The Rich Quartet

Updated: Sep 30 2007, 06:16am hrs
For the first time at least a billion dollars was required to get into the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. And four individuals with India connections made it to the list Bharat Desai, Amar G Bose, Vinod Khosla and K Ram Shriram. The Financial Express takes a closer look at what made them make the cut

Bharat Desai, CEO, Syntel Inc

As far as hurdles go, every successful businessman has a different story to tell even in the land of opportunities. For Bharat Desai, it was getting accepted as a foreign professional. Because, business was typically run by people who have been in the US and run by an old-boy network which was difficult to break into. He recalls that they couldnt even pronounce his name. But 27 years later, the biggest acknowledgement of being in the Forbes 400 is a great feeling to be among the top achievers in the business world in America which is the most thriving and competitive environment in the world, says he. Today, Syntel has 500 employees in the US and about 10,000 in three centres in India Mumbai, Pune and Chennai, which he set up in 1992.

But the trudge has been long. After graduating with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from IIT Bombay in 1975, Desai worked for TCS for about three years. Incidentally, that batch of graduates are reckoned to have the most successful entrepreneurs and millionaires than all the IIT batches.

Moving to the US, Desai enrolled in a MBA programme in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. The idea of doing business was always there at the back of his mind, according to him. He started Syntel before completing his MBA along with his wife Neerja Sethi (whom he worked with while in TCS). Why the business he is in I thought of other businesses. But having majored in electrical engineering, I had a sense that computers were getting more and more powerful. I started with local staffing amd moved to national staffing and then to solutions to global outsourcing, he explains. Today, Syntel is rated as one of the top 10 companies in its space by global consultancy Gartner. In fact, we are ahead of majors like CSC. CapGemini, HP and we are proud of it, quips Desai. So what is Syntels competitive advantage It is the spirit of innovation, and having customers for life.

While declining to name his clients (owing to a non-disclosure clause), all he alluded to was: the most famous credit card company, most well-known investment banks in the world, the big three auto companies, best-known insurance companies, life sciences companies and of course a top overnight delivery company.

Every foreign investor has a bagful of woes to narrate on his experiences in doing business in India. Desai points to the early bureaucratic environment but is all praise for the cooperation and collaboration. People went out of their way to help us, he reminisces. Touche!

How would he describe himself A great family man, father and husband. An entrepreneur at heart who goes into unchartered territory, says Desai. To corroborate, he recalls organising the first ever cricket match between students of the Indian and European schools in Kenya, where he was born and grew up. And at the age of 10. Mind you, those were the days when there were segregated schools!

Desai says he enjoys doing yoga and running. But he also played bridge at the international competitive level. However, his favourite leisure activity is being with his family. Desai says he appreciates people who are honest and positive and he believes in positive energy, steering clear of negativity.

His professional goal is to get Syntel to a $5 billion market cap and to leave a legacy of a company that is truly respected by the best minds in the world. Desai says his personal life goal is to evolve as a person spiritually who has an impact on the world. For a man whose admitted passion is education and entrepreneurship, thats in sync with his current activity.

Every person, successful or otherwise, has heroes. For me in the early years it was Sam Walson and Bill Gates, whom one looked up to. But Mahatma Gandhi remains the all-time ideal leader. You are humbled by what he has accomplished and that too through his non-violent means, Desai submits.

Satya Naagesh Ayyagary

K Ram Shriram, Google director

Google Incs founding board member K Ram Shriram shares the 271st place with fellow Indian Amar G Bose on the Forbes list of richest Americans this year. Both of them have a net worth of $1.8 billion each. Last year, the two Indians shared the 242nd position. Their rank may have gone down, but their net worth has gone up from $1.5 billion.

After selling more than 3 million Google shares over the last three years, Shriram still owns 1.7 million shares. He is also a founding board member of 247customers.com and Frontline Wireless, and sits on the boards of Plaxo, Zazzle.com and PodShow. He is also on the advisory board of classified online site Naukri.com.

He started his venture firm Sherapalo in January 2000, which is known for its big interest in Indian and US tech firms. Ram Shriram started Sherpalo with the goal of applying his wealth of operating and company building experience to promising early-stage ventures, says the company website.

It adds, A hallmark of Rams success is the ability to create the right DNA for a young growth company with a focus on revenue and profitability, by establishing a virtuous cycle of talented employees/owners and happy customers/users.

Over the last 25 years, Shriram has served in small and big companies at various levels, raising venture capital and recruiting top management. He is known for stressing on hiring the best people for top jobs so that they in turn again hire the best professionals. His logic hiring the second best at the top leads to attracting mediocre staff down the line.

Says Sandeep Murthy, a partner at Sherpalo Ventures, Ram is a hands-on guy. He gets fully involved in all the work he undertakes. He cares a lot about the companies he invests in.

His success also lies in figuring out the right product mix and coming out with customised and successful business models and partnerships. He has been called a top tech dealmaker by the Forbes and Business 2.0 magazines for his engagement with the venture capital industry and the Silicon Valley.

Shriram shot into limelight by joining the executive team of Netscape in 1994, founding online shopping comparison property Junglee, selling it to Amazon in 1998, and assisting company founder and CEO Jeff Bezos to scale greater heights. He is always in the thick of action. Earlier this year, eBay bought his classified site StumbleUpon.com.

Clearly he has come a long way from the University of Madras where he graduated, following it up with an MBA from the University of Michigan. He is married with two children.

