The Suranas believe that “what can be done today should be done now. Advice should be commercially sound, practically implementable and legally perfect.”.
You have heard of ISO certified factories and companies. But have you ever heard of an ISO certified home? Well, the Suranas of the famed Chennai-based Surana & Surana International Attorneys are perhaps the only household in the world who boast of being an ISO certified home.
“On seeing the substantial benefits of ISO 9000, ISO 14000 and SA 8000 being implemented in our law firm, my wife Rashmi was prompted to think of ISO 9000 certification for the Surana & Surana household. Rashmi declared, ‘If we can be the first law firm in the world to get these certifications then my household will be the world’ first household to be ISO 9000 certified,” explains Vinod Surana, the firm’s CEO and Managing Partner. ISO certification entails frequent audit by external auditors of the systems & procedures being followed by the household and all the records being maintained, as well as checking for continuous improvements in household management.
ISO certification, however, is not the only first to the Surana name. They also happen to be the only private family to have hosted delegations led by Heads of State. In 2011 a 65 member high-level delegation headed by the Vice President of Uruguay and in 2013 a 62 member high-level delegation headed by the former President of Argentina visited Chennai, not as guests of the nation or the industry but as guests of the Surana – as part of Dr. Vinod Surana’s efforts to promote trade & diplomatic relations with Latin America. Again, it was for the first time in the history of the Tamil Nadu Raj Bhawan that Governor Dr. K. Rosaiah, breaking traditions, attended the private reception hosted by the Suranas for Argentines in their grand banquet hall located in their self-contained building complex. Mr. Viswanathan, one of India’s senior-most journalists, recorded that the Surana family has done more to further India’s interests than most Governments!
The Surana household’s records show that they have hosted several high international dignitaries who include His Excellency Danilo Astori, the Vice President of Uruguay; His Excellency Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, the former President of Argentina; His Excellency Claudio Javier Poggi, the Governor of the State of San Luis; His Excellency Mohammed Abdul Ali, the Nawab of Arcot; His Excellency Dr. K. Rosaiah, the Governor of Tamil Nadu; several ambassadors; members of parliament; judges of the Supreme Court, High Courts and the International Court of Justice; leaders of industry and the Government, among others. Remarks in the household visitor’s register speak volumes about the hospitality of this family, which is listed in Sachitra Jain Darshan among 100 prominent Jain families of India.
Their top-ranked law firm was set up by P.S. Surana in 1971. His wife Leelavathy joined the firm in 1981. Vinod’s wife Rashmi, like her mother-in-law, studied law after her two boys Keerti and Dev were born. Vinod is the first non-American President of The International Law Students Association (ILSA) – a body which enjoys advisor status to the UN. Being open-minded nationalists, over 50 per cent of their work force is female, and hoisting the national flag on their building is a daily habit.
The Surana story started in 1958 when eight year old P.S. Surana was smuggled out of his home in Nagaur, Rajasthan, by his own father and sent off to far away Chennai so that he could get an education. “My grandfather had heard there was good education in Chennai. Though he himself had no formal education, he understood its value. Those days studying was rare amongst rural Rajasthanis,” says Vinod. Life in Chennai was a great struggle for young P.S. Surana. For one he had lost his mother when he was two years old. His father then 30 years of age was spiritually inclined and so did not remarry. They did not have much money.
Despite immense hardship, giving up on studies was not an option. P.S. Surana went on to study law after graduating in commerce in 1968.
After a year or two of struggle he set up shop with “donated furniture and typewriter.” Soon after, he married in 1973. For a man who believed that “genius is an added qualification.” P.S. Surana worked tirelessly. His motto was “never turn away a client.” Having realized that the business community wanted results, he soon made a name amongst the business and commercial circles in Chennai. Soon, many nationalized banks with sticky loans started engaging him.
Fate had far greater plans for him. In 1987, a big exporter came to the Suranas asking to represent them in an Italian Court. “My father had never been abroad. He did not even have a passport. And he didn’t want to leave my mother and me behind. The client was desperate and they got passports made for us in a matter of days!” recalls Vinod. P.S. Surana won the case in record time and came to be known as someone who got results not just in India but abroad as well.
