Ravi Pillai’s success story is one that inspires every young entrepreneur. From humble
beginnings, the son
of a farmer
from the southern Indian state of Kerala, Dr. Pillai is now Chairman and Managing Director of Middle
East based RP Group of Companies.
conglomerate, RP Group
today is involved
in construction & infrastructure, healthcare and wellness, education, real estate, hospitality, Information Technology, travel &
tourism and retail & malls, with a combined turnover of more than $5 billion, a workforce of 120,000 plus and an operational
footprint that extends across nine countries. The group is famed for its rich resource pool of professional, dedicated
personnel and its ability to maintain the highest standards of excellence in all its activities.
As early as 17 years of age, Dr. Pillai began dabbling in trading in his home state of Kerala, and soon after college graduation, entered into the construction business. Despite no background of business and no one to hold hands, he became successful doing construction work for some of South India’s biggest companies. However, unforeseen challenges stifled his blossoming business, though he was not deterred. “You have to trust in yourself first,” said RP Group Chairman, Dr. Ravi Pillai. “If there is a will, there is a way. Without self-confidence, you can’t win.”
Armed with determination and faith, he moved to Saudi Arabia
in 1978. At that time oil price was around $9 – $10 per barrel, however there were multiple business
opportunities in Saudi Arabia. He started his
journey with 150 employees in Saudi Arabia. Though it was extremely difficult
for Indian companies to win important projects in those days, his undying
determination and hard work resulted in getting him infrastructure and
defense related construction contracts. One
of his early wins was a construction order for the
Royal Air Terminal at Riyadh Airport. During
the next five years,
price of oil increased
upwards of $25
per barrel, the company moved into industrial contracting, including
and gas and petrochemical projects critical for nation development, and grew
to 5,000 employees. Forty years later,
he is considered
one of the
employers in the
Gulf. The group
employs over 120, 000 employees of various nationalities,
including various GCC nationalities, Americans, Europeans and people from the
true satisfaction comes from the happiness of my 120,000 happy employees, and their families which they support, which equates to almost 750, 000 people.” says Dr. Pillai.
Dr Pillai’s focus is on group’s human capital, and he believes rest everything will
follow. “Money is not everything, most
important is to have a kind heart,” said Dr Pillai.
RP Group is known for uncompromised business
values of commitment, hard work & dedication, honesty and respect. “My policy is that money cannot
be made with someone’s tears, and must always be earned
right way.” Says Dr. Pillai.
The Oil & Gas industry
globally recognized Group’s companies for giving safe working environment to their
employees, by adhering to highest safety standards in the construction world,
best amenities, facilities and care as an employer. Dr. Pillai say, “Our dedicated workforce is my real wealth.
If you have
money, you can accumulate assets, but you can’t buy people’s trust
and commitment. I am fortunate to
have committed people and the company has grown because of them. Only if an employee is happy can he or she give their best for the company.”
Many employees have worked with him for almost three decades. Dr Pillai is delighted that many of his employee’s children are doctors and engineers and a good number of them are working for the company. RP Group has grown phenomenally over the years. It has been one of the most trusted infrastructure development partners in the GCC for four decades and the group has delivered projects worth over $30 billion. These include working on some of the world’s best refineries and petrochemical plants all over the GCC.
The group is very closely connected with the oil and gas giants in energy sector like Saudi Aramco, Kuwait Oil Company, Kuwait National Petroleum Company, ExxonMobil, Sabic & Its affiliates, Qatar Petroleum, Bapco, Maaden, Alba and several illustrious International Engineering Companies as well. Group companies have received numerous international awards including the recent ExxonMobil‘s global “Best Contractor” award and Samsung’s “Best Partner” award. Group companies are a trusted partner of choice for their clients. Dr. Pillai says, “The biggest and the most demanding companies in the world who deal with us, know that they are at peace with responsibility on our shoulders, and know that the work we undertake shall be carried out by very skilled manpower, in a professional manner and deliver high quality output on time, even for some of the most complex jobs in the world.”
Recently, one of
the group companies entered the Guinness World Records – for completing the
largest continuous concrete pour (of 19,793 cu m for 42 hours) in the world.
