Raju Chinthala has played an integral role in Indiana’s business and economic development, but his journey had an unlikely beginning. Raju was born in Tekula Somaram, Telangana, India, in 1967. His father was a dairy and poultry farmer as well as a teacher in their rural community of less than 1,000 people.
“As a child I had a very good experience, in the sense that we were a kind of middle-class family in the town,” said Raju.
At that time in the area, even having shoes was considered a luxury.
Education was strongly emphasized in Raju’s household. Despite being an uneducated field worker who married at only 12 years old, Raju’s grandmother stressed the importance of education in the family.
“My grandma was a role model,” said Raju. “She planted the seeds in our family of education, even though she cannot write and read. If my dad would not have gotten an education, if she would have put him to work, then all our family would still continue to be in the same village doing just the farming work. If she had not given that education to my father, I would not be where I am today.”
Raju now has master’s degrees in Speech and Hearing and Business Administration.
“As a student and child living in India, I never had any plans to leave India,” he said. “But when the job opportunity came, I just interviewed, not expecting anything.”
The job opportunity Raju referred to was a fellowship position in Michigan. When he interviewed but did not hear back, Raju assumed he was not hired and began practicing speech therapy at a private clinic. Then one night at 12:30 a.m., his uncle came to his house and told Raju he had a phone call. Nine months after the interview, he has gotten the job. Raju then had to decide whether to stay with his current practice or start fresh on the other side of the globe.
And so it was that in 1994, Raju moved to Michigan and began his fellowship in geriatric speech therapy. In 1995, he married his wife, Prasanna, also a physician. She planned to attend medical school, and the couple relocated to Indiana in 1996. Raju got a job in Kokomo and built a life in Indiana.
“When I came here, I didn’t know anybody,” he said. “We grew into a big community here. We [became] Hoosiers.”
For the first few years in the United States, Raju mostly focused on his job. This changed, however, when he got his green card in 2000. With the security of his new status, Raju decided to become more involved.
In 2006, Raju became the president of the Greater Indianapolis Telugu Association, a group formed around the Telugu language of South-Central India. The following year, he became president of the India Association of Indianapolis. When Raju started the Indiana India Business Council in 2016, he also became more actively involved in economic development efforts. The council attracts companies to Indianapolis, which has resulted in the creation of 3,500 jobs in Indiana in the last two years. Many Indiana-based businesses now also do business in India.
“We are the bridge between Indiana and India,” said Raju. “When I look at the bridge, it’s a two-lane bridge, not one way. So we don’t only expect Indian companies [to come] to Indiana to create jobs, but we also expect Indiana companies [to go] to India to create jobs there.”
Raju officially left the health field after 25 years in April 2018 and began doing financial work full time as the senior advisor for India for the state of Indiana.
“I tell people [that] what I was doing as a passion and volunteer for 10 years or more … [is now] a paid job, full time. I really love it,” said Raju.
In addition to his roles with the state and with businesses, Raju also serves on four boards for organizations in Carmel, where he lives with his wife and son.
Raju received the Sagamore of the Wabash Award from Gov. Eric Holcomb in 2017 and Gov. Mike Pence in 2015. He received these awards as a personal tribute for rendering distinguished service to the state and governor of Indiana. It is the highest honor bestowed by the governor.
“I’m not a person who can watch movies at home,” admitted Raju. “I’m not a person who can sit on the couch and … not do anything. If I want to see the change somewhere, I’d rather be part of the change than expecting someone else to do it.”
All these years later, Raju’s greatest inspiration still comes from his grandmother, even though she has since passed away. He lives by her example and works to improve his family and community.
“She taught me so much,” said Raju. “That one life can change many lives.”