Mehroof Manalody: A Visionary Educator in the IT Domain

Kozhikode: A visionary is born when a person begins to think futuristically and tries to do something revolutionary. Such a person will invariably swim against the current and also convince and motivate others to follow him in his footsteps in that process. It is such a disruptive spirit which guided Mehroof Manalody from Kozhikode when he went on to try a novel and offbeat model in the IT education sector of Kerala till then. Starting as early as in 1994, when computer and Information Technology were being portrayed in Kerala as ‘capitalist tools’ to make the prospects of the working class murkier, Mehroof took it up as a challenge. Hailing from the affluent Manalody family as the seventh son of Haji Aboobacker, he definitely had an option of flying to any one of the Gulf countries to make a fortune just as any other expatriate of that time did as he was armed with a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and a Diploma in IT.

 

Hailing from a business family in Kozhikode, Mehroof Manalody heads the largest network of IT training institutes in the country, G-Tec Group of Institutions, having over 500-plus franchises in India and abroad

 

But Mehroof decided to stay back in God’s Own Country, and build his own enterprise with whatever little skills he possessed. Twenty-four years later, he sits at the helm of the G-Tec Group of Institutions, one of the most reputed and trusted players offering IT education in the country. The number of students who got trained in his institution comes to a whopping 1.6 million. His continuing tireless effort to impart cutting edge IT skills to the youth through the 500-plus franchises across Kerala and abroad, still remains unique and makes him stand apart. The entrepreneur in him did not stop there. He expanded operations into three more subsidiaries under the G-Tec umbrella – GCAS (G-Tec Colleges of Advanced Studies), G-Tec Library – Online Book Store, and G-Tec Gensmart Academy – skill training academy.

Here, in an interview to Destination Kerala, this unconventional IT educator speaks in detail about both his experiment and the institution he built.

Tell us about the inception of G-Tec?

Although G-Tec was officially launched on February 10, 2001, my IT career began way back in 1994. After completing graduation in Economics in 1993 from Chennai, I stayed back and did a one-year diploma course in Oracle since the fee for the same course was very high in Kerala back then. Besides, there weren’t many institutes in Kerala either offering the course. My plan was to go to the Gulf where my brother was working at that time, and it was on his advice that I did a computer course along with my degree. Interestingly, during the course I got selected as a trainer at the same institute.

When I was studying and working on a part-time basis at the institute, I came to know about an IT training firm looking to set up franchises in Kozhikode as part of its expansion. I grabbed the opportunity and was granted a franchise of that firm at Mavoor Road in Kozhikode. That was how I started my first training centre. Following that, I successfully opened four more franchises in north Kerala – Perinthalmanna, Tirur, Manjeri and Vadakara.

But the parent company hit a bad patch by the beginning of 2000 and it became very difficult for me to run the training centres. I didn’t want to issue fake certificates in the name of a company which was collapsing, nor did I want to play with the future of students who came to me seeking computer knowledge.

That was when the idea of starting an institution on my own dawned on me. I consolidated operations of all the five franchises which I was running till then and launched G-Tec. I was confident about it because by then I had already acquired sufficient experience in the field.

Besides students, I got overwhelming support from the parents as well as local people. Moreover, all the five institutes had already emerged as leading centres and were situated at prime locations. P J Joseph, the then Education Minister of Kerala, inaugurated my new venture.

How challenging was it in the beginning?

I kickstarted the campaign to offer franchises some six months prior to the launch of my new firm. I was able to tie-up with many centres as they were already aware of my brand’s credibility. We started off after establishing tie-ups with 50 similar centres.

Having had the experience of running franchise of another company, I knew what exactly a franchisee would be expecting from a franchiser. This made it easy for me to meet their expectations and requirements.

Gradually, I formed a good team of employees and developed new courses and study materials. Since then the journey has been exciting which today has reached a stage wherein we have 500 centres imparting computer training across the globe through our 2700-strong faculty.

The whole network is valued at Rs. 200 crore. As far as turnover growth is concerned, we have been registering a growth of about 10 to 15 per cent every year.

How do you introduce a new course in the G-Tec network?

We mainly invest in technology as well as in new courses and developing curriculums. We have a very strong technical wing which is entrusted with the responsibility of tracking new technologies. After thorough research, they develop course materials and train the trainers at franchises. Normally, the whole process will be completed in just a month. Our master instructor will visit all the franchise centres in all districts to train the trainers there.

