Group Chairman & Managing Director | VKL Holding Company & AL Namal Group
VKL Holdings and Al Namal Group of Companies is a household name in Bahrain’s real estate, property development and management, construction, health, and hospitality sectors. The group also has a good foothold in oil and gas sectors, education, and marine dredging. The Chairman of the group, Dr Varghese Kurian, is a doyen in real estate development.
Having been in the sector since 1990, he has successfully managed, marketed, and sold over 200 commercial and residential buildings across the Kingdom of Bahrain, of values above BHD 500 million. His hard work, determination, and the quest for perfection are qualities that make the group pioneers in their field and an inspiration for millions of Indians who dream big.
Spreading His Wings
Born and brought up in Kerala, Dr Varghese completed his degree from SN College in Kottiyam, Kerala. Driven by the challenge of uncertainty, he first arrived in the Kingdom of Bahrain in 1986. He began his career in a construction company named Al Shaker, where he continued to work until 1992. It was during this time that time Dr Varghese realised he needed to venture out on his own to be successful. He recalls how this period was full of struggle and hardship for him.
Taking inspiration from his father’s construction company in Kerala, he built his diversified empire in Bahrain brick by brick. He established the Al Namal Group in 1992 as a construction contractor, before setting up VKL Holding Company in 2008. From a modest beginning as a single construction company, Dr Varghese reached the current successful position in the market by navigating a course less travelled, bringing the best the industry has to offer without sacrificing quality.
Finding Feet in Construction
Originally the enterprise started out as just another construction company. Slowly and steadily, the company bloomed into one of the biggest all-encompassing construction outfits in the region. The company has in-house facilities for electromechanical, HVAC, interiors, aluminium, and wrought ironwork that support key projects.
Today, due to Dr Varghese’s dedication and hard work, the VKL Group has expanded across the Middle East and India, employing 3,000 workers. The group has also recently initiated a new project in Tbilisi, Georgia.
Diversifying by Change
Dr Varghese, to this day, is amused yet thankful when thinking of how he ended up diversifying his business portfolio. The Moon Plaza Hotel in Umm Al Hasam was built by him for a businessman friend in Dubai, who later moved to Canada, and handed the property over to Dr Varghese to manage. This was how he stepped into the hospitality business.
The Middle East hospital has emerged as a prominent healthcare institution within the Kingdom. Trusted for its advanced equipment, and staffed with the best qualified in the area, it generates a service that is in high demand by the populace in Bahrain and beyond.
Sustaining An Edge In Current Markets
At this point, the group has a foothold in multiple other unique industries such as education, energy, trading, and marine dredging. Its well-managed cluster of verticals includes VK Universal Property Management Co, VK Universal Hotels and Restaurant Management, Al Namal Contracting and Trading Co WLL, Middle East Hospital and Middle East Medical Centres, SAACH Interior Designers, New Horizon School and VK L Hotel and Resorts.
As a representative of successful Indians in Bahraini business forums and the Middle East, Dr Varghese has been recognised with many awards over his lifetime. His standing in the business community has seen him bestowed with the Outstanding Pravasi Entrepreneur Award in 2009, the Human Rights Award in 2012, and P.V. Sarni Memorial Industrial and Socio-cultural Award in 2013.
He was awarded the Business Beacon Non-resident Indian for Excellence in Business by Times of India in 2014. That same year also saw him being honoured with the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, followed by the Global Visionary Award by the Vision Foundation in 2015. In recognition of h is success, Indian news channel Janam TV also awarded award Dr Varghese for his role as an entrepreneur philanthropist in 2016, followed closely by the illustrious royal family of Travancore, when Princess Aswathy Thirunal Gowri Lakshmi Bai bestowed the Keerti Mudra upon him.
A testimony to his entrepreneurial skills, Dr Varghese was appointed by the Government of Kerala as a Director of INKEL, Infrastructure Kerala Limited, established to develop the state infrastructure facilities. He is also a Director of lnkel Kinfra and lnkel Kerala Projects Limited. In 2018, Dr Varghese was nominated by the Kerala Government as a Member of the Loka Kerala Sabha, in recognition of his services to the community.
He has had the privilege of being appointed Honorary Adviser to the Ministry of Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs (International) in Sri Lanka in 2017. The magnate was also one of the few Indians in the Bahraini delegations which accompanied the royals including the King, the Prime Minister and the Crown prince, on their visits to India. Additionally, his role as he accompanied Bahrain’s Ministers, and delegations representing the Bahrain Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on trips abroad truly underscores the respect he commands at the highest echelons of society.
Staying Devout to Corporate Social Responsibility
His greatest achievement has been his sustained investments; both emotionally and financially, in his philanthropic pursuits. The VKL Group strongly believes in charitable work and related causes. Dr Varghese has established a charitable trust in memory of his beloved parents aimed at pursuing welfare programmes for the poor.
Over 1,000 previously homeless people in his home state of Kerala have roofs over their heads today thanks to his benevolence. Staying on the topic of housing the underprivileged, his participation in the Kerala Government housing project for the poor saw 100 homes built with his aid. A family man, Dr Varghese and his wife Lizhy are proud parents to their three children, Sija, Jeeben, and Vishakh.
It is also his profound love for his family that has saw Dr Varghese reaching out to over 800 nuclear families from the poorer sections of society and helping their daughters get married. When Kerala was struck with calamitous floods, he contributed 8 crore rupees for the post-flood rebuilding. He also donated INR 1 crore to the Chief Ministers Welfare fund to support the fight against Covid-19.
His desire to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate has led him away from the real estate business and into the realm of future plans to provide the best healthcare and educational resources to the people of Bahrain. Not limited to medical aid, his helping arm extends to the educational sector, with several children able to list him as their academic benefactor.
Further, Dr Varghese has been one of the leading contributors to the dream project of the Keralite community in Bahrain. The Bahrain Keraleeya Samajam Diamond Jubilee Hall is currently the largest Indian Community Hall in the Arabian Gulf built by the NRI community. He has made significant contributions to the welfare of Indians working abroad as and when requested by the Embassy of India and by social and cultural organisations.
His vision to provide the best facilities for both communities include the establishment of the University of Wales Institute Cardiff (UWIC) campus and the Mahatma Gandhi University (MGU) campus in Dubai. “You should always lend a helping hand to the underprivileged and those in distress,” believes Dr Varghese.
On War Footing During Pandemic
The tycoon’s actions have gone down in the annals of history as being particularly effective during the Pandemic. Not one to back away from the social responsibility his influence and wealth have bestowed upon him, he stepped up to assist Bahrain’s combat against the pandemic. He provisioned eight multi-storey buildings around Hidd to accommodate quarantined patients.
He also turned the popular Park Regis Hotel into a temporary hospital for treating those who fell ill. The buildings had 253 rooms while the hotel had 164, and thus a total of 417 rooms were contributed free of charge to the Ministry of Health till the pandemic outbreak in Bahrain subsided. So notable were his contributions that they were specifically mentioned by HRH. Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa, The Crown Prince and Prime Minister in his address.
A Bond Built on Trust
“Energy and persistence conquer all things” are famous words by Benjamin Franklin. This is exactly what Dr Varghese did when he continued to build his empire in 2011, even when Bahrain was on the verge of collapse. Despite the chaos amidst the heightened civil unrest.
The Group completed the Best Western Olive, Al Murooj, Lulu Hypermarket in Hidd, and Middle East Hospital projects. As a result of lower raw material prices, lower subcontractor fees, and a shortage of demand for construction materials, the Group could execute projects at a much lower price. They were able to increase their holdings largely as a result of their faith in Bahrain.