Sowing the Seeds of Success

Stansfield Group's Kannappan Chettiar tells EUGENE LOW howhis path to success was riddled with failure and what he hopes to teach students at the school’s new Centre for Entrepreneurship

TO Kannappan Chettiar, chairman and chief learning officer of The Stansfield Group, failure is not something to be feared. Instead, it should be regarded as an intermediate step towards success,And it’s not just an outlook that Mr Chettiar, 40, mouths glibly. He speaks of his philosophy as one who has personally tasted the bitter before before enjoying the sweetness of success. In 1990, the opportunity for Mr Chettiar to get into the private education business knocked. Having been awarded a government tender for the former Middle Road Hospital, he got down to transforming the building in to a school,Borrowing money from his father and friends, Mr Chettiar bought theSingapore Institute of Commerce(SIC). His plan was to turn it into a private school for University of London law degrees and diplomas.“SIC soon became the biggest private law school in Singapore in 1992.Unfortunately, things did not workout between me and the investors, so decided to leave,” recalled Mr ChettiarBut soon after he left SIC, he real-ised that he did not have enough money to provide for his family,

“I left SIC with nothing I was un employed and had no money, All | had was an idea, and no one wanted to back me,”he said. He needed to do something,and fastMr Chettiar decided to re-enter theprivate education business this time with his own funds. His visionwas to create the top business schoolin Singapore, he told The BusinessTimes in a recent interview.“At first, it was hard to raise thenecessary funds to start the business,”said Mr Chettiar. But he persevered,and managed to obtain a $20,000 loanfrom Citibank.“I found a place in Serangoon Cen-tral, which was being occupied by thethen Bishan-Serangoon Town Coun-cil. They were giving up one of thefloors. I tendered for it because of thelow rental. That was how I got start-ed,” Mr Chettiar said.Full circleThat, in a nutshell, is how StansfieldSchool of Business was established.Since then, Mr Chettiar has not lookedback. In fact, his Stansfield Group has done so well that it was able to acquire SIC in 1998 Mr Chettiar had come full circle. The Stansfield Group which now comprises the Stansfield School of Business, St James English school,SIC, Winfield Hall of Residence, and the Centre for Entrepreneurship — has managed to maintain annual growth of at least 25 per cent every year since 1993.

Mr Chettiar expects growth to accelerate to around 35 percent over the next few years, Last year, Stansfield Group —which has a total of around 8,500 students enrolled in its schools posted revenues of $8 million, It has also been ranked number 32 in this year’s list of Enterprise 50 companies, But Mr Chettiar doesn’t take his success for granted, “Life is a struggle, Most entrepreneurs go through a struggle,” he observed. “Unless you're very lucky, everyone goes through this point known as failure. Failure is an intermediate point before success. It is where the greatest learning happens what I call true learning.” He added: “At the point of failure, many people don’t realise that success is just a step away. So they retrace their steps, go backwards and give up everything.” This is a key lesson that he hopes to impart to students at Stansfield Group’s new Centre for Entrepreneurship. For Mr Chettiar, learning about being an entrepreneur is not just about learning the nuts and bolts of setting up a business. More importantly, it involves a change in the individual’s perception of and reaction to failure.Challenge “The challenge is to create in our students a mindset that does not mind failing. We try to inculcate the attitude that failure is the last point before you succeed,” said Mr Chettiar. He acknowledges that this is no easy task: “All of us are conditioned to become risk averse. True entrepreneurs are those who have uncondi-tioned themselves. I call them contrarjans,“If this is correct, the only way to teach entrepreneurship is to uneondition people, It is a rigorous process because it is not an easy thing to uncondition human behaviour,”Mr Chettiar is not one who will shrik a Challenge beside with me the governments Plan to boost singapores education industry, the future looks bright for the Stansfield Group. In September, the education work group of the Economic Review Committee (ERC) subcommittee on service industries said Singapore’s education industry can be an engine of economic growth,

The industry workgroup suggested expanding the country’s education services to attract 150,000 foreign students and 100,000 executive trainees in 10 years. It has also recommended that a pool of some 40 top-notch private commercial and specialty schools be built up here. Thanks to its investments over the past few years, the Stansfield Group is well prepared to capitalise on the future growth of Singapore's education industry.Said Mr Chettiar: “We are the onlywith the private education provider that has government's plans to boogt Singa- built up the entire infrastructure to bring students in from overseas. This is our key advantage. When foreign students come here, we can provide them with accommodation at our hostel the Winfield Hall of Residence.” However, it takes more than physical infrastructure alone to guarantee success. It requires total commitment from the staff of the Stansfield Group as well something Mr Chettiar recognises. “We have to hold nothing back. If we go all out for our customers, not worrying about dollars and cents, we will succeed. If we go all out, we will never lose. Once we gain our customers’ loyalty, we will have nothing to worry about,” he said.“But when you try to be budget conscious, you sometimes short: change the customer. Instead, the question we should ask selves as providers of education is t would I, as a student, want?"