Sunny Varkey Wiki, Age, Wife, Family, Biography & More

Sunny Varkey


Sunny Varkey is an Indian-born Dubai-based entrepreneur, philanthropist, and educationist who is the founder of Global Education Management Systems (GEMS), the world’s largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools.


Sunny Varkey was born in 1957 (age 67 years; as of 2023) in Ranni, Kerala, India. Sunny’s parents shifted to Dubai when he was two years old. In 1981, Sunny was sent to India, where he enrolled at the Infant Jesus Anglo-Indian Boys’ School in Kollam, Kerala. Thereafter, he enrolled at J. M. J. Catholic Boarding School in Mumbai. He later went back to Dubai, where he enrolled at St. Mary’s Catholic High School and cleared his O levels examination following which he enrolled at the Bembridge School in the United Kingdom, where he pursued his A levels for a year. In an interview, Sunny said that since Dubai back then had no schools for A-level education, many students from UAE went to the UK. Talking about it, he said,

After I passed my O levels, my parents decided to send me to the UK to complete my A levels at Bembridge College in the Isle of Wight. Many students from the UAE used to go there to complete their studies, as there was no higher education available in Dubai at the time.”

Later, he came back to Dubai and completed the A-levels at the British Council.

Physical Appearance

Height (approx.): 5′ 10″

Hair Colour: Salt and Pepper

Eye Colour: Dark Brown

A photo of Sunny Varkey with UNESCO’s Director-General Audrey Azoulay


Sunny Varkey was born into a Syrian Christian family in Kerala.

Parents & Siblings

His father K. S. Varkey (deceased) was a banker and educationist. His mother Mariamma Varkey (deceased) was an educationist. His sister, Susan Mathews, is an educationist.

A picture of Sunny Varkey’s parents

Wife & Children

Sunny Varkey is married to Shirley Varkey, who works in GEMS Education.

Sunny Varkey with his wife Shirley Varkey

His son, Jay Varkey, is the Group Executive Director at GEMS Education. His other son, Dino Varkey, is the CEO of GEMS Education.

Jay Varkey with his father Sunny Varkey

A photo of Sunny Varkey with his son Dino Varkey


Sunny Varkey follows Christianity.


Signature of Sunny Varkey



After completing his formal education, Sunny joined the Standard Chartered Bank’s Al Shamal branch in Dubai. In an interview, Sunny said that he decided to become a banker rather than help his parents run Our Own English High School, established in Dubai in 1968, as he believed that his way of running the school would lead to clashes with his parents. After working for a few years in the bank, he tendered his resignation as the pay scale of the bank was low and was not enough for Sunny to save money and establish his business. While giving an interview, Sunny said,

I was preparing some accounts and saw, quite by accident, that my manager, who had worked with the bank for 22 years, earned a salary of Dh6,000 a month. I was shocked, and calculated that even with subsequent payrises for maybe ten years, I would never be able to earn even Dh10,000 a month. I decided right away to quit and start my own business.”


After quitting his job as a banker, Sunny Varkey started a maintenance company named Chicago Maintenance Company in 1978. Sunny said that he decided to give a Western name to the company to attract business from Western companies. In 1979, he founded a trading company named J.M.J. Trading. In 1980, he along with a partner opened a hotel named The Dubai Plaza, which was later renamed Rydges Plaza Dubai. In the same year, Varkey took over the control of Our Own English High School from his parents after the Dubai Municipality wrote a letter to his parents, asking them to construct a proper infrastructure to continue teaching. Thereafter, Sunny appointed Qassim Sultan, the then-director of Dubai Municipality, as the school’s patron and bought a piece of land to construct some portacabins in which the classes resumed.

A photo of Our Own English High School taken in the 1980s

In 2000, Sunny established the GEMS Education Group and founded several schools under its flagship in the UAE. In 2003, Sunny acquired the Sherfield School in Hampshire, United Kingdom. Thereafter, he purchased ten more schools in Northern England. In 2004, the GEMS Education Group established several schools in India as well as in Pakistan. GEMS Education became a part of the World Economic Forum’s Global Growth Companies in June 2010. GEMS became the Clinton Global Initiative’s strategic partner in the same year. In 2011, he established a school in Nairobi, Kenya. In 2012, he founded two schools in Chicago. The schools functioning under GEMS Education provide education in International Baccalaureate (IB), Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), and Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE).


Sunny Varkey founded the Varkey GEMS Foundation (now known as Varkey Foundation) in 2010 with the intent of providing free-of-cost education to the poor and the needy. The foundation provides education to a hundred poor children for one child, who enrols in a school operated by GEMS. In collaboration with UNESCO and the Ministry of Education of UAE, Varkey Foundation initiated an annual Global Education and Skills Forum in 2013. Thereafter, the foundation started a program named MGCubed – Making Ghana Girls Great to provide quality education to underprivileged girl children. The Varkey Foundation has worked in close conjecture with many international NGOs including UNICEF, the Clinton Global Initiative, Oxfam, Pratham, Dubai Cares, and the Brookings Institution.

Awards & Honours

  • Global Indian Business Award (2007)
  • CEO Middle East Award in the Corporate Social Responsibility category (2007)
  • Outstanding Asian Businessman of the Year (2007)
  • Rajiv Gandhi Award for Eminent Educationist (2008)
  • India’s fourth-highest civilian award, Padma Shri (2009)
  • Public Recognition Award from the Government of Russia (2011)
  • Award of Distinction by the UAE government (2011)
  • Middle East Excellence CEO of the Year in the Knowledge Development and Education Partnership category (2012)
  • Education Business Leader of the Year Award by Gulf Business Industry (2012)
  • Honorary Doctorate by Heriot-Watt University (2012)

    A picture of Sunny Varkey receiving the Honorary degree

  • Arabian Business Achievement Award (2017)

    Sunny Varkey holding the Arabian Business Achievement Award

  • Entrepreneur of the Year by The Asian Awards (2018)

Net Worth

On 28 March 2023, his net worth was estimated to be $3 billion.

A screenshot of Sunny Varkey’s net worth


  • In 2012, he was appointed as the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador.

    Sunny Varkey holding the certificate that he received after becoming the UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador

  • In the same year, Sunny Varkey was featured on the cover of Global Citizen Magazine.

    The cover page of the Global Citizen Magazine

  • In 2018, Sunny donated $1.4 million to Kerala Aid Fund.
  • Sunny Varkey’s favourite quote is “I don’t believe in giving up even when I hit a hard wall.”
  • Sunny Varkey used to sell fruits when he was studying in Kerala. While giving an interview, he said,

    I started to sell fruits on the streets in Kerala, just to make more money. I had always dreamt of becoming a businessman, since childhood it was my dream.”