In 2011, the
group entered IT sector and since then has been growing steadily in India, Middle
East and USA. Over the last 20 years, RP Group operations expanded into real estate, hospitality, education, health care, trading, retail and
IT sectors across the GCC as well as India, Korea and Australia and the USA. “It is very important to
respect the laws and regulations of the countries we
work in,” said Dr Pillai. “Only
can we achieve
In the Indian tradition of ‘Atithi Devo Bhava’, where a guest has to be treated with the utmost respect, Dr Pillai established a chain of 5 star luxury hotels – the flagship property Raviz Kovalam, Ravi z Resort and Spa by the Lake Ashtamudi in his native Kollam, the Raviz Kadavu Resort on the banks of the River Chaliyar and a luxury city hotel, the Raviz Calicut. Dr. Pillai’s hospitality portfolio also includes 5-star luxury hotels in Pune and Dubai.
RP Group’s reach in Kerala also extends to the healthcare and wellness sector. It owns and manages the 300 bed multi-specialty Upasana Hospital at Kollam, a fully-equipped state-of-the-art facility,
manned by a team of medical and
medical professionals. The
hospital is also responsible for the nearby
College of Nursing which offers graduate and post graduate courses.
“We have a good name because of our
commitment, quality, honesty and credibility,”
said Dr Pillai.
RP Group over
the years has transformed
from a highly efficient
construction company into a diversified conglomerate.
Besides business, Dr Pillai is also mindful of sharing his wealth with the less fortunate. The Dr. Ravi Pillai Foundation works towards the betterment of humanity, with the lion’s share of his earnings disbursed every year to the construction of homes, education, thousands of weddings, medical assistance and charity f or the underprivileged and needy.
Dr Pillai and his wife Geetha have two children – Ganesh and Dr Arathi. Both Ganesh and Dr. Arathi are following their father’s footsteps by joining the business after completing their studies.
Throughout his career, Dr. Pillai has been honored with many awards from various governments and organizations. The government of India honored him with one of its most prestigious civilian awards, in 2010, the Padma Shri, for his outstanding contribution to the fields of business and charity.
He was also recognized by the Indian government with the Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award in 2008, and has received numerous other honors and awards from around the globe for both his business and philanthropic contributions.
best accolade for him is the happy faces of his employees. “Their happiness is my greatest reward,”
It is no secret that Dr. Pillai’s ‘Good Human Beings build lasting Business‘ motto is the true secret of his success.
The world is at present struggling under
the clutches of Covid-19. As a business leader, how do you see this crisis? How
the business community can be supported to surmount this crisis? And, what is
your expectation about the post-Covid-19 world?
There are few events in the world that leave their long-lasting mark in the
history books across the world.
entrepreneur, Covid-19 to me is a Black Swan event wherein there is a
simultaneous but massive shock to the supply as well as demand side of the
businesses across various industries and regions. Apart from the health-related
challenges of this pandemic that is on top of everyone’s mind, the lockdown
which various countries were forced to impose has stifled the demand as well as
disrupted the supply chain for various businesses. It goes without saying, just
like countries will need years to recover the loss of GDP, businesses will also
take time to recover the lost traction.
We have seen a very successful co-operation between various members of our
society for coming together to fight the pandemic on healthcare front. Everyone
– the government, law & order machinery, businesses and general public have
all helped the healthcare professionals who are our frontline warriors fighting
Similar to the
menace of Covid-19, our next challenge collectively as a society is the
stagnant economic activities. On this front, I see business leaders and entrepreneurs
as our frontline warriors fighting to help us get back to the normal level of
GDP, employment and prosperity. I believe, just like the health front, various
members of the society need to bring their best foot forward to support the
frontline warriors on the economic front as well. These members are everyone
including governments, central banks and financial institutions, employees, customers,
landlords, vendors and the general public. They all need to be together with
the businesses during these difficult times and extend any and every cooperation
they can to various businesses. While a lot is being done in this front as well,
we need to look at best global practices and adopt these relief measures to the
extent feasible here.
Just to give a
few examples, globally various governments are giving tax breaks, economic
assistance to maintain the staff strength (not reduce the workforce), special
bailout package for the most affected industries, direct benefits transfer to
the unemployed and jobless to prevent individual insolvency as well as maintain
a basic level of purchasing power in the hands of lower income segment of the
society to meet their essentials. Central banks have helped by infusing
liquidity, buying the corporate loans and bonds, reducing interest rates as
well as relaxing the norms on payment timelines of various bank loans for
eligible businesses as well as individuals.
