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A conversation with philanthropist Dr. Kiran C. Patel

TAMPA — Six years in the planning, work has begun on a 17-acre family compound on White Trout Lake in Carrollwood, the future home of cardiologist Kiran C. Patel, who adds home builder, interior designer and landscape architect to his many titles.

It's a monumental undertaking, but a labor of love, designed to house three generations now, with the goal of many more to come. Living in such close proximity will support and sustain their Eastern values, believes Patel, who arrived in the United States 36 years ago, on Thanksgiving Day 1976.

The palatial, two-story main house incorporates two 8,400-square-foot wings, one for Patel and his wife, pediatrician Pallavi Patel. The couple met in medical school in Ahmedabad, India, and will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in May.

Son Shilen and his family will move into the other wing.

A 15,376-square-foot Great Hall, with dining and living rooms, home theater and Hindu temple, separates the "bookend" residences.

Patel's daughters, both physicians, will live in two separate 7,500-square-foot homes connected to the modern palace by covered walkways. There will also be three guest homes, a staff house, a 12-car garage and a 3,600-square-foot maintenance building.

All to be under construction simultaneously.

Patel, 63, compares it to conducting an orchestra, "synchronizing a host of different instruments and players all working together to create a masterpiece."

Famous for his attention to detail, prodigious memory and hands-on omnipresence, Patel continues to run billion-dollar managed care companies, Freedom Health and Optimum Health, multiple real estate investments and target philanthropy to impact the most people possible.

Tampa Bay Times reporter Amy Scherzer attended a bhoomi (land) pujan (prayer) Hindu groundbreaking ceremony Nov. 4, where the Patels asked for forgiveness for disturbing the land and the lives underground, and blessings on forthcoming endeavors.

The renderings of Patel Estate — your new home, the largest in Hillsborough County at 63,000-plus-square-feet — are gorgeous. Why so large?

There will be at least four families on the property, my son and two daughters, adjacent and connected and independent. So, yes, it is very large, but in a way, not. Each person has their own independence here. In times of need and celebration, we are all there. That's the most inspiring part of this, that the third generation will be very much bonded. My grandchildren, four now, can grow up together.

You speak often of the profound influence of your late father. Do you seek to fulfill that role for your children?

There are many challenges when you come from an Eastern culture to the Western world. It's a tougher transition for children than for us. I have a rigid personality … as a parent I have firm expectations on behavior, certain etiquette and rules. My children all got used to it, in a good way. They know I am there for them and they for me, but I'm not a warm, fuzzy type of guy.

My father was not a man of means but I saw him do everything in his power to help anyone who came to his door. I remember when someone's father died, and they came to him to write a telegram of condolence. … A simple instance of helping another human being.

Was closing your medical practice in 1999 to concentrate on the business of health care a difficult decision?

The business side had grown to $100 million and I could not do both. I was a slave of time, as a doctor. Once I became independent of that, other than God nobody can control my time. He can pull the strings at any time.

I am a risk taker and creative financing guy. I knew I was never going to work for anyone but myself. I bought a family practice in 1982, right out of residency, very unusual. Then I bought my home, and by January, two Mercedes. Moonlighting paid $25 an hour so I could make $300 a night. I calculated 10 extra nights for my home. Four more nights for my cars. I was never scared of work.

You diversify your philanthropy on a global scale. How do you manage oversight and gauge results?

Two approaches: direct involvement in the areas of Zambia, East Africa and India. I oversee the utilization of the funds to the penny.

What you have seen in the Tampa area is a legacy gift. To impact as large a group as possible, we have entrusted a responsible institution to perpetuate our mission, such as the performing arts center and University of South Florida.

Education gives the maximum impact. In my father's village, we built a school that has transformed a generation. Uplifting a single student will uplift five or 10 families.

Second is health. Intellectual capability without physical capability, you still have a problem. Arts and culture are more in the luxurious category, which it should not be, but I feel that way. It can play a unique role in integrating people, but if someone is starving, he's not going to think of the arts.

Your gift last month, $12 million to the University of South Florida, will convert the Patel School of Global Sustainability to the Patel College of Global Sustainability. What's the distinction?

It was important to create a college to be a perpetual institution that creates students and scholars who are going to change the world dramatically. I believe it will create champions of the profession.

Most people don't understand sustainability; they think it's just a problem for third world countries. They don't realize the U.S. and Europe are most guilty of consuming resources. At the current rate the Western world uses natural resources, we would need six Earths to provide the rest of the world the same lifestyle. We must change.

A conversation with philanthropist Dr. Kiran C. Patel 11/10/12 [Last modified: Saturday, November 10, 2012 6:07pm]
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