However, it was their trip to USA a year later that presented Vinod with the defining moment of his life. Vinod, who had set his heart on a career as a pilot, decided to become a lawyer after a visit to an American lawyer’s office. “The US trip was a turning point for me. I was keen on flying so I wanted to join the Air Force. The lawyer whose office we were visiting had ‘gone flying.’ When we realized that the lawyer was flying his own plane as a hobby, we were astounded. My father said ‘Why fly someone else’s plane when you can fly your own?’ That’s when I decided to take up law,” says Vinod, who after completing law from Madras University went on to study LL.M. at Cornell Law School and then completed Ph.D. in law. Vinod also studied at the Harvard Law School, the London School of Economics, and the Indian Institute of Management among other Institutions for specializations.
1995 was yet another watershed year for the Suranas. It was the year when Korean automakers Hyundai set up their plant in Tamil Nadu. “We got a call one Sunday evening and someone in a strange voice said ‘I hear you are the best law firm in south India. My company wants to start operations in Chennai. When can I meet you?’ my father said ‘now’. It turned out to be E.H. Jin of Hyundai Motors,” discloses Vinod. Surana senior, known for his quick opinions, gave Hyundai his written advice early next morning. The Koreans were overwhelmed by Surana’s practical approach, quick solutions and most of all the alacrity with which he operated.
“I believe in what can be done today should be done now. Advice should be commercially sound, practically implementable and legally perfect. I always try to look at the case from a businessman’s point of view,” says P.S. Surana. A grateful Hyundai management gave the keys of the first Santro car to the Suranas. The first Hyundai Accent Car to roll out of their Chennai factory was presented to P.S. Surana in a public ceremony by the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu in 1999.
However, there is much more to the Suranas than legal wrangles and tangles, promoting India overseas and ISO certifications. For one, this is a highly spiritual family. Mother, father and son are all qualified Pranic Healers. Leelavathy become widely acclaimed for regularly healing cancer patients at the Apollo Cancer Hospital between 1996 and 1999. “ Master Choa Kok Sui (founder of Pranic Healing Word-wide) was extremely impressed by my parents. He appointed my father as his personal legal advisor and made sure that every founding document (to set up Pranic Healing Foundations in India) was signed by my mother, as either author or at least as witness,” says Vinod.
The Surana & Surana Public Charitable Trust is involved in a host of social welfare activities. These activities range from supporting rescued animals by providing cow shelter for nearly 500 destitute bovines rescued from slaughterhouses to running a free medical dispensary, giving away food packets and dispensing clean portable drinkable water at various places. Besides, nearly 500 scholarships are given annually to needy students, and hostel facilities are provided to 70 odd visually handicapped girls at the Lotus Blind Gild’s Hostel.
In the early 1990s, the legendary Justice Krishna Iyer personally inspired the Suranas to organize moot court competitions in collaboration with leading law schools. About 3500 students participate in such competitions, annually. “Justice Krishna Iyer desired that law students be trained in advocacy skills and remote law schools be strengthened. Supreme Court and High Court judges and senior academicians have widely acknowledged our role in the development of legal education in India,” elaborates Vinod.
Yet another pointer towards the Surana philosophy of living for others was Vinod’s wedding ceremony in July 2000 when instead of wasting “enormous sums of money on unnecessary pomp and show” the family decided that the wedding will be a sober affair and an occasion to give away a large part of its wealth to charities. “At my wedding, in July 2000, heads of various social & charitable organizations like old age homes, hospitals, animal welfare institutions, and orphanages were invited on stage, honored with a shawl or memento and introduced to the gathering before being presented with donation cheques. Over 300 orphaned children joined the 7000 guests for dinner,” affirms Vinod.
The Suranas believer that “amassing wealth is pointless.” “If we are able to make life a little better for others, then our purpose in life shall stand answered,” says Vinod.
We acknowledge “100 Legal Luminaries of India” by Lalit Bhasin (Lexis). The multicolour coffee table book printed on art paper in Hardbound is priced at ` 5995/- and is available at Universal Book Traders, C-27, Connaught Place, New Delhi – 110001. firstname.lastname@example.org