April 10, 2020

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

Amy Martinez | 12/28/2017

Investments — and Policy

Kiran Patel also funds a slew of biotechnology and software startups and is investing heavily in U.S. hotels. He says he likes the steady income that hotels provide.

“One should always plan to preserve and expand,” Patel says. “If you can make money and use it for good causes, why not?” Last summer, Patel joined seven other local investors, including Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Washington Redskins part-owner Robert Rothman, to lend the Tampa Bay Times (which owns FLORIDA TREND) $1.5 million each, enabling the newspaper to refi nance higher-interest loans. The group’s $12-million loan, secured by Times property, pays 9% annual interest.

Patel works mostly from home, typically in a golf shirt, slacks and, in keeping with Indian custom, no shoes. He says he’s not slowing down after the Anthem deal. “I’ve not taken a day off. I’m continuing in the same rhythm and pace as before,” he says.

While Patel says he has no plans to build another health insurance company, he has strong opinions about U. S. health policy. In November, he was working to arrange a trip to Washington, D. C., to share his views with a bipartisan group in Congress on protecting uninsured patients from pricegouging and reducing uncompensated care.

“When you go to a hospital, there’s one price for Humana, another price for Aetna,” and the highest prices are charged to the uninsured, he says. “When the demand is outrageous, there’s no choice but bankruptcy.”

Patel says his solution is to require that uninsured patients be charged no more than the lowest insured prices for the same procedures. “It’s so simple that people will not accept it,” he says.

The Elementary School

In November, Patel pledged $2.5 million for a new early-learning center, gym and computers at Hillsborough County’s Shaw Elementary School. The school, which is in a low-income neighborhood, has a large percentage of students in the free or reduced price lunch program.

Patel says poor children should have the same chance for success as children who attend top-notch private schools. (Patel sent his children to Tampa’s Berkeley Preparatory School, a private pre-K-12 school where annual tuition costs more than $20,000.)

“Politicians, every political cycle, talk about doing something for the underprivileged,” he says. “But in the last 25-30 years, I have not seen a change. The situation more or less remains the same.”

The pledge was just the latest in a philanthropic record that has seen the Patels give more than $240 million over the years to support various causes in Florida.

Patel’s earliest philanthropic efforts focused on cultivating Indian culture in Tampa. In the late 1980s, he helped pay for a new Hindu temple and cultural center.

These days, Kiran and Pallavi Patel primarily give to education and health care initiatives in Florida, India and Zambia. In 2005, the couple raised more than $2 million to help rebuild an Indian village that had been destroyed by a tsunami. That same year, they gave $18.5 million to USF to establish the Patel Center for Global Solutions, a research center focused on solving developing-world problems in sustainable ways.

“They were less interested in building a think tank and much more interested in building a ‘do’ tank,” says Ralph Wilcox, provost and executive vice president at USF. “I probably have not met another couple who cares as much about improving the human condition around the world” as they do. In 2012, the Patels gave USF an additional $12 million to elevate the center to the Patel College of Global Sustainability.

Other recipients of the Patels’ generosity have included the Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida Hospital Pepin Heart Institute and Florida Hospital Carrollwood, which recently got $5 million to expand its emergency department.

Patel also supports other entrepreneurs. He’s founding chairman of the Tampa chapter of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs), a non-profit that promotes entrepreneurship. In 2016, he gave TiE Tampa $1 million toward a new $2-million angel investment fund.

He declines to divulge his net worth or what percentage he gives to charity. “There are no set rules, except to earn and spend ethically,” he says.

Tags: Floridian of the Year

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