Venu Kotamraju’s story is a testament to the ability to find and create communities across cultures and borders. Born in Hyderabad, India, he came to the U.S. at age two so that his mother could pursue a medical residency in Baltimore, MD. Though Venu does not remember his time living in India, he does recall the community of recent immigrants his parents found in the States. They hosted parties where Venu could play with other Indian children, and the family maintained a cultural connection to their homeland.
At the same time, Venu had a thoroughly American childhood, having spent his formative years in California, where his family relocated when he was seven. He decided to attend UCLA as an undergraduate because it was close to home, and he has fond memories of meeting people in Sproul Hall and seeing the 1995 Men’s Basketball Championship game. However, he also advocated for greater representation of Indian culture on campus. As president of Indian Student Union, he worked for several years with then dean of social sciences—and current executive vice chancellor and provost—Scott Waugh to offer Hindi language classes. The inaugural classes were offered in the 1994-95 school year and, to Venu, were the first step in expanding the UCLA curriculum to offer classes related to South Asian studies.
As a student, Venu decided to pursue mechanical engineering—his father’s field—and economics so that he could attend business school. After working in management consulting at Deloitte, he was advised not to return to UCLA for graduate school but ultimately decided that he had just clicked with the school and wanted to return to the community that he loved, becoming a triple Bruin.
While at Anderson School of Management, Venu met Ana, another business student with her own cross-cultural experience, having lived in Manila till age 13. Venu and Ana connected and eventually married, and—though both emigrated from south Asia as children—Venu says their personal experiences were unique and distinct. Venu’s memory of Indian culture as a child comes from a community of immigrants, whereas Ana has a decade of memories in her homeland prior to coming to the States.
Venu and Ana were not married long before an illness in Ana’s family caused them to relocate to the Philippines. Venu began helping with the family business in what he thought would be a temporary position and quickly experienced a culture clash. While Venu had spent his entire life immersed in both Indian and U.S. cultures, business culture in the Philippines was new to him.
As time progressed, it became evident that Venu and Ana’s stay was going to be indefinite, and he eventually became comfortable in his new environment. He has been able to apply the systematic analytic process he developed studying mechanical engineering as well the foundational economic and business principles he learned at UCLA. He now serves as CEO of Ram Foods, one of the largest consumer goods manufacturing and distribution companies in the Philippines.
Now living in his third country, Venu didn’t want to lose his connection to UCLA and co-founded a local alumni network. The group maintains U.S.-style traditions like game watch parties at a sports bar called Skinny Mike’s in Bonifacio Global City, as well as UCLA traditions like Dinners for 12 Strangers. They also explore the wealth of natural beauty that the Philippines has to offer with events like the Welcome to the City hike at Masungi Georeserve. There, they enjoyed a view of Laguna de Bay—the biggest lake in the Philippines—from above using a large man-made web, unique limestone peaks and a cactus garden.
Venu and Anna are also donors to UCLA and they helped organize a UCLA Global Forum when Chancellor Gene Block and Vice Provost Cindy Fan traveled to Manila in 2016.
Born in India, raised in the U.S. and now the CEO of a corporation in Manila, Venu has known several homes, but he still says, “You never know where life will take you, but UCLA will always remain your home.”