Jeppiaar, the founder-chancellor of Sathyabama University in Chennai, who set up one of the earliest self-financing engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu, died here of old age late on Saturday evening. The Jeppiaar Educational Trust, established by him, runs several well known engineering colleges in and around Chennai. Family members said Mr. Jeppiaar died at the Global Hospitals where he was wheeled in following discomfiture.
Born J. Pangu Raj (JPR), a native of Muttom in Kanyakumari, he started his career as a police constable but later entered politics and quickly earned the trust of former Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran. He was soon appointed as the Government chief whip in the then Tamil Nadu Legislative Council (since abolished) and was later appointed Chairman of the Madras Water Supply and Sewerage Board (Metro Water). He also served as the Director of Tamil Nadu Fisheries Development Corporation.
In 1988, Mr. Jeppiaar established the Sathyabama Engineering College, which was subsequently among the first technical institutions in Tamil Nadu to be awarded the deemed to be university status. Other reputed institutions he set up include the St Joseph’s College of Engineering, Jeppiaar Engineering College and Panimalar Engineering College. The Sathyabama Dental College, St Mary’s Institute of Management, Panimalar School of Management, SRR Engineering College, Mamallan Institute of Technology and Panimalar Polytechnic are all part of his academic empire, which he built single-handedly.
A self made man, Mr. Jeppiaar pursued academics much later in life and acquired a law degree and even a PhD from the Anna University in Water Resource Management as late as the 2000s. Despite his limitations in the English language, Mr. Jeppiaar never hesitated to address any audience in English with confidence.
Always looking to diversify his business, he had tried his hand at setting up the Jeppiaar brand of purified water, milk, steel, cement, salt, a techno park, travel agency, ready mix concrete plant and even experimented with publishing a Tamil magazine. A few years ago, he was seriously toying with the idea of establishing a daily newspaper but could not take it forward.
Mr. Jeppiaar is also credited with establishing the first privatised harbour in Kanyakumari over a decade ago. He had even acted in some Tamil films.
Though critics often citied his past to question his meteoric rise, Mr. Jeppiaar was a trendsetter in many ways. He was the first to question the Information Technology sector’s hiring policy from campuses. A decade ago when the IT companies would insist that a candidate must have consistently performed well in class X, XII and year-on-year in engineering colleges to qualify for a job, Mr. Jeppiaar felt it was a flawed policy.
“Entry is not important, exit is important,” he would tell the recruiters adding, “We take students from varied backgrounds. Don’t look at their past. You should hire them based on their performance in college after we train them.” He did not approve of his college graduates joining BPOs as he felt it did not do justice to their qualification. Instead he would encourage them to pursue post-graduation and join as assistant professors in his own institutions.