His grandfather’s family farmed mangoes, rice, and sugarcane in India. One day, seeking more opportunity, the patriarch paid 25 cents to sail in a steamer’s hull to Malawi, the tiny East African nation where Dharmendra Rama was born. The family lived in the back of their little store that sold Cokes, candies, and bicycles.
“I’m still afraid of snakes to this day because of the amount of snakes my mom and I saw,” says Rama, who goes by “DJ” now and also remembers his parents, years later, cleaning hotel rooms that ultimately led to Auro Hotels, a sprawling hospitality empire.
Today, he serves as president and CEO of this company that operates and manages some 6,000 hotel rooms—and gives back to Greenville, receiving the Community Foundation’s 2019 Charitable Giving Award for Philanthropic Spirit.
“In life, you learn how to live under a hut, and you can also live in a modest one, but never forget where you came from,” Rama says in Auro’s gleaming conference room on the fourth floor with a spectacular 180-degree view.
That’s a long way from the Sunset Motel in Pomona, California, where the family business began in 1973.
“The key in life is we all receive help along the way. Somebody’s helped us, too, and from humble beginnings,” he says, noting that their philanthropy tackles poverty and education.
Auro’s One program donates one percent of its profits, one percent of hotel rooms, and one percent of employee hours—that is, paying employees for volunteer work. Here’s 2018. Cash: $250,000 to local charities and $500,000 toward the Auro Bridge in Unity Park, as well as $1,000,001 to scholarships. Hours: More than 3,000 to the likes of Habitat for Humanity and Mission Backpack. Rooms donated: 439.
“When tragedy strikes, sometimes we’re able to help out with accommodations, guests who didn’t really plan to be in the situation they were in,” says Heather Bruce, Rama’s executive assistant and a 22-year employee.
She also helps with Mission Backpack, a First Baptist Greenville program that works in conjunction with Greenville County Schools.
“Auro Hotels gives back through its unique resources to better the welfare of our community and to help others prosper. It’s with great pleasure that we’re able to recognize Mr. Rama and the local contributions of his organization.”
—Howard Einstein, division manager, Marsh & McLennan Agency
“We have been very fortunate to have people like Mr. Rama to provide backpacks with weekend meals and snacks for our students who might otherwise be hungry,” says Bernice Jackson, principal at Brook Glenn Elementary School. “When one child receives a backpack, it opens the door for others to ask for help.”
Rama echoes that same sentiment when he mentions the Sanskrit mantra, atithi devo bhava—“a guest is God.”
“At the end of the day, you remember it all depends on what your purpose of life is, and mine is basically serving others and being a humble servant-leader and helping my organization to enable them to do what they do.”
Regarding Auro Hotels’ recognition, he says, “We’re looking forward to celebrating the award with our people, and hopefully this inspires the people within our organization to keep doing better. We have 3,000 families in our company, and we’re helping each other to make their family a better day tomorrow than today.”