Due to the Covid-19 crisis, several
Non-Residential Keralities have been forced to return to the state. As a
director of NORKA Roots, what is your say on this issue? Can NORKA emerge as a
saviour to address the concerns of those who have been forced to choose their
lives over their dreams?
Yes, we are passing through one of the worst
times. Kerala with one of the largest diaspora outside India has manifold
problems. NORKA has been very proactive. We could set up NORKA help desk in
several countries to guide Pravasis in the early days of Covid pandemic itself.
Kerala has given the maximum number of approvals for flights to bring back
people from Asia and the Middle East. Almost one third of flights operated
under Vande Bharat Mission was to Kerala. Also, as many as 800 chartered
flights were given permission by Kerala Government. This is the highest ever by
any state in India. Hon. Chief Minister convened two video conferences with
Pravasis and based on their feedback, Hon’ble Chief Minister has announced
several relief measures including financial assistance to Pravasis who have
lost jobs. NORKA department also has plans to create a skill pool of returnees,
for them to gain employment later in Kerala.
India at present maintains a good
relation with the Middle East. The Indo-Middle East business community, in
which you are an important member, plays a huge role in the growth of this
relation. How these two economic giants can support each other to sail through
the present crisis safely?
A strong bond of
mutual trust, respect and brotherhood has been the foundation of the strong
economic, social and political ties between India and the Middle East for
decades. This bond has only grown stronger in recent years. Both India and
Middle Eastern Countries have demonstrated that “ a friend in need is a friend
India has exported
medicines like hydroxychloroquine and sent teams of medical professionals to countries
like Kuwait, UAE, etc. to help them combat Covid-19. Given the sudden lockdown,
many Indian citizens – not just those who work here but even visitors and
tourists were stranded in Middle-East countries. All these countries have taken
care of these stranded Indian citizens and treated the patients of Covid-19
amongst visitors and tourists as well, as if they were their own citizens.
Just like on the healthcare front, on the economic front as well I see many
avenues of strong co-operation and mutual support. Middle-eastern sovereign
wealth funds are always looking for good investment opportunities. India, given
her demographics and fundamentals, is an attractive investment choice. The
investment by these countries can infuse capital and help create businesses and
jobs in India. We have seen record amount of investment in a single company
announced from Saudi Arabia and UAE in the middle of this crisis (e.g., Saudi
Wealth Fund investing USD 1.5 Billion and UAE’s Mubadala and ADIA investing close
to Rs. 14,700 crores in Reliance Jio platform). Similar such investments can be
mutually beneficial to India as well as Middle-East.
How much disturbing the lockdown was for
you? What are the structural changes you have brought in to the administrative
structure of your company to transform the system in the way the time demands?
This has indeed been an ineffable and
overwhelming time. One that I have not experienced in the past 42 years of my
business career. The customary business culture which demands a lot of travel
and interaction with people, this global culture has definitely taken a pitch
During the Gulf war in the 1990s, was
the last time I had faced a gruelling situation. It was a time that demanded my
employees to reach their homes safely. I had made arrangements for Chartered
flights for their safe travel, which I must say wasn’t a very tough task at the
time, in comparison to our current state of uncertainty.
The present situation makes countries cautious
in bringing their citizens home whilst handling the pandemic domestically; as
such is the dilemma faced by various governments. Covid -19 pandemic has caused
panic and apprehension all over the world.
Health and safety protocols with
respect to Covid -19 deterrence has become the highest priority. The same goes
for my employees, many of them who do require reach their homes safely, has become
my prime responsibility.
We have arranged chartered flights to
various states of our country, for which we had ample support and coordination from
the MEA (Ministry Of External Affairs). I highly appreciate all the support we
received from the MEA (Ministry Of External Affairs), all State Governments,
Embassies in the GCC in making this mission possible! We also ensured that our
employees of other nationalities, travel home safely to countries like Philippines,
Nepal and Bangladesh.
Secondly, as businesses need to
continue in spite of the present state of affairs, we need to encourage our
employees with good Healthcare and safety measures. This has prompted us to
reorganize work conditions and ensure a more sterile environment. Our sites
have been equipped with qualified Healthcare officials to tackle medical
problems faced by our employees on a daily basis. Beds have been arranged in
hospitals to ensure timely medical attention in case of any emergencies.
