I am passionate about doing well not only in career but also in my community. I won’t say it’s a passion but I am very keen on being an honorable member in our community. I believe in being a good representative of India. Whatever obligations I have with the government, banks, other financial institutions of US and other countries, I want to deal with them with honor. I never want to escape from that. I never want to fail India, or my state. Life will always force you to deal with breaks, be it good breaks or bad breaks. How you deal with it is your legacy.
Dev Ratnam began his career as a scientist. But he never wanted to be master at just one trick. He wanted to explore all the opportunities around him before settling into one. He tells us, “In true spirit, I am an entrepreneur, so I try many businesses. Though my education and experience is as a scientist from Penn state in 1977, I still wanted to venture beyond my degrees.” Dev graduated from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore in Engineering and completed Masters in Engineering from Queens University, Canada and got a Ph.D. in Solid State Science from Penn State University in 1971. Yet, his dream was to always go back to India and set up his own business there. He tried his true best to fulfill that dream. Dev explains, “I was planning to buy a factory from Australia. The agent from Melbourne belonged to a big family.
He used to be the Governor of Maharashtra and his son was my partner. We wanted to buy that factory and bring it to Chennai and set it up in India. But somehow the politics played its part after I reached Melbourne. I realized that I would be a minority party. And I had to walk away from my dream of setting up business in India. Of course, I tried to buy a factory from here and take the technology and equipment to India, but that never materialized. But in that search for a factory, I found a company in Long Island called Poly Mag Ink.
A couple of partners and me bought it, but unforeseen factors didn’t allow it to be a big company. It still exists and it does have big clients like GM, Kodak, etc. Perhaps the location in Long Island was a disadvantage.” While many would give up and try to move on to something else, Dev Ratnam never stopped believing in himself. He defines himself as an eternal optimist and does not think giving up is an option. “I just never wanted to give up. In my years of experience, I have come through all the time. Yes, I did not perhaps see bright successes all over.
But I have seen spurts of success and it was good with me.” Never to give up, even Dev Ratnam had to let go his dream of establishing business in India. But the blame for that lies on the political system of India. “I don’t want to sound negative, but in 40 years I have never succeeded with one project in India. But in China, South Korea or United States, it is entirely different. That does not make India bad.
But I cannot recall one fruitful project, be in charity or investment in India.” His passion is what perhaps distinguishes him the most. He is a firm believer in the thought that a successful man is only successful enough if he can give back to his community. Dev explains, “I am passionate about doing not only well in career but also in my community.
I won’t say it’s a passion but I am very keen on being an honorable member in our community. I believe in being a good representative of India. Whatever obligations I have with the government, banks, other financial institutions of US and other countries, I want to deal with them with honor. I never want to escape from that. I never want to fail India, or my state. Life will always force you to deal with breaks, be it good breaks or bad breaks. How you deal with it, is your legacy.” Dev Ratnam’s dreams and ambitions are just as extraordinary. His dream of helping others has paved the way for success in many people’s lives. He is on the Board of Interfaith Nutrition Network since 1995; had been a voice on the board on behalf of Indian community.
He charts out a few of his projects. “I just want to do good things in life at this point. I have seen a couple of charitable programs that I want to take up. There is one in particular called Shri Chakra, which is an organization that concentrates on providing electricity through bicycle pedaling. It is on hold for now, due to some real-estate issues, but it’s a temporary hold. I want to provide electricity to rural parts of countries such as India, Afghanistan, Nepal, etc.
That is my dream for sure. I am working with many major organizations. I am also working on some projects in my village in India too. My daughter is running for the marathon in Rwanda to commemorate the victims of the Rwandan massacre. I am helping her in this project through Rotary Hicksville. So I have a couple of such projects that I am extremely involved in.” Dev Ratnam was born in West Godavari in a small village in Andhra Pradesh and was the eldest son in his family. His father was the biggest influence on his life.
Dev explains, “My father’s upbringing had a great impact on me. When he was 14, he had bought a car for marriage. He was a socialist. He too was involved in many ventures. He moved to Chennai with us and I completed my education there. I got a scholarship and went to Canada. From there, I moved here to the US and finished my PhD at Penn State. My father also had a tremendous passion to help people. He never had a formal education.
Yet he went to Chennai and learnt English and began helping people in many ways. When he came to the US, he hand-drew the map of the US with all the 50 states and began learning about each state. Even before he came here, he knew about Edgar Allan Poe, an American writer and poet most Indians living here now don’t know about.
But his thinking is what inspired me. Besides being a Socialist, he was able to understand the land of opportunity that United States really is.” Dev Ratnam’s biggest passion after social causes is perhaps traveling. His wife and he share a common interest in visiting and paying homage to the ancient civilizations of the world. “I am a citizen of the world. My wife and I love to travel. We have explored civilizations in Turkey, Greece, Cambodia and other places. We love to go to those places.
Recently we went to Greece for a vacation. It was astounding to see the civilization there. We stood there and marveled at how the human culture evolved. We paid homage to all these cultures.” Dev admits that his ventures have not been a continual forerunner in their field. He only wishes that he had done his due diligence before beginning the investments. “Do I regret anything I have done? Well, maybe I was not too thorough. My son is 25 and he works for a venture cap holding. And when I see his company work, the immaculate attention to detail, I believe I did not do my due diligence. I guess that is my only regret. But on the other hand, almost all the real estate companies and other companies did just as bad since 2006. So I don’t know if it was just my choices.” He has a lot of praise for our community and believes that there is just as much misconduct in our community as in any other.
But he commends our community’s foresight and achievements too. “They all belong to different strata. The ones who came in 70s came through education. They got good jobs and earned very well. So they are well adjusted in US. The ones who came in 80s came as immigrants, who basically were brought into the country by mainly extended relatives. They began setting up businesses. Now the people who belong to this group are becoming the core Indian community. They are aggressive, motivated and passionate about their ventures and see them succeeding. I believe they are easily the more successful than any other group of Indian community. So I would say this for our community, that we have an impeccable foresight. We know what can make us prosperous.” Dev Ratnam has an outstanding family too. His wife Prof.
Runi Mukerji Ratnam is a dynamic leader in academics at SUNY in the entire New York State and a leader in several professional and social organizations. His daughter Romola Ratnam is an NYU graduate and is well known in the sports marketing field in Manhattan. She has also initiated several charity programs much like her father. His son Basudev graduated from Brown University and is an excellent tennis player. Dev Ratnam had ambitions to make his son a national level tennis player but unfortunately Basudev suffered a few injuries that dissuaded him from playing on national levels.
At present, Basudev is working with a private equity company in Manhattan. Before I take leave, I ask him if he still has plans to move to India and realize his long lost dream. And to that he replies. “No it’s too late now. This is our home now.” From all the readers of The Indian Panorama we wish Mr. Dev Ratnam success in all his professional and social ventures.