VETA: Taking English to the world
By Divya M Chandramouli
On January 14, 1981, V. Ganeshram started tuition classes for three Class XII students who had failed, after turning down a management training position with The Indian Express. Two decades later, his “tuition” imparts English language training at 200 centres across India.
“I didn’t have any vision when I began, no milestones to reach. I was just worried about how satisfied my students were,” says Ganeshram, Managing Director. VETA began as Vivekananda Study Circle, which tutored school students from Standard six to 12.
When people mistook the centre for a library, the name was changed for the first time to Vivekananda Kalvi Nilayam. The tutorial centre gained popularity and V. Rajagopalan, the current Chairman, quit his government job to join Ganeshram, his brother; together, they introduced spoken English classes.
A commanding orator, Rajagopalan used the bilingual method to teach students English using their native tongue, a method that remains VETA’s unique selling proposition.
“If you speak good English, you’re considered an educated person,” Ganeshram says. “Seeing the popularity of our spoken English classes, we realised that there was great potential to teach the masses to communicate in English as there was a great demand.”
Slowly, the tuition facility was phased out and a distance learning programme for English training evolved. In 1985, the institute put out its first advertisement in a Tamil magazine, Kalkandu.
Previously, promotions were only in the form of stencilling along railway tracks or flyers pasted across the city. “For our initial campaigns, we chose vernacular magazines because we wanted to reach out to an audience with time on its hands,” says Ganeshram.
With close to 6000 applicants enrolling on a daily basis, the distance learning programme was translated into Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada.
In 1987, a query by the Income Tax department prompted Ganeshram to register the company as a private limited. The name changed once again with Kalvi Nilayam making way for Institute.
Vivekananda Institute now started printing material in other Indian languages such as Hindi, Gujarati and Marathi. Major K.V. Rajan, Executive Director, joined the institute in 1995. He proposed that they expand exponentially, by adopting the franchising method.
Course material underwent a dramatic change, with the emphasis being on direct learning. The institute established close to 70 centres in the four Southern states of India.
It was not all smooth sailing; some of the franchisees opted out of the revenue sharing arrangement to start on their own. Certain other institutes affixed a part of the company’s brand name to their own, which created the need for a registered trademark.
Thus, was born VETA. “We were all sentimentally attached to Vivekananda but it could not be registered as a trademark. So we coined the acronym VETA- Vivekananda English Training Academy,” says Rajan.
In 2003 there was a complete shift in perspective within the company. “I decided that here on the company would be run professionally,” says Rajan.
VETA started its own outlets. With JWT Chennai as its advertising agency (and an advertising budget of Rs. 3 crore) VETA set up a campaign across print, radio and outdoor media.
“Our curriculum for all programmes is revised every two years,” says Rajan. “We have 25 modules for workplace English alone.” The distance learning programme has also undergone a facelift and is being re-launched as VETA Best sometime later this month in Mumbai.
VETA is poised to take English training to the world. It has an international office in Singapore; a couple more will be opened in Dubai and China, sanctions permitting. “We believe in thinking global but acting local, so expect to see local examples in our international course material,” says Ganeshram.
[Made in Chennai is a column that showcases the evolution of home-grown businesses that began when the city was Madras] Photo: R. Ravindran