As of now, the relevant Health authorities
have cautioned those above 60 years and the provision for traveling has become
speculative to a large extent. Hence videoconferencing has become a routine of
business and has become a boon. It has become one of my preferred means for communication
and has helped me keep in touch with my team across various offices globally.
The same goes for meetings scheduled with our various global clients. Time
flies these days with the problems we face on a day to day basis.
Companies normally shift burden over
employees when they face difficulties. But, your company was different. We have
learned that your company has extended enormous support to your employees
during this difficult time. Please share us about those initiatives.
This is the
time for supporting one another and at the same time extending best
understanding towards each other. I consider my employees as family. The
biggest strength of my group has been my employees and I share a very personal
bond with them. Most of them have worked with us for 30-40 years and have
dedicated most of their time with us than with their families. I feel duty
bound to take all possible care for them.
One of my
biggest focuses has been the health & safety and well-being of my
employees. By means of working with some of the biggest companies in the realm
of Oil and Gas; my companies have had to adhere to the highest levels of health
& safety standards and have been bestowed with numerous global awards for
the same. Maintaining the same in a pandemic scenario like this is a very
different kind of a challenge, we are doing everything possible to take care of
our employees and their well-being.
family and my team are fully committed to do whatever we can, towards having
the minimum impact of the current situation on our employees and their
families, and give them maximum possible care towards their lives.
The tourism sector of the state is one
of those sectors which have faced the heat of this crisis the most. Your group
holds ownership in highly reputed hotels such as Raviz Kovalam, Raviz Astamudi
and Raviz Kadavu and Raviz Calicut – which remain as the backbone of the
state’s tourism sector. Can the sector regain the impetus it has lost to the
tourism and international travel are the worst-hit sectors world over due to
the pandemic. Between these 2 sectors, tourism will definitely take longer
compared to other sectors to recover back to the level of activities that were
seen in 2019. However, I do see some silver lining in these dark clouds:
* I think tourism
will return in other countries including India. The young will venture out
first. Travel will involve nearby destinations. Economy travel will recover
more quickly. People would want to seek some sort of healing to the lockdown
(or as it is called “revenge travel”) by travelling outdoor and hence, nature-related
destinations will be more popular than congested cities. Here, Kerala, God’s own
country, is the most obvious choice.
* As per RBI
estimates, Indians spent roughly $ 1.6 Billion on international travel during
summer holidays last year. Till the time a vaccine is developed, widely
available and administered to public at large and is considered effective,
International Travel (esp. non-essential like tourism) will remain handicapped
as many countries are continuing stringent 14-day quarantine period for international
travellers which is not practical for most tourists. Thus, all the tourists,
Indians and foreigners alike, will be inclined to travel to explore domestic
tourist destinations rather than international ones. Thus, unfortunately on one
hand, India (& Kerala) may miss out on foreign visitors but Indian
travellers are more than capable of compensating for this loss of business as
they re-align their travel aspirations with the new normal.
* Ability to
maintain social distancing and avoiding crowded cities as well as availability
of good healthcare facilities will be the top factors that will influence the
choice of tourist destination. Here again, despite my best efforts, I can’t
think of any other tourist destination that can even match Kerala on both these
* With the present-day
advancements in Research and Healthcare, the probability of a vaccine being
discovered is unquestionable and is indeed possible at a faster pace. A
recovery phase would demand a lot of healing which includes travel and leisure activities.
* With the
Kerala Government doing a mighty task in controlling the spreading of Covid -19,
Kerala has yet again proved worthy for safe tourism in the future.
Nestled in the secluded backwaters of the Arabian Sea near Trivandrum in Kerala
is the five-star deluxe, Raviz Resort
& Ayurveda Centre Kollam, a perfect blend of modern architecture and
traditional designs of a bygone era. Clearly taking advantage of its scenic
reflect the architectural splendour of the mystical Malabar region, the Hotel Raviz
Resort & Ayurveda Centre Kadavu, a five-star resort on the banks of the Chalayar river in Calicut.
The Raviz Kovalam Beach,
Kerala, is a prized possession of the Group in picturesque Kovalam, a popular
beachside destination in Kerala. The well placed 5 star Clifftop Beach property
is spread over 65 acres of land Kovalam has also been well known for its most
coveted Kovalam Palace.
During the post
pandemic times , We at Raviz group intend to offer a safe yet enjoyable, world
class tourism experience which will help further crown jewel of Kerala tourism.