G-Tec offers several international certifications and related courses. We are the authorised partner for courses offered by Microsoft, SAP, EC Council, Adobe, Autodesk and Tally to name a few.

It is impractical for an individual centre in say, Neyyattinkara to do all things – starting from identifying the course to making course material to issuing certificates – on their own. Take the introduction of courses on Android for instance. We equipped all the franchises of G-Tec to offer Android courses shortly after it became popular. Similarly, we started a separate course for GST two months before it was formally launched. The course material for GST was released by the CEO of Tally during last year’s G-Tec Mahotsavam held in Kochi.

It would be a herculean task for an individual centre to design and implement courses within such a short time frame. The backbone of my organisation is our in-house technical team. We offer more than 500 courses at present. Courses which become outdated get omitted. But we often introduce new courses in their place. In some cases, we customize certain courses to update them. Nowadays we do these drills more often compared to a decade ago, thanks to the pace of technological progress.

Are there any expansion plans using private funds? Do you intend to continue with this franchise model in future?

We have not yet decided on infusion of any outside funds. It may happen at some point of time in future. If appropriate funding comes we could expand much faster.

About the franchise model, we are expanding the business out of Kerala sticking to that model. We have franchises in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha. Now we are experts in implementing the business model of offering franchises and our franchisees have also developed great confidence in us over the years. They will execute all our instructions because they understand it is for their benefit only. The basis of this is trust and it is the cornerstone of our business.

Does G-Tec maintain targets? Like for example, setting up a specific number of franchises in a year or a decade?

We are the largest network of IT training institutes in the country. Our target for 2020 is 1000 centres. We have franchises almost everywhere in Kerala. Now we are moving out to other states where there could be established local players. It will not be easy to compete with them. So the solution for that is to associate with a group which has a number of centres in a specific region or state.

A lot of virtual courses are being offered on the internet. How do you see them impacting your business?

We are aware of such developments and it is in our interest to keep pace with the changes or else we will be out of the market. We are equipped with an online training platform. But a sudden switchover is not really practical. Students always prefer face-to-face training programs. However, I understand that it is important to constantly upgrade the existing technologies. One of the latest programs introduced by us is the Cognitive Learning Program which focuses on developing cognitive skills of children. It is doing pretty good these days. We market it under Gensmart Academy of G-Tec. Another similar program is ‘Tactivities’ which focuses on improving the practical learning of sciences. We plan to strengthen our portfolio by offering more courses in Artificial Intelligence (AI). We are also bound to customize our courses in various markets, mainly because the requirements vary from place to place. For example, demands are unique in Qatar, Saudi and Malaysia. So, according to those demands, our technical team here would customize the courses and curriculums.

If a person needs to get a franchise of G-Tec how much he or she will have to invest?

To begin with, we will give a comprehensive proposal to the interested party. If a centre already exists at a place, there is no need to set up another one. If it has to be established from scratch, the applicant should have the infrastructure for opening the centre and it should have an area between 1500 to 2000 sq.ft. We will give the applicant projections for revenue generation as well. I understand this perfectly because I was a franchisee 23 years ago.

When it comes to opening a branch abroad, it is not very difficult to zero in on a location. Usually we get a lot of queries through the social media and internet as we are an established brand.

Centres established at main locations are owned and operated by the company. For example, the centres in Kozhikode are directly under our control. Further, we have our own centres in Singapore and Malaysia. And these are ‘model centres’ which play a key role in keeping the franchises inspired and motivated.

However, this field comes under education and training services as it is a service industry. Hence, entrepreneurial, IT and human resource management skills are must for running an institution of this kind because, we are essentially dealing with students who come to study.

Tell us about your business background and the challenges you faced during your entrepreneurial journey?

My father comes from a business family. I have three elder brothers – all of them are into various businesses and I have three sisters as well. Timber trading has been our traditional family business.

When it comes to hurdles in professional life, I have not faced many. If at all there were complaints from any quarters I have always worked out amicable ways to settle them. I give a lot of importance to the complaints of students who come to study at G-Tec centres, and every student is important to me. We have various departments in G-Tec and I closely monitor each and every development so as to increase the efficiency of service delivery.

What do you reckon as your strengths and weaknesses?

