Healthy Ideas Spark Prosperous Career for Mannu – How to transform adversity into success

WORDS: Jason Oxenbridge PHOTOGRAPHY Brian Usher - [email protected]

Mannu Kala arrived in Australia from Kashmir 15 years ago with $480 in his pocket and big dreams. Landing on our sunny shores by default, it was a case of choosing a university that offered the cheapest degree.

But in a terrifying twist while working the graveyard shift at a BP servo to fund his studies, he was held up at gunpoint. While that harrowing experience would send most people packing, it wasn’t going to rob Mannu of his aspirations.

He and his family had experienced adversity and hardship in war-torn Kashmir – a stunning mountainous region in the Himalayan region haunted by years of conflict between India and Pakistan.

“I had to pay my university fees and was working nights at the BP. One of my managers told me that he had been there for 15 years. I couldn’t cop that, I found it difficult to process and unacceptable,” he says.

“As an international student who wanted to work hard to help my family back in Kashmir, I knew something had to change. I was not content with the notion that you do a degree to accrue debt, find a job and then buy a property.

“The international student dream isn’t really about creating more jobs, but you challenge the status quo when you become an entrepreneur.”

A determined Mannu stayed the course and completed a degree at Griffith University with a Masters in Journalism and Mass Communications.

The healthcare tycoon now employs hundreds of staff at his KnG Healthcare company – an innovative staffing solutions powerhouse.

He arose, phoenix-like, from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic to create Covax Australia, the company he co-founded in 2020 to provide testing services, PPE and medical supplies, supporting aged care facilities during outbreaks. Service contracts were later secured at commercial laundries and the hospitality industry post-lockdowns.

The business evolved and was restructured in 2023 as KnG Healthcare, co-founded by Dr Anuj Gupta. Comprising diverse healthcare-related companies including tech, education, accommodation, security, and home care, the business has a focus on sourcing and providing staff across these sectors.

Mannu says people power is the biggest challenge facing the healthcare industry with high demand putting an already stressed industry under pressure.

“The biggest challenge is that we do not have enough humans to look after each other. We are seeing a trend in the health sector where there are not enough trained people to look after people who need care. It’s a human resource and a capability issue,” he says.

KnG opened the Southport low acuity medical accommodation at Sea World Resort in May 2023. It was designed to provide 24 beds for patients in need of transitional care. The initiative has provided alternate care for 2000 patient bed days in hospitals in the last six months.

“The SeaWorld medi-hotel was the first of its kind and very innovative,” he says.

It’s this kind of agility and ability to flex problem-solving muscle that has served Mannu and his team well.

“I believe in my team and the processes,” he says.

“I don’t like people working for me but working with me. I generally want to be the dumbest guy in the room. It’s how we solve these issues by having so many smart people around.

“The most satisfaction happens when a rogue idea I might have comes to life and creates hundreds of jobs. It’s a feeling that brings me immense happiness. No amount of money can buy that feeling. The best part is the people who believe in you get to join you on the journey and they benefit too.”

While Mannu is reluctant to talk about the trappings of success financially – parking the glistening white Rolls Royce for just a moment – he credits his family and strong Sikh faith as foundations to innovate and to lead.

“I come from a very humble family. My parents wanted to see me grow as a person. They didn’t care how much money I made or how successful I was in business. My dad sees me as a better person, rather than a successful businessman. That is very valuable to me. What kind of human being are you? That’s what’s most important,” he says.

“It’s not about making more money but solving more problems. I try to find the biggest problem I can find and solve it in the most efficient way, and in a way that also lends prosperity to humankind.”

In 2023 Mannu was acknowledged with a second successive Young Entrepreneur of the Year award on the Gold Coast. And while he’s chuffed with the achievements to date, he’s really just getting started.

Future growth opportunities include establishing more medi-hotels, expanding into various sectors through the KnG Group, and ‘setting new standards for excellence’.

“We are working with the Queensland Government to do more projects in the health sector. They are projects that will support the state,” he says.

“Australia and the Gold Coast are beautiful places to do business. You choose a lifestyle and people take you at face value. If they say something they often mean it. But I don’t take anything for granted.”

When asked about advice for budding entrepreneurs, the 39-year-old is typically philosophical.

“What drives me is people. I like putting together a house of cards and to build ideas with them,” he says.

“The worst career advice you can get is from people who love you. They give you an easy way out. I always said to my dad, don’t give me career advice, but rather life advice. It’s the advice that has helped me to become a better person.”