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Unique model in the private education sector

Singapore's oldest not-for-profit professional institute gears up to stay successful in its next 60 years.

The statues that dot the MDIS campus are "a constant reminder to students of what they've learnt," says Dr Theyvendran.

STANDING at the cusp of its 60th year, the Management Development Institute of Singapore (MDIS) is far from slowing down.

Indeed, in recent years the institute has been making aggressive moves overseas. It opened its first overseas campus in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, in 2008, and its second in Johor, Malaysia. It broke ground for its Malaysian campus - estimated to be almost five times the size of its Singapore campus - in 2013.

This year, it announced that it was setting up its third overseas campus in Chennai, India, in a joint venture with Vels Institute of Science, Technology and Advanced Studies.

MDIS, which bagged its first Enterprise 50 Award on Thursday, has come a long way. Founded in 1956, it is Singapore's oldest not-for-profit professional institute for lifelong learning. Its courses - about 60 per cent of its programmes are Bachelor's and Master's degree programmes - are offered in collaboration with several universities from Australia, France, the United Kingdom and the United States.


It has been more than 25 years, but R Theyvendran, who continues to be the force behind the institute, is still often asked about how he turned the fortunes of MDIS around.

Not that he tires of telling it. It is after all an impressive story - when Dr Theyvendran first arrived at MDIS in 1989, the private education institution was losing about S$60,000 a year. Within three years, however, he was able to not only bring it back to the black, but turn in a surplus of over S$1 million.

Today, the institute has a tidy nest egg which it sits on, ready to take on its next project. Indeed, the institute has been able to meet all its financial obligations and engage in overseas investment projects and acquisition deals without incurring any debt, a fact it is very proud of.

"Our model is very unique compared to other private education (PE) institutions. We are not profit-making . . . Board members are not paid salaries and they don't get dividends or anything. Everything is reinvested for infrastructure, curriculum development and expansion plans."

It is, Dr Theyvendran believes, these values which make MDIS tick. Students are themselves made to sit through compulsory three-hour courses which stress the importance of family values and ethics.

In fact, the MDIS campus at Stirling Road is peppered with statues at every turn - the 10 sages of the world (which include Albert Einstein, Samuel Johnson, Aristotle and Maria Montessori) flank the entrance to the campus while elsewhere there is a family group and further inside the campus, a student in graduation robes holding up a globe.

"The statues are a constant reminder to students of what they've learnt," says Dr Theyvendran.

It is not just about imparting values to students, it is about pushing them beyond academic success. In fact, this same spirit of constant innovation and improvement pervades MDIS's corporate culture.

Earlier this year, MDIS Corporation, a subsidiary of MDIS, acquired Service Quality Centre (SQC) - which was established in 1990 by Singapore Airlines and Spring Singapore as part of the government's efforts to raise service standards in Singapore - for S$5 million. SQC provides service excellence, quality and productivity-related training solutions, and counts financial institutions, supermarket chains as well as government ministries and agencies among its clients.

The acquisition diversifies MDIS's offerings in training solutions. The school has set aside S$1.2 million to renovate its Dhoby Ghaut campus to house SQC as well as its existing corporate training arm, the Management Development and Consultancy (MDC), under one roof.

"We are constantly striving to improve our processes . . . I tell the departments that every year I want to see a process change or process improvement. It's compulsory if they want to get better rewards," says Dr Theyvendran. "Force them to think!


"Now when they tell me they did this and this (improvements over the year) I won't accept because I'll say that's not what we want. You don't have to tell me what you did, I want you to look at how you can think ahead and what you are doing by way of proactiveness. Simple things will make me happy."

Next year, MDIS is looking to launch its 60th anniversary book, The MDIS Story, which captures the trials and tribulations of the institute and puts the spotlight on the movers and shakers who have contributed towards the institute's growth and development. It will also draw on the fundamental core values that motivated the institute to succeed, and what it stands for today as a social enterprise and a key player in private education in Singapore.

Dr Theyvendran is also hoping to not only boost the awards the institution has collected over the years, but also build a suitable space to showcase them.

"Not only local awards, let's go for international awards," he says, turning to his staff. "We've got about 11 awards; we should carve something and put them outside so when people come in they can see we're real solid."

He returns to the interview, a determined glint in his eye: "We are clear of where we're going and where we're driven. We don't want to collapse."