Byline: Jean Murphy Daily Herald Correspondent
Sometimes it takes someone from a completely different place who has a completely different way of looking at things to make fundamental changes to our society.
Such is the case with Dr. Ganesan Visvabharathy, president and founder of the Vilas Group, an Oakbrook Terrace-based firm which has been converting run-down apartment buildings into condominiums and building new apartment buildings and condominiums since 1982. He has made it his personal crusade to make home ownership cheaper for people than paying rent.
"There are too many low-income people being displaced," Visvabharathy explains. "I want to help these people upgrade their standard of living while retaining the ability to pay their rents."
And in the process he has built a very healthy company and living for himself.
Visvabharathy said being born and raised in India has worked in his favor in this crusade.
"There is an advantage in coming from a poor country," Visvabharathy once told Crain's Chicago Business, mentioning his ability to save money by acting as his own general contractor, even to the point of fixing ruptured hot water heaters at one-fifth the cost of replacing them.
"When you don't have the resources, you've got to think of these things," he said.
Born in Madras, India, in 1948, Visvabharathy came to the United States on a graduate scholarship to study for his doctorate in business administration at the University of Illinois. He already held an electrical engineering degree from the University of Madras and an MBA from the India Institute of Management.
He entered the real estate rehab business while still a professor of marketing at the University of Minnesota. He purchased a house in Minneapolis and a condominium in Hawaii, rehabbed both and sold them at a profit.
Then, while teaching marketing at Northern Illinois University, he formed Vilas Development and began rehabbing one property after another. His engineering background made most of that early success possible and continues to be an asset because he knows what to look for when maintenance and repairs are …