How accepting change and adversity have served as secret allies in business for Veera Sekaran, founder of Greenology.
Veera Sekaran discovered his passion for all things green while helping his father grow food for their impoverished family as a child. Little did he know that what he learned would lead to a career where he has served as assistant curator of horticulture at the Singapore Zoo, head of horticulture for the airport terminals in Changi, and assistant director at the National Parks Board in a country that has placed sustainability and the weaving of greenery throughout the city front and center.
Since 2008, Sekaran has run Greenology, a horticultural consultancy that develop ideas and concepts for green walls and urban farms, growing it to 30 employees. “Passion can be infectious,” says Sekaran. “Because I am passionate about what I do, it all fell into place for me.”
Sekaran spoke with the Associations Now Brand Connection recently about his journey.
**Your work is focused on transforming urban spaces into thriving habitats. What are your favorite urban spaces in Singapore? **
Veera Sekaran: As a city, Singapore has one of the best green infrastructures in the world. It’s a garden that has been created in a city and a city in a garden. I have no one favorite space. Each of them is amazing in its own right. You have the natural space that is already there. You have the greenery among the cityscape, which is breathtaking as well. It’s everywhere—it’s pervasive. It’s a garden everywhere in Singapore. It feels like the whole city is your backyard.
What sparked your desire to be an entrepreneur?
I started very late in life, at an age many people would not have. I was about 45. I started this business to bring greenery into people’s lives, regardless of where they are. I said it’s now or never. It was an impulsive decision. I’m just going with it. I’m enjoying the journey. It’s a fulfillment of my passion.
**How did the experiences of your youth in Singapore shape your perspective on business today? **
We were very poor when I was growing up. My father grew our own food in a small patch of garden. When I was a little boy I used to go and help him. At that age working with soil and plants helped me build a relationship with nature.
Later on, my father died, leaving behind eight children. We struggled with education, food and housing. One of the most important life skills I’ve learned is that in my head, I should never give up. If you keep going at it, you will achieve what you want to achieve.
One challenge you’ve faced is Parsonage Turner Syndrome, a rare nerve disorder that has caused you debilitating pain and made it hard to move your arms. What have you learned from your journey in finding your own treatment for it?
When doctors told me they couldn’t help me, something inside me kept nagging at me. I told myself I’ve come this far through so many different challenges, why give up now?
I have always had a creative mind, so I engineered my own systems and started different exercises to keep my hand motions moving. The fact that I was very close to nature and plants was a blessing as well for me. I took supplements. I went for acupuncture—and when I did, I felt pain. I told myself if I could still feel pain, then I’m still not so bad—I’m still alive. I slowly got better and better.
I’m not 100% recovered. I still live with pain. The pain in my arms and shoulders comes and goes. I don’t take pain killers. I think pain gives you a different perspective of being alive.
The journey of my life had to do with the challenges at every crossroads. Overcoming these challenges has built something in me that is a lot more resilient.
You’ve talked about how your horticultural work has been healing for you. If you had to choose a favorite garden in Singapore, which would it be?
Singapore Botanic Gardens has always been one of my favorites. It’s one of the oldest gardens in the world. It’s a heritage garden. Primarily, rainforest has been kept within that space. The new Gardens by the Bay offer a very different take on what gardens are all about. It’s a theme garden that revolves around all of the different species of the world—there is constant change. It excites people in many different ways.
This profile of Veera Sekaran, founder of Greenology, is part of Singapore: Passion Personified. It is the first in a series of eight profiles of individuals who embody the country’s entrepreneurial drive and “passion made possible” spirit, which shares stories to inspire the business leaders of today and tomorrow.