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Safe Space with Francesco Lombardo

Dec 12, 2018

Datuk Dr. Vinod Sekhar was born on August 6th 1968 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and is the son of the late legendary Malaysia icon Tan Sri Dr B. C Sekhar. He began his business career while still in college studying biology on scholarship, where he started the Vincent Siefer Clothing Co. with USD$50, and soon after formed the Sitavani Foundation, which focused its attention on the education of children and on child development programmes. In 1990, he formed and became the ceo of the STI Group that was responsible for some groundbreaking businesses such as the world’s smallest optic engine, the first circular abrasive discs, Southeast Asia’s first commercial Internet company (at a time when Malaysia had a total of 700 internet users), and a variety of other technology innovations including one of the first virtual reality companies in the US. The multimedia arm of the group was also responsible for the first Malaysian joint venture to produce a movie at Disney MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida (Tarzan: The Epic Adventures). After the 1997 Asian financial crisis, STI merged with his other international interests and The Petra Group was created. Petra, named after Datuk Vinod’s eldest daughter is a technology conglomerate responsible for several global technology developments related to Elastomer recycling (Green Rubber), deproteinization, HIV and cancer treatment programs, innovative financial software, biophotonics, sustainable energy tech, affordable  engineered modular homes, films, live entertainment and software development. Datuk Vinod was also one of the first Malaysians to venture into the former Soviet Union after its breakup and was a part of the privatization of the worlds second largest petrochemical plant, Nizhnekampsk Neftekhin. He was also the first Southeast Asian to own both Formula 2000 and Formula 3 Championship motorsports teams, and he founded Malaysia’s first sports car company. 

He travelled the world sharing his ideas far and wide on how capitalism with a purpose was the only way forward.  He pushed the idea that business could only grow if they created more market, and to do that they had to play a role in in eradicating poverty, empowering citizenry and lifting people into the middle class. He Chaired the first New Asian Leaders–Emerging Arab Leaders Summit in Langkawi, where he hosted his friend King Abdullah II of Jordan along with 200 Asian and Arab business leaders, and spoke at multiple Forbes Global and World Economic Forum conferences promoting his ideas for a new world economic order. Whilst doing all this and running his conglomerate he continued his societal work. Datuk Vinod is the Chairman of the Petra Foundation (which he founded and which currently plays a role in the lives of over 12,000 children globally), the Sekhar Foundation, the Chairman of the Pelita Harapan (Lantern of Hope) for terminally ill children, the Co-Chairman of the Innocent Child Appeal Fund Board for abused children, and the Chairman of the Sitavani Foundation. He was also the founding President of Malaysiana Muda, the first non-partisan multiracial national youth organization created to develop unity among Malaysian youth, where he warned of polarization among young Malaysians two decades before the government finally acknowledged it was out of control. He was the creator of the “Global Education Conference” held in Kuala Lumpur, where for the first time ever, principals from the top schools in the world such as Eton, Sydney Grammar, Chinese International School, Hong Kong and Harvard West Lake came together to discuss building bridges between different educational curriculums. In all, 30 schools were represented. The “Sekhar Initiative,” as it was referred to then, led to the creation of several global programs that enhanced interaction among the schools and led to his his creation of one of Kuala Lumpur’s major international schools, The Mont’ Kiara International School, which he developed with his partners. For his contribution to the globalization of education and the education of children, Datuk Vinod was made the first and youngest Asian fellow of Kappa Delta Pi, a US-based international Honors Society for Education. This organization awarded its “The Points of Excellent” award to his company, making it the first Asian company to be so honored. For his contribution to society and and the nation the 10th King of Malaysia, conferred on him a “Datukship” on the occasion of His Majesty’s’ 71st birthday. Datuk Vinod was 26 years old and one the youngest in the nations history to be so honoured. The Harvard Business Review published a case study on Datuk Vinod, Petra and Green Rubber – thought to be one of the only times a Malaysian has had that privilege. The World Economic Forum named him in the top 3 of its 40 “New Asian Leaders” (NAL) and a Global Leader for Tomorrow (GLT). Grant Thornton named him the Malaysian Corporate Leader of the Year in August 2008. He also received the prestigious Global Green Award from Global Green USA for Green Rubber. He was the youngest, only Asian, and third ever non-American, after President Mikhail Gorbachev and Giorgio Armani, to receive the award. He has received several other awards including: the Global Indian Award presented by the Minister for Overseas Indians in Delhi, Global Indian Origin Magazine’s 50 Most Influential Business Leaders of Indian Origin in the world, the Outstanding Global Entrepreneur by the SME Association, and The Societe Award from the Asia Pacific Brand Foundation, the Chambers of the GCC (Gulf Cooperative Council) presented him with a leadership award for Technology and Social Capitalism, the NRI Institute in India conferred on him the Pravasi Divas award, and the American Leadership Development Association and Leaders International named him the ‘ Global Visionary Leader 2015’, to name a few. Datuk Vinod is also on the leadership council of The Climate Group, which is chaired by the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and includes Sir Richard Branson and the former Chairman of HSBC, Lord Stephen Greene. He also acted as the underwriter for the first ever Clinton Global Initiative Asia in Hong Kong, and hosted his good friend President Bill Clinton in Kuala Lumpur. He was the advisor to the Faculty of Business and Law for Multimedia University, Malaysia’s largest private university with over 20,000 students. Datuk Vinod received the Keys to the City of Armenia in Colombia for his help after the devastating landslides that killed thousands. In 1999, he also set up an orphanage in Colombia called the Petra-Valentina House. He funded in full the “Black Ball” in London hosted by his friend, singer/songwriter Alicia Keys to raise money for her charity “Keep a Child Alive.” Datuk Vinod is the loudest advocate for Social Capitalism, where business interests and societal concerns must work hand in hand. Datuk Vinod has become an activist for what he calls “simple principles of a civilized society” where all businessmen must involve themselves in their own society’s positive development, and has been a victim of media, political and corporate attacks on himself under the previous government, for his refusal to stop speaking out for reform and supporting the then imprisoned opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. He is regarded as one of the small handful of senior business leaders and one of the only Forbes listed figures to publicly advocate for change and the release of Anwar for 20 years.  Despite it all, he has refused to be bowed or cowed, and he continues to speak his views openly, including at the campaign rallies of the recent historic general elections that led to the May 9th transformation of Malaysia’s political landscape. He continues today to build his multinational technology group, his foundations, and still speaks out for social and economic justice. His latest national work involves the planned launch of the Malaysia Movement to stop the racial polarization of Malaysian society and to create a platform for open debate. Datuk Vinod is a strong supporter of a mindset reform in the Malaysian political landscape. After being named by Forbes as the 16th richest man in Malaysia, Datuk Vinod and his wife donated 60% of their entire ownership in the Petra group to their charitable foundations.  He is currently preparing for the launch of his new integrated app that connects seamlessly the public, corporate society, charities, social programmes and those in need. 

He has written several plays, a book of poetry, and screenplays. Datuk Vinod also hosted Malaysia’s first English language talk show on television, and jointly won several New York Festival Awards for his cutting-edge advertising campaigns. In 2015 the film Datuk Vinod produced in India, Liars Dice, was the sole Indian nomination for Best Foreign Picture category at the Academy Awards (Oscars). His other productions include the award winning play he wrote called “In the Minds Eye”, and multiple award winning Asian American film called Hundred Percent. 

In this episode, we discuss:

  • Vinod's family business journey
  • How he's able to juggle all of his businesses
  • What keeps him motivated in family business