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11:52am EDT June 2, 2004
While attending the University of Washington in the late 1960s, Pethinaidu Veluchamy sold magazine subscriptions at college campuses to help pay his tuition. Then Veluchamy, who was working as an agent for Time Magazine, Newsweek and Reader's Digest, discovered that instead of selling each magazine separately, he could package them into one brochure and increase sales.

With that experience in hand, in 1974, while working on his Ph.D. in chemical engineering at the University of Illinois, he started his first business, University Subscription Service. Then, using his profits as seed money, he started a mass mailing service for direct marketing companies and a credit card embossing service.

Thirty years after starting the subscription company, Veluchamy owns nine businesses that provide services for the direct marketing industry, Mutual Bank and several real estate holdings. Combined, Veluchamy Family Companies generates more than $225 million in revenue and employs more than 1,500 people, making it one of Chicago's largest minority-owned firms.

His Creative Automation is one of the few companies authorized by the U.S. Postal Service to provide a National Change of Address database for customers. Versatile Card Technology, headquartered in Downers Grove with facilities in the United States, Mexico, Asia, Europe and Brazil, produces more than 800 million credit cards, bankcards and Smartcards per year.

His real estate holdings include a 23-story office building and three 250,000-square-foot, multitenant shopping centers in the Chicago area.

"With all these companies, I have to rent the real estate from somebody, so I started buying the buildings and renting to the companies," Veluchamy says. "It's a nice opportunity. When you make money, you have to shelter it the proper way. Real estate is one of the things that gave me the opportunity to shelter the income."

Veluchamy spoke with Smart Business about his growing enterprises, direct marketing trends and issues facing minority business owners.


How have recent federal efforts to eliminate unwanted phone and e-mail solicitations affected your direct marketing business?


It has helped us because, with all the telemarketing, they were taking some of the business, and they cannot do that now. So the best way to beat them is through direct mailing. It's a very good idea.

When I go to the office every day, for every five real e-mails I get, 50 of the other ones (are spam). I just delete them.

Not only is it taking up space in the computer, you have to keep increasing memory.


How do oversee so many different operations?


With each company, I have a president. Me and my family own all these companies. The president runs that company, I give them guidance, and I periodically discuss with them any issues or problems.

I get involved and try to resolve them. I have good people.


What challenges do you face as a minority business owner?


Honestly, I have been in this country for 30-some years now, and I have never faced any problems being a minority. In most other cases, (customers) go for quality of services, pricing and how good you can deliver a product. If you do that, that's all they care about.


What are the main cultural differences between the way Indian and U.S. businesses operate?


In the U.S., you don't have any government interference. If you have a business plan, you have the money and the people, you go.

In India, the government interferes. Whatever you want to do, you have to get permission. That's the kind of thing that sometimes I'm not used to. I have a credit card company in India, and I have a spinning mill that employs more than 600 people.

There, the government harasses the union and sometimes causes problems. Everything's a bureaucracy. Right now, it's changing, but not to the level where America is.

I tell you, this is the best country in the world.


You've earned degrees in India and the United States. What's the difference between the educational systems?


In India, I graduated with a bachelor's in chemistry. At that time, in 1967, when I came to this country, it was different. The educational system is changing throughout the world.

There, I would study maybe one month out of the year. Here ... you've got to do homework every day. Now that's happening in India now, too.

The educational system is good in this country. You get all the lab facilities and all those things. You get a better education here than you do in India, but it is getting better there now.


Your bank staff is multilingual and serves much of Chicago's Indian community. Why is it important to you to hire minority employees?


When I get business from a company like United Airlines, they promote minority companies. Also, I'm from India, and this country is the best in the world, and I know how much I went through. And if they're qualified, if I can help some people who are available, I do give an opportunity to them.


What new business ventures are you working on?


With all these companies, we do more than $225 (million) to $250 million, and each company is expanding a little bit because the economy now is picking up. I am expanding my embossing operations, and we are expanding Creative Automation.

We are getting some new technology. If an opportunity comes in with a good business to suit us, I might have an interest to buy that one.


What advice would you give to someone who is considering becoming an entrepreneur?


The best advice from my experience is that if you want to own or start a business, start on your own. Don't do a partnership with any of your friends or a close relative because that can become a problem.

Start small and grow. Work hard and keep in touch with the business all the time. If you work hard and do proper planning, you will be successful. How to reach: Veluchamy Cos., (800) 773-1588 or www.veluchamy.com