RP Group of Companies is now one of the most promising business groups
in this part of the world. We all know there is a struggle behind this group.
Our readers may be interested to hear about that struggle. Please share.
I was born to a farming family with
plenty of paddy fields and coconut plantations. I grew up understanding the
limited scope of the agricultural sector at the time.
As I have walked in a farmer’s shoes, I
could learn of the challenges first hand and noticed the hardships of a farmer
did not reward proportionate returns. Modern agricultural technology and practices
at the time were not well known or available.
At the age of 17, I started my own
business, which was of course on a small scale. As I did not have a business
background I had no guidance, and I was my own teacher. There were no right and
wrong decisions. Only choices that I bore complete responsibility of and of
course destiny as well as God’s blessings.
The beginning of my business career
was in Kerala, my initial ventures being contracts for FACT and Cochin refineries.
Unfortunately, due to labour strike, these businesses did not serve me well. It
was in 1978, that I had decided to explore my opportunities in the Gulf. With
150 employees, I had initiated my first construction business in Saudi Arabia. Strong
determination, hard work and commitment were the only 3 mantras I held close to
my heart. Presently, I have more than 1,20 000 employees working for me
Now we are one of the biggest
Industrial Construction Companies for Oil and Gas. We have been fortunate to
have some of the World’s famous oil companies as our clients. My career has
indeed been rewarding and I am eternally thankful to God for this rich
My only advise is, anyone who has good
knowledge in business can start a business in today’s Era as long as you work
hard, bear good will and strong commitment.
I strongly believe that Nothing is impossible as long as you have a
What is your message to the global business community?
My biggest message
to the business community is firstly to stay on course and manage this storm
with positivity. Let the compromising situation of the world not make business
community compromise on their values and ethical system. After the discovery of
a vaccine, we will return to a world of perhaps, more and more opportunities.
In my strong opinion “This Year, to stay alive
is equivalent to profit! “
will bring big changes in the business community and the way business is being conducted.
Being fungible and adaptive to the changes will be required more than ever.
What do you want to say to youngsters
who see a true role model in you?
the only static thing that occurs with time. The same goes for the pulse in
the mantra to success stays the same. Be honest with any business that you wish
to pursue. With goodwill comes good opportunities. Be optimistic. With every
downfall comes greater opportunities. You still need strong will, hard work,
honestly, commitment and strong values to be successful in the long run. Rather, if anything, the current pandemic has
only reinforced the need for these values.
You are the recipient of several
prestigious awards including the highest civilian honour of Padma Shri. How do
you see these achievements?
has only reinstated and instilled my responsibilities to the community and
honors constantly drive me to stay on my course.
What are the latest CSR initiatives of
the ideology that drives Dr. Ravi Pillai Foundation which undertakes all the
CSR activities of the Group. The Foundation works towards the betterment of the
society by providing the underprivileged and the needy with necessary moral and
financial support. This is an earnest mission set in motion to help the
humanity by Dr. Ravi Pillai, the Chairman and Managing Director of RP Group.
activities of the RP Foundation are: Provide assistance and help in the
re‐habilitation of the destitute who are suffering from incurable/perennial
diseases and who are physically/mentally crippled. Provide assistance to the
victims of natural calamities. Provide poverty eradication schemes for the down
trodden people. Establish hospitals, clinics, and sanatoriums, to help the
poor. Provide assistance to establishments intended for the welfare of the
poor. Start educational institutions that provides technical and job‐oriented
education with intention for social development. Provide financial assistance
for the marriage of young ladies who fall below the poverty line.
I have been able to provide jobs to many who have aspired to work in the
Gulf. The current
scenario demands all efforts to be focused on CSR activities related to
Covid-19. As mentioned above, we are doing everything possible to give back to
the community especially with the Covid-19 crisis
and have been able to help many families personally with respect to travel, financial
aid and healthcare.
During this unprecedented and challenging times of Covid-19, the most
pressing need of the pravasis is to safely travel home. While arranging
chartered flights for the safe return of all my employees who wanted to travel
home, I have been fortunate enough to offer travel assistance to hundreds of
workers and families in the gulf countries to travel back to their home
countries. I deem it my responsibility to lend a helping hand to my brethren at
this time of need and shall continue to offer my assistance to those who are
Continuing our mission to support the needy in society, I am still strongly interested in providing more housing facilities to those in need. This I bear in heart and mind as my duty as well as social commitment.
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