Kuhan Pathy Makes a Difference with the Path Least Taken
Achieved straight A1s in the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) examination. Received the Chancellor Award from Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP). Co-founded social enterprise Masala Wheels. Seconded by PETRONAS to the Prime Minister's Department as Director of Policy, Planning and Research.
Kuhan Pathy’s long list of achievements shows his drive to not just succeed in education and career, but to also make a difference in the community and nation-building.
Kuhan comes from a family that emphasises education. His father is a teacher and his mother is a retired nurse. Besides scoring straight A1s in SPM, Kuhan was also head prefect of SMK Taman Bukit Maluri in Kuala Lumpur.
He went on to study chemical engineering at UTP on a full scholarship. Although Kuhan dreamt of working offshore in the oil and gas industry, UTP didn’t offer petroleum engineering when he started his foundation studies in 2006. He majored in the subject in his final year in 2011.
Kuhan appreciates his years at UTP for its impact on his personal development. He lived on campus so that he could easily participate in the university’s activities. “What I loved about UTP was that it wasn’t just about academics. There were other things that helped shape me. I was the first student to be sent to the US on a student exchange programme.”
Among the highlights of his UTP life was a six-months exchange programme at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. Within that short time, he managed to publish a general paper with one of the university’s professors and capped the experience with a CGPA 4.0.
Don’t Follow What People Do, Do What People Don’t Do
One thing that guides Kuhan in his actions and life is to take the path less travelled. To break away from conventions, he believes in bringing people who share the same vision together. Walking together — not alone — will help them achieve their goals.
When he joined UTP, Kuhan discovered that the university had an Engineering Design Competition, traditionally entered by final year students or post-graduates. That didn’t stop Kuhan from entering the competition as a first-year student. He gathered a team to work on Project Cheat Buster to detect phone messages and calls sent and received during exams.
The project ended up winning seven awards and went on to national- and international-level competitions. Kuhan’s team paved the way for juniors to make a difference from their first year in university.
Going the Extra Mile
Besides breaking conventions, Kuhan believes in putting in extra effort in everything he does. Upon graduating from UTP in 2011, he joined the PETRONAS All Rounded Drilling (ARD) programme. Trainees received intensive technical competency classroom and simulator training. They were also exposed to different rigs.
Looking back on those years with pride, Kuhan says, “I would stay up all night to watch the blowout preventer (BOP) running at the moon pool, and see how the bottom hole assembly (BHA) casing was made on the rig floor. Spending more than 12 hours outside the cabin was the norm for me. I even gave up my shore leave to go for more offshore hitches.”
Kuhan graduated from the programme in less than two years instead of the usual three. One year later, he earned a full-time role as drilling supervisor in a semi-submersible.
“Your academic qualification is a foundation to pursue your career,” Kuhan stresses. “If you want to explore beyond your degree background, you need to put in that extra effort.”
After nine years in the oil & gas industry, Kuhan qualified as a professional engineer (Ir.) registered with the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM). He received this accreditation while drilling his tenth deepwater well with PETRONAS.
The Spirit of Volunteerism
The public may have heard of Kuhan through Masala Wheels, the award-winning social enterprise food truck that provides F&B training and job opportunities to at-risk youths while feeding and empowering marginalised communities. It was set up in 2015 when Kuhan got together with a few professionals to develop a sustainable business model that could channel income back to the employees and society. Before Masala Wheels, he volunteered for Teach for Malaysia while waiting for a job offer after university. Subsequently, he taught programming as a volunteer with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
The roots of Kuhan’s social work goes back to his UTP days. “I served in the Residential College support unit and had the opportunity to do volunteering work and social innovation. That was the starting point.”
After Kuhan started working, he continued doing charity work with his friends using their own money. He soon realised it was not sustainable. “We had a friend who was involved in gangsterism, even back in school. That prompted us to look for a sustainable solution for people like him. We believe in aid with dignity and use food as a platform to empower marginalised communities with entrepreneurial initiatives and digital transformation.”
The organisation has expanded to include catering services and a banana leaf café in Petaling Jaya. Masala Wheels also runs a tech-enabled cloud kitchen and commission-free platform that support F&B micro-entrepreneurs. Over the last five years, Masala Wheels has impacted the lives of 350 people and generated around RM3.5 million. Kuhan was even invited by US President Barack Obama to share about sustainable business models for marginalised communities at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit.
Moving forward, Kuhan and Masala Wheels’ three other directors are exiting the organisation and handing it over to three employees with the leadership qualities needed to help more people.
Making a Change Through Public Policies
Kuhan is a strong advocate of civic participation in public policy formulation and implementation. He was seconded by PETRONAS to the Prime Minister’s Department from 2017 to 2018 to advise the government on corporate restructuring for the newly established Policy, Planning and Research office. The unit focused on strategic planning of socioeconomic development programmes.
Throughout his life, whether as a student, volunteer, engineering professional or social entrepreneur, Kuhan is guided by his North Star — adding value to the community. This aligns with PETRONAS’ statement of purpose: A progressive energy and solutions partner, enriching lives for a sustainable future. We look forward to following Kuhan’s future ventures and wish him all the best in the path least taken.