Rajiv Tikoo

Amar Bose, Bose Corp founder

If there is a common sound that connects the globe from NASA space shuttles to Olympic games, it comes from Bose Corporation. Headquartered in Framingham, Massachusetts, Bose Corporation offers state-of-the-art home theatre systems, iPod sound docks, and stereo, computer, outdoor and marine speakers, notching up annual sales of $2 billion globally.

Little wonder then that founder Amar G Bose has a net worth of $1.8 billion from his 60% stake. He shares the 271st spot with Google director K Ram Shriram on the Forbes list of the richest Americans this year. His is a typical immigrant success story. The son of an Indian freedom fighter who left the country in the 1920s to avoid British persecution, he repaired radios while at high school to supplement the family income. This was when World War II hit his fathers import business in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Subsequently, he went as a work-study student to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He wrote a mathematical treatise on non-linear systems to complete a doctorate in electrical engineering there and later on became an assistant professor at MIT, researching hi-fi sound and inventing a stereo loudspeaker.

While at MIT, he set up his business in 1964 with an initial stake of $70,000. He named it Bose Corporation when it was not fashionable for Indian immigrants to name businesses after themselves. It was not easy to raise money. His MIT thesis advisor and professor, Dr Y W Lee invested all his savings in the initaitive.

Bose holds patents for loud speaker designs as well as non-linear, two-state modulated, Class-D power processing, which are USPs of the company. Today, his 10,000 employees manufacture and sell audio products for domestic, automobiles and professional use. The company also conducts basic research in diverse areas like acoustics and automotive systems. In a breakthrough knowledge-bridging initiative, the companys R&D department researched for more than 20 years to use loudspeaker amplification and switching technologies to design automotive suspension systems for a smooth ride over bumpy roads. He himself worked overtime to lead the research upfront.

Son Vanu has also inherited his fathers passion for innovation. He has set up Vanu Inc for providing wireless infrastructure for simultaneous operation of GSM, CDMA and iDEN. Daughter Maiya is a chiropractor. It makes sense to be on their own, considering that dad intends to give away his assets for research. Also leaving him without worries to play badminton in his spare time.

RT

Vinod Khosla, Venture capitalist

It is an adage that behind every successful entrepreneur is a history of failures. Well, Vinod Khosla may not have a history of failures. But his failure as an entrepreneur at 20 definitely egged him on to try harder. In the last decade and more the name Vinod Khosla has become synonymous with venture capitalist and angel investor.

Another adage is of contiguity of a lineage. Say, an Army officers son would turn out to be another soldier. A doctors child would produce a clone. And, a businessmans son, another tycoon and the list goes on. Khosla, on the other hand, grew up dreaming of becoming an entrepreneur though he grew up in an Army household with no business or technology connections. Interestingly, he did not have the advantage or disadvantage depending on ones perspective of a past. Moreover, it is difficult to track and pinpoint what triggers someone to dream about becoming an entrepreneur, especially in a country where business was looked down upon. Profit was a dirty word and being an army officer, a doctor or a civil servant was infinitely more respectable than being a businessman. But strangely Khosla, since the age of 16, dreamt of starting his own technology company when he first heard about Intel.

After graduating with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi, Khosla set off to be an entrepreneur. At the age of 20 he started a soy milk company to service the many people in India who did not have refrigerators. But his venture failed. After that Khosla went to the US and got his Masters in Biomedical Engineering at Carnegie-Mellon University. This was followed by an MBA from Stanford University in 1980 the result of chasing his startup dreams, which attracted him to the Silicon Valley.

Post Stanford, he was one of the three founders of Daisy Systems, which was the first significant computer-aided design system for electrical engineers. The company went on to earn significant revenues, profits and an IPO, but Khosla, driven by the frustration of having to design the computer hardware on which the Daisy software needed to be built, started the standards-based Sun Microsystems in 1982 to build workstations for software developers. At Sun he pioneered open systems and RISC processors. The company was funded by long-time friend and board member, John Doerr, of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).

In 1986 he switched sides and joined Kleiner Perkins where he was and continues to be a general partner of KPCB funds through KP X. There, through the years, with other partners, he took on Intels monopoly with Nexgen/AMD (the only microprocessor to have significant success against Intel, sold to AMD for 28% of AMD).

In 2004 Khosla, driven by the need for flexibility to accommodate four teenage children and a desire to be more experimental, to fund sometimes imprudent science experiments, and to take on both for profit and for social impact ventures, formed khoslaventures, funded entirely with family funds. His goals have remained the same work and learn from fun and knowledgeable entrepreneurs, build companies that have an impact through the leverage of innovation, and spend time as a partnership. He has a passion for nascent technologies that can have a beneficial effect and economic impact on society.

Passion is something that all successful entrepreneurs have. So what is Khoslas He likes being a mentor to entrepreneurs, helping them build technology-based businesses. Khosla is also on the board of a number of companies. This angel investor is a charter member of The Indus Entrepreneur, a not-for-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals founded in 1992 that now has more than 40 chapters in nine countries. He is also a founding board member of the Indian School of Business (ISB) based in Hyderabad. Apparently, his current passion is social entrepreneurship, with a special emphasis on microfinance as a poverty-alleviation tool. He is a supporter of many microfinance organisations in India and Africa and has been experimenting with global housing. Khosla is also passionate about alternative energy, petroleum independence, and the environmentbut then thats another story.

SNA

(Information for this profile was sourced from www.khoslaventures.com)