A ‘ride’ to remember
As the food court at VGP Universal Kingdom transforms into Sea Thru Diner, VGP Ravidas talks about his tenure at the theme park
Life has been a roller-coaster for VGP Ravidas, managing director, VGP Group of Companies. But, he seems to have seamlessly braced the ups and downs in running the 50-year-old establishment that has stood the test of time and carved a niche for itself in the theme park business. The second-generation entrepreneur attributes his growth to his father who mentored and moulded
his career, the enterprising people whom he interacted with in his foreign trips, and the legacy of work ethics that he worships and follows to date. In this conversation with CE, Ravidas walks down memory lane — from when he stepped full-fledged into the business in 1997 to how he has been revamping the recreational space time and again, to suit modern advancements.
What prompted you to join your family business?
Business runs in the blood. My father VG Panneerdas and his brother VG Santhosam built everything from scratch. They insisted that my younger brothers — VGP Rajdas (the present senior director of VGP) and VGP Babudas (the director of VGP) — and I learn it the hard way. We were made to stand in the ticket counters at the VGP office in Mount Road back then. After finishing my BCom and MBA, I joined the business in the 1980s. I learnt the tricks and trades under the watchful eyes of my father. While I started with the real estate business, I soon ventured into the theme park business in 1997.
How has the theme park business evolved?
In the initial days, it was a park with basic amenities. People would walk in to visit the beach, and for some sumptuous food. With time, we brought in rides from countries like Japan, Italy, and renamed the property as VGP Universal Kingdom. I travelled extensively to study different theme parks and how they functioned. That’s how this space turned into a family-friendly getaway. We have multiple generations of families visiting us.
Tell us about your latest project, the Sea Thru Diner.
It’s been three months since we launched the eatery. We serve continental cuisine. It’s open to visitors of the park in the mornings and the general public in the evening. The response has been great. Earlier, this was a food court where people would grab something light on-the-go. Now, people can sit and enjoy their meal at leisure without disturbance.
What’s the secret behind your success?
An ethical mind is important. I uphold the legacy of honesty and transparency that my father has left behind.
What’s your stress-buster?
Whenever I travel abroad for business, I go to a theme park. I reserve a whole day for it. Before starting the VGP Marine Kingdom, my son and I visited 25 aquariums. It’s important to keep the inner child alive even as we grow old.
What is your alter ego?
I love capturing special moments. If not for this career, I would’ve pursued photography. I travel extensively, which also means I have loads of photographs at the end of every trip. My wife diligently organises and maintains over 100 albums in my collection. Nowadays, everything is digitally preserved.
What’s the scope of theme park business in today’s world?
We are still in the nascent stages. Take Disney for instance, it celebrated 100 years. Those days, one of our biggest challenges was when the entertainment tax was increased. We had to fight and bring it down so more people can enjoy entertainment at affordable prices. We have different sets of problems compared to countries abroad. There’s a long road and plenty of opportunities ahead.
What do you enjoy about your work?
I get to meet international clients, big and small. Interacting with them has broadened my vision and humbled me. I wouldn’t have been able to seal some of the big projects by sitting at my office here and sending representatives there. Sometimes, you have to put yourself out there and get the work done. There’s no shortcut to success.
What were your lockdown lessons?
My wife and I stayed in our resort and we were the only ones on the property. I got to catch up on all the things I’ve been missing out on in these years of busy schedules. I get up at 6 am for a walk, have breakfast, and talk to my children over the phone. This has been a standard routine since the pandemic. It’s been 500 days since I travelled. I attended meetings over Zoom. I’ve learnt to set boundaries from work, so these days I don’t work beyond 7 pm.
What are your plans for VGP?
We’ve brought the best from around the world for Chennaiites right from our annual stunt shows for summer and latest mermaid shows for the marine kingdom. VGP will soon be a one-stop-destination for all entertainment activities.