My main strength is my team here. Those who were with me 24 years ago are still with me. People holding responsible positions in G-Tec, including General Managers and Assistant General Managers, are my old colleagues. They all have been very passionate about this as much as I am. Also, wherever I go, I could find people who have studied at G-Tec. The happiness I derive from seeing our Alumni and our institutions in Africa, Middle-East and South-East Asian countries also gives me strength and inspiration.

How do you use your soft power and experience to better the investment climate in the State?

Our State is undergoing tremendous change in all respects. I set aside a considerable amount of time to work with various organisations. For the last four to five years I have been actively involved in various social activities.

Recently, I took over as the Chairman of CII (Confederation Indian Industries) North Kerala. I have also played a key role in the formation of the Greater Malabar Initiative (GMI) as one of its founders and at present I am its joint secretary. I am also an executive committee member of Malabar Chamber of Commerce. Also, Dubai-based International Promoters Association (IPA) was my brainchild. I strongly feel that the society should benefit from us in some way or the other. In my view, work for personal benefit and social work should go hand in hand.

What is your view on the State Government’s recent efforts to promote startups and entrepreneurs?

The government’s recent efforts will create a conducive atmosphere that will help open a world of possibilities for the State. Besides, a lot of startups are emerging from North Kerala which, I feel, is great. Riding on the spirit, I am also planning to launch a social media platform exclusively for sports and sports enthusiasts. I along with my friend have named it ‘Welfies’ and the platform will target sports and related fields. By Welfies we mean ‘Selfie with Wellness’. It will be a social media platform just like Facebook. Besides connecting sports enthusiasts and wellness buffs, it will help users know live scores, obtain details of match tickets and book sports facilities.

We plan to route sports-related commercial activities through Welfies. Being a social media platform, there will be many advertisement opportunities. We target to engage about one crore participants in the initial phase. We have already started marketing Welfies outside India. We have named it Welfies Sports Pvt. Ltd.

Have you invested in any other companies?

Not so far. I was completely focused on G-Tec till recently. I will definitely consider investing in startups as and when I come across worthy talents and initiatives. Yes, it is very much a possibility.

Are you planning to diversify into any other sectors?

Along with my friends, I am setting up a dairy farm on a few acres at Kalpetta in Wayanad. The plan is to promote farm tourism along with it. The holding company is known as Mountain Farms LLP and its first venture is Wayanad Farms and Resorts, a hi-tech integrated dairy farm spread over 10.5 acres of land at Munderi near Kalpetta. The company was incorporated in February 2018 and the project will be officially inaugurated in August this year.

I also have plans to open preschools because there is a large scope for such institutions here. Parents are more concerned about the kind of environment they send their children to. There are not many branded networks of preschools in Kerala. It has been there in my mind for some time. We could start something like G-Kids.

Where would you see G-Tec after 10 or 15 years?

We intend to set up a university in due course. There is a huge scope for private IT universities in Kerala. Similar deemed institutions are there in other parts of the country. So, if we get the sanction to set it up, all that we need to do is to put a roof over our existing institutions. Moreover, most of the work we do here right now are similar to the functioning of a university. For example, examinations conducted by our centres are centralised. We conduct examinations after issuing hall tickets, just like how a university would do it. Our ultimate aim is to set up a private university and we hope to set it up here in Kozhikode.

Are you personally or institutionally involved in humanitarian or charity works?

It is something we give a lot of priority to. We have a charity trust called Humanity Charitable Trust of which I am the president. It is run by me with the help of some like-minded people. Under the Trust, we have been running a school for autistic children for the past many years. We are also going to start a Care Home for autistic children above the age of 18. Also, in many cases we waive the fee for students who hail from poor financial background. These kinds of activities are an integral part of our functioning.

What does money mean to you?

Money is important because there is nothing we can do without it. Whatever be your ideas, without money you can’t execute them. What makes the difference is how people prefer to spend money when it is in excess. I effectively utilised the opportunities that I got as a youngster. I refrained from doing anything for money. I ensured that every work I have been doing is of good quality and always made it a point to be straightforward in life. We do not fleece even a single penny from anybody.

How does a normal day in your life look like?

I am very much a sportsman and that is how I maintain my fitness. I go for jogging early in the morning. After breakfast, I come to the office where I will be engaged in meetings and discussions throughout the day. For want of time, mostly I do not take lunch. Usually, I leave office by 7.30 pm.