platforms for education, we were already providing our students online education and had a seamless process, which I think has helped us.

A personal challenge that I have had is growing under my father’s image and influence and finding myself. You see, living and growing under his shadow is like growing under a banyan tree and it took some work to find my own path. But I have managed it.

What advice would you give to the next generation of entrepreneurs and leaders?
As much as it’s important to equip ourselves with technology, it’s equally important for us to retain our human values and should be able to detach from technology and spend time with people around us. Our country is in a beautiful phase now and we are growing faster than ever before, this is the best time for Gen Next to really find its groove. New ideas, believing in their own passion and working hard to achieve their goal is the key to success. Develop core tech skills, be very good with your communication and follow your dreams.

What factors impact your ability to lead others?
As I mentioned earlier, I believe in empowering people – to delegate power and work to people around you, is important for a leader. And I learnt it from the best – my father. How do you do that? Prepare yourself to face any sort of challenge, have a team that is ready to learn and you will overcome any challenge. Remember, whenever there is a problem, there will always be a solution and an opportunity to grab.

What’s your success mantra?
Work hard, work harder and then work some more. Good luck and success will follow hard work.

How did you diversify into so many different sectors in your work life?
If you want to do something new, you must always equip yourself with the necessary skills. That was something I also learnt from my father. Learn and keep trying, until you master things. Whatever your passion is, dare to pursue it, but also learn, seek help, analyze, work hard and you will see yourself becoming the best someday. This approach has helped me diversify into many sectors and I’m always learning about things I want to do next! If it excites me enough, I’m game to jump into the deepest ocean.

– By Namita Gupta and Vinitha Venkatesha