From his vantage point at the head of a global business spanning IT, real estate and cosmetic surgery with an annual turnover in excess of $100 million, It was his late father, a respected Indian economist and journalist, who identified Kohli’s drive and ambition in boyhood and encouraged him to study electrical engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur.
After graduating, he was taken on by a small Delhi company making tachometers. One day, he was asked to oversee the placement of digital timers in the conveyor belts of a battery-making plant. Kohli realised that new microprocessor technology could vastly improve the plant’s efficiency but managers refused to hear him out. He recalls, with comic animation, “I burst into the office. My speech came out all muddled up as security guards tried to manhandle me out.”
Naive as he was, Kohli chuckles at how puzzled he was when ordered a letter of credit and he signed a lucrative contract at his employer’s company. He adds, “Those with a strong work ethic will always do well. I value employees who work tirelessly to build the company and they reap the rewards. An individual’s selfless dedication always shines through, especially when their sole purpose is to see the company succeed and of course in the company’s success lies yours.”
As a self-styled ideas man, Tej is fascinated by youth, the progenitors, he believes, of innovation. His core business is the IT company, Grafix Softech, which provides payment solutions for e-commerce. Founded in 1998 in Costa Rica, it found a niche in the Central American republic’s thriving
online gaming and dating activities.
He came to fatherhood reasonably late after marrying his wife, Wendy and it inspires, drives and brings out the mischievous child in him. Wendy is far stricter with the children, Sean, 11 and Cassia, 8; “I sometimes sneak down to the swimming pool with them after she is asleep.” They are being educated at, Wellington College, hence the Thames-side home in the English countryside where he is a genial and hospitable host.
Fatherhood cemented his commitment to philanthropy, through the Tej Kohli Foundation, set up in 2002 with Wendy. She is a qualified but non-practicing dentist who enjoys using her intellect to disseminate their fortune to the tightly focused projects they have chosen. It began with 12 severely disabled children in Costa Rica, he explains, “one went on to take a high degree in organic chemistry; another will need life-long help from us. It’s about giving each the best possible life they can have.”
Now they aid many deprived children in Costa Rica, including the provision of midday meals, assistance with therapy and educational scholarships. The Foundation is funded solely through Kohli’s personal wealth, “the number one rule is that I never accept donations nor is there any crossover between my business interests and philanthropy. It must have impact and be sustainable. Intermediaries were taking cuts so we now go directly to suppliers.”
In India, where there are 14 million blind people, he funds cataract surgery, corneal transplants and a mobile bus which travels to the rural poor equipped with the latest ophthalmological equipment, “It was very emotional when we witnessed our initial patient seeing his wife and sons for the first time.”
A huge admirer of Bill and Melinda Gates’ charitable work, he says, “My wife and I want to give something back and help others. It is our passion. What Gates has done has been so impressive, especially as he supported a variety of initiatives that were vitally important but not necessarily in the news, like TB and Malaria when most big name charities were focusing on AIDS.”
It is only made possible though, by the continued fiscal health of his businesses. What he really likes is involvement in sectors that are not fully developed, “What really excites me are data analytics and new e-commerce applications.” He is now working on assembling a top flight consortium of data analytics companies from around the world, These existing businesses have industry experts and regional credibility. He is also an investor in a new paradigm of cosmetic surgery, “We’re building a big multi-clinic brand in the USA, which we will take to the huge untapped markets of China and India.”
But when it comes down to business deciding which projects to pursue is hard, he says, “The hardest thing is to decide which projects not to pursue. I go with my gut feeling. However, by bringing together these experts from dierent parts of the world we can collectively build an even stronger platform and bring even better value to their existing clients while lowering costs and creating economy of scale.” When it comes to his Foundation, though, the decision mostly comes from his heart.