Zig Ziglar, the famous American author, speaker and sales personality once said “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want”. That dictum has been a guide for Kalaiarasu Malayandi as he successfully led a private university back to financial stability and profitability. A successful people manager, Kalaiarasu is the Bursar of Cyberjaya University College of Medical Science (CUCMS), a top-tier, decade old Malaysian healthcare university. He is also an Executive Director of SMR Group, a public listed company in Malaysia.
As a Bursar of an academic institution, Kalairasu takes charge of all strategic, commercial, corporate and business development matters at CUCMS, equivalent to a Managing Director and is responsible for the successful turnaround of CUCMS which had once been mired in a financial distress.
Graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering from the University of Nottingham Trent, UK, Kalaiarasu first established himself working in several technology consultancy firms including Tech Mahindra and Accenture. He rose from being a Consultant to Project Manager, collaborating and liaising directly with several high profile clients including a well-known French bank, the Ministry of Health of a neighboring country and a multinational oil and gas company. He later obtained his Master’s in Business Administration from Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia.
It was during these times that Kalaiarasu developed the critical people skills that would go on to serve him as he built his career and business. His expertise in project, process and client management as a consultant became the foundation for his rise. He realized that understanding people, their expectations and being able to deliver on these expectations was key to being a successful leader.
Learning from his trusted mentor, Tan Sri Dato’ Dr. R. Palan, a famed Malaysian entrepreneur, corporate icon, speaker and philanthropist, Kalaiarasu took up the role of Executive Director at SMR Group in 2013. The organization had built itself a name in the human resource development, training and consultancy business for over 30 years. Kalaiarasu went about re-strategizing non-core businesses within the Group, including its technology division. His aim was to help the SMR Group find its next growth catalyst and he quickly identified tertiary education as a suitable business extension for the Group.
He led a team in the successful acquisition of CUCMS in 2013. At that time, the university was in financial distress having posted two straight years of losses and with mounting debts. He went about ensuring that the university underwent a successful turnaround operation by stemming losses. He addressed the financial issues as well as guided the Human Resources team in ensuring that the turnaround operation took into account existing employee’s welfare and needs.
One of Kalaiarasu’s often repeated phrase to his team during this trying time was “We are not cutting cost; we are managing people. It must always be a people focused agenda”. This became a constant reminder to the management that as a university, the institution owed its relevance to its staff and thus, their welfare was paramount. He led a team in conducting a root cause analysis and found that the university had a mismatch of headcount that had ballooned in recent years. Teams were working in silo, wage cost had spiraled out of control, and the increase in administrative staff had resulted in increased bureaucracy. To successfully turn the institution around, Kalaiarasu reasoned that he had to ensure more balanced hires and streamline the administrative and support divisions to increase productivity.
Kalaiarasu proposed a renewal strategy that was more long term in its outlook. He led the management in developing a new metrics driven headcount planning process to identify the right balance between academic and administrative hiring. Data such as faculty staffing ratio, mean teaching hours, cross teaching programmes, full time equivalent hires and enrollment figures were used. In the meantime, administrative and support staff were assigned new roles and provided with training to help them pick a new skill and fit into their new roles with higher productivity. Kalaiarasu oversaw the adoption of technology solutions to increase team collaboration and effectiveness.
Under Kalaiarasu’s leadership over the past two years, the university has reached a balanced academic to administrative staff ratio with minimal losses in headcount, 11% increase in productivity and revenue had grown by 19% while cost has been reduced by 24%. Employee and student morale are high as the university with its 3,500 students successfully turned itself around and now looks forward to a brighter future. The success story received global recognition when CUCMS won the internationally acclaimed Optimas Awards for Managing Change by US-based Workforce magazine, making it the only Malaysian company to ever be selected in the magazine’s 25 year history.
Kalaiarasu is a very detailed and data oriented person, and thanks in part to his engineering background he is able to breakdown complex issues into constituent parts and synthesize solutions to address them at the root. But beyond his technical and operational knowledge, it is his people management skill that has been the biggest contributor to his success in the business world. And in keeping with Zig Ziglar’s advice, Kalaiarasu understood well the need to ensure a buy-in from all stakeholders. His open, easy going and friendly demeanor was effective in gaining the support of his peers as well as the University’s Board of Governors. He has been responsible in ensuring that a significant majority of employees were on board with the senior management’s plans during a trying phase of the turnaround.
Kalaiarasu is practical, visionary and constructive in his approach to business. He practices the Blue Ocean Strategy concept of tipping-point leadership and has built a team of middle managers who buy into the university’s vision and who in turn influences others to do the same. Kalaiarasu’s deep understanding of business processes and his ability to inspire employees to adopt new approaches to doing things has been the key in allowing the university to expand into new horizons.
Under his leadership, the university expanded its network to other regions and now boasts students from more than 20 different countries and is actively establishing new niche programmes in the healthcare field. Kalaiarasu targets that university enrollment will rise by 20% over the next three years.
During strategy meetings Kalaiarasu can be heard repeating Rupert Murdoch’s quote “The world is changing very fast. Big will not beat small anymore. It will be the fast beating the slow” and he is determined to be dynamic and fast in adapting and maximizing any opportunities that come his way. Already the university has adopted plans to expand to a new purpose-built, ultra-modern campus by 2018 to coincide with its new programmes. It is in talks to form strategic partnerships with other organizations to broaden its programme offerings and expand its international reach in the next three years.
Despite his focus and dedication to the success of the university, Kalaiarasu remains a family man at heart. He credits his ambition to his parents, his success in business to his mentor and his continued motivation in life to his wife Dr. Rathii. The second and youngest son from a family of four, Kalaiarasu was brought up in Kuala Lumpur. His mother Meenakshi was a dedicated homemaker while his father Dr. Kalaimani was a trained dentist. With great support and coaching from other family members he developed an interest to lead a business from young. His early education was at the prestigious St. John’s Institution where he built many meaningful and lasting friendships that continue to this day. “My greatest blessings in life are my family. Each and every one of them contributed greatly to make me who I am today” says Kalaiarasu. He further adds “I value the concept of family and that is the same approach I take when I face my employees and partners”.