From Dindigul to the world

Vani Doraisamy

CHENNAI: From a small town in Tamil Nadu to the front pages of Washington Post is no ordinary journey. Hollywood movie houses are now seeking film rights to the unusual story of Krishnan Suthanthiran. The Dindigul-born, U.S.-based millionaire became the toast of U.S. business last week, following his acquisition of Kitsault, a showpiece Canadian mining town. The excitement was as much about his rags-to-riches story and his frugal lifestyle as it was about his Midas touch.

In a few weeks, Kitsault, the town Mr. Suthanthiran has put on the U.S. business map, will be named after his mother, Chandra Krishnan. On the phone from Virginia, the usually reclusive Mr. Suthanthiran talked of how he dreamt big. In 1963 as the son of a small-time grocer in Dindigul he was unable to pay the college fees at Uthamapalayam. Then a friend's father bailed him out by collecting Rs. 20 each from 15 friends.

In Uthamapalayam he topped the pre-university class to bag a merit scholarship in PSG College, Coimbatore, before going on to a research assistantship at Carleton University, Ottawa ("I supported myself by working as a dishwasher earning a dollar an hour"). Then he was into real estate and founded Best Medical International in the U.S. in 1977. The next step was to buy a movie production house in Vancouver. A global business empire that soon fanned out to Europe, Latin America and Asia.

Best Medical, Mr. Suthanthiran's flagship company, is credited with having developed the stent, the device that is now used the world over for in the treatment of blocked peripheral and coronary arteries, and later radioactive catheters to fight cancer. His father died of cancer.

Mr. Suthanthiran, 56, believes his biggest contribution so far are educational sponsorships in India, Canada and the U.S. He sees them as "my own way of giving back to the community for only through education can you eliminate poverty." He would rather fly economy class and eat at fast-food joints. And he has cherished his relative anonymity for 25 years. He sponsors two educational endowments at PSG College and plans to invest Rs. 10 lakh a year in India for educational funding. Having left India at age 20 and spent 36 years in the U.S. and Canada, the wheel will come full circle this year with the setting up of Best Medical Asia in India.