March 20, 2018

Floridian of the Year: Kiran Patel: ‘First, I give to charity'

Amy Martinez | 12/28/2017

A History of Giving

Dr. Kiran Patel and his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, have donated more than $240 million to support the arts, education and health care in Florida.

  • 2000: $450,000 for a K-5 charter school at the University of South Florida
  • 2002: $5 million for a conservatory at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa
  • 2005: $3 million for a heart research institute at Florida Hospital Tampa; $18.5 million for the Kiran C. Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF
  • 2012: $12 million for an endowment to establish the Patel College of Global Sustainability at USF
  • March 2017: $5 million for an emergency department expansion at Florida Hospital Carrollwood in Hillsborough County
  • September 2017: $50 million to support Nova Southeastern University’s schools of osteopathic medicine and health care sciences and $150 million for a new regional Nova campus in Clearwater
  • November 2017: $2.5 million for a new early-learning center, gym and computers at a public elementary school in an impoverished area of Tampa
  • The couple’s philanthropy also extends to India and Zambia, where they have built charity hospitals and schools. In 2005, the Patels raised more than $2 million from people in the Tampa Bay area to rebuild an Indian village that had been destroyed by a tsunami.
  • The Patels recently teamed with a foundation run by a Jamaica-born, Florida-based couple, Horace and Hillary Morgan, to provide eye surgeries for free in Jamaica. The Patels also are spending about $300,000 to upgrade a dental clinic and pharmacy in Jamaica.

The Family

Patel says his wife, Dr. Pallavi Patel, has been his “biggest supporter” in both business and philanthropy. Pallavi says she and Kiran are guided by the notion that they got where they are because of education.

The two met when both were starting medical school in Gujarat, India, Pallavi’s home and the birthplace of Kiran’s father. Out of a class of 100 students, all but five were from India; Kiran was the only one from Zambia.

“He didn’t know anybody, but he exuded confidence,” Pallavi says. “I was attracted to that, and we became almost instant friends.”

The two of them were born into different Hindu castes. Pallavi belonged to a merchant caste, Kiran to a farmer caste. It took a series of discussions before both families gave the couple permission to continue seeing each other.

“They were bold enough to transcend societal barriers,” Kiran says. “My father told me, ‘I can tolerate society’s comments of you two marrying, but don’t ever think of or bring me news of divorce.’ That would really tarnish the family name.”

Kiran ran for class representative during the first month of school, and to Pallavi’s surprise, he got elected. “He captured a lot of people’s attention,” she says.

In 1973, Kiran and Pallavi graduated, married and moved to Zambia, where they practiced medicine for several years before coming to the U.S.

Pallavi, who developed a successful pediatric practice in Tampa, has been actively involved in her husband’s philanthropic activities. “We feel that if we can help more people get an education, they can help us make the world a better place,” she says.

Kiran and Pallavi — their friends and family call them Dr. K and Dr. P — have lived in the same home in Tampa for more than 30 years but are now building a home that reflects both their heritage and wealth — a 68,000-sq.-ft. Indian-style estate on 17 acres, with separate homes for the Patels’ three children and their families, including six grandchildren. The complex includes a movie theater, Hindu temple, golf simulator room and 12-car garage. The Patels say their aim is to keep the family together for the next generation.

“All three children are settled in the Tampa Bay area,” says Pallavi, who retired from her pediatric practice in 2016. “We thought it would be wonderful to have everybody on one estate in their own spaces.”

The Patels’ son, Shilen, is CEO of HealthAxis Group, a health care technology-services firm in Tampa. Their older daughter, Sonali, is a family physician in Tampa. Younger daughter Sheetal is a radiologist with an MBA from USF. In recent years, she has gotten involved in the family’s hospitality and real estate holdings.

Like most families, the Patels aren’t always harmonious. Four years ago, Patel feuded with his brother-in-law Chetan Shah over efforts to bring the “Bollywood Oscars” to Tampa. Shah had been instrumental in persuading event organizers to choose Tampa as the host city, but when financial difficulties emerged, Patel took over and saw the event through to its end, triggering a series of lawsuits and counter-claims. Ultimately, the legal battle was settled out of court. Shah has since died of a heart attack.

Patel says his late brother-in-law believed, wrongly, “that if I can give charity to the world, why not him. I got dragged into the project, which was his dream, and the financial burden was put on me.”

Patel says he impressed upon his children that they were responsible for their own futures. Years ago, after he bought a Lamborghini sports car, his son, Shilen, then 8, asked if the family was rich. “I may be rich, but you are not,” Patel told him.

Patel says he began building the new home for his family only after “doing a lot of charity. First, I give to charity, then to myself. I don’t forget to use my net worth to impact the world positively.”


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