Bombay boy who built a global firm

25th March 2005 at 00:00
So what are we to make of Sunny Varkey? Educational evangelist, with a mission to turn every parent's dream for their child into reality, or a cynical chancer with a keen eye for a quick buck?

Sunny Varkey, 47, was born in India to schoolteacher parents who moved to Dubai in 1959, leaving their son in Mumbai (then Bombay) to study at a Catholic school.

At the time there were few schools in the United Arab Emirates and hardly any had running water.

Mariamma and KS Varkey, started teaching English to Arab students before opening a school, Our Own English high school, in the late 60s.

Their son graduated from the Catholic school in India before being sent to England for his first real taste of the UK education system, studying for his A-levels at Bembridge college on the Isle of Wight. There was no higher education in Dubai at the time.

Back in the Gulf state, the young Sunny initially worked in a bank, but is said to have quit in disgust after seeing his manager's meagre pay slip. He then started his own business buying into hotels and a maintenance company.

But then his parents' school was threatened with closure unless the buildings were upgraded. Mr Varkey took out a loan to rebuild the school, which he still runs, and his passion for education was ignited.

Today the Varkey group, which owns Gems, manages 42 schools across the world, including one in Berlin and 13 in the UK.

Mr Varkey is a self-confessed fitness fanatic, working out in the gym for one-and-a-half hours a day, six days a week.

His two sons, Dino, 24, and Jay, 20 - who were both sent to board in England at Winchester - are also keen sportsmen, playing golf to near-professional standard.

There is still something of the chancer about Sunny Varkey - no one could take the risks he has without such a quality, but to attempt innovation on such a massive scale (he is planning 200 schools in the UK alone, many with cut-price fees) there has to be something of the evangelist there, too.

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