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12 March 2007  
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Home - Technology Life - Article

Hot Seat

Master of his own destiny

Vivek Ranadive, Chairman and CEO, Tibco Software shares his experience of achieving his entrepreneurial dream with Priya Jain.

Yes, Vivek Ranadive, Chairman and CEO, Tibco Software, is the mastermind who digitised the Wall Street, but not many know how he defined his own destiny. His journey for excellence showcases his firmness of mind to become a leading entrepreneur.

A legacy of excellence

Ranadive grew up in Juhu area of Mumbai and was the youngest of three children. He was fairly mischievous as a child and always getting into trouble. He studied in Bombay International. Ranadive says, “My grandmother had instituted an award at school called the Ranadive Award, which was given to the graduate who topped every year. In my family the bar of excellence was set very high and being a Ranadive, we were expected to get a Ranadive Award and graduate first in the class.”

Ranadive was nurtured to be competitive and to excel. His grandmother would get all the cousins together on Diwali and would hold competitions in elocution, debate, and mathematics. There was always a competitive fire in him. He loved sports, but when he grew up, he was physically smaller to other guys in his class but he still managed to excel. At a very early age it was drilled into him that ‘I don’t want to work for somebody else and be a master of my own destiny’.

There wasn’t really an entrepreneurial tradition in his family, but there was a tradition of high achievement, of public service and serving the community. One day he saw a documentary on MIT and was so impressed that it became his dream to study at MIT. In those days the rupee was not convertible so it was very difficult to get foreign exchange, especially for undergraduate studies. Ranadive reminisces, “I actually talked my way into the office of RBI. I was 16 years old at that time. I requested them that I should be allowed to get some foreign exchange so that I could go to MIT. After all the effort, I showed up on the shores of America (Boston) with one quarter’s tuition paid for because of the foreign exchange restriction and less than a $100 in my pocket. Since then I have been on my own.”

An entrepreneur is born

The thing that defines me as an Indian is my deep respect and appreciation for people and the gentleness with which we deal with them

When he was still in college at MIT, he started his own company. Ranadive mentions, “I would check the newspaper everyday to see if small companies were looking to hire programmers. I used to call those companies and advise them that instead of hiring programmers why don’t they let me and some MIT students do the project that they are trying to accomplish.” He tried to convince them by saying that by doing this they do not have to recruit a full-time person and they get MIT people to do their work.

Some people actually agreed and then he started hiring MIT students, at x and selling them at x+delta. This was a nice little business and helped him to pay his bills at MIT. After MIT he worked for a couple of years and then he went to Harvard Business School. “I still had the entrepreneurial bug in me, while I was in Harvard Business School. And there I was in California looking at starting a company when my friend convinced me to talk to the founder of Fortune Systems. At that time the company was making the first commercially available Unix computers. May be my company was not going to happen so soon. The founder of Fortune Systems was successful in convincing me to work for him while I was still in Harvard Business School,” says Ranadive.

Ranadive spent weekends at Fortune Systems in California and came back to do his studies at Harvard. He was very busy, but tried to do his best in studies. After he completed his graduation he joined Fortune as a full-time employee and moved to California.

“While I was in California I hit upon an idea that I pursued for almost my entire life. I was a hardware engineer by training and I found that we were able to build the hardware in time and budget, but the software never seems to get there. I came up with the notion to do software like hardware is done. If you look at a PC there is a bus and you plug cords into it and so the idea that I had, was to have a software bus and plug applications into it and make it a real-time bus,” says Ranadive.

So that’s been his life’s work—to create a layer of software that ties applications and systems together, in real-time. After Fortune he started a company in the mid 80’s, back then the PC bubble had just burst and so his timing was good. Unfortunately as he was new, young and not experienced, no venture capitalist was ready to invest in him. Moreover, he had got married and just had a new born baby so it was risky or gutsy to quit his job. But he had made up his mind and decided to take the risk and reach his ambition come what may. For the time being, he did some consulting to pay the bills.

Finally he found a person who had made a fortune, by finding people like Ranadive who wanted help. This man invested in people but his investment style was not to give a lot of money to build a product but to loan a little money and find customers who would invest in building the product. Ranadive adds, “If I succeeded he would have a big chunk of the company and I did not have to pay the loan back. And if I don’t succeed then I could walk away without any debt.” He took that offer and the first contract he got was from Goldman Sachs in 1986.

A smart team

This was the beginning of his success as an entrepreneur. His first product was a trading workstation for tra-ders. All through his career as a CIO, he has always set the bar very high. He always says to his employees that they are smarter than him, so the bar should be even higher.

“In my workplace I also built a reputation of hiring the best people, and then treating them like stars. In his previous company Teknekron Software Systems, I had promised all the employees that if they achieve the set targets I will the take all the employees and their spouses to Hawaii. The employees also included the people who answer the phone and those who clean bathrooms. The employees responded by more that doubling that target,” says Ranadive.

His principles in life are— to surround himself with people who are a lot smarter than him. Many of his colleagues are people who have studied with him in Harvard Business School and MIT. The other principle was to focus on the customer and listen to what they say. And to never ever give up.

“I like to achieve excellence. I like to be surrounded by good people. The thing that defines me as an Indian is my deep respect and appreciation for people and the gentleness with which we deal with them. The second thing is the spirit of overcoming any obstacles to get to the endpoint. And to do it always with a smile,” says Ranadive.

He loves to play golf, tennis, to bike and hike. Last few years he has been coaching his daughter’s basketball team which has given him a lot of pleasure. “As I am very competitive, I first got the best players of girls from the 7th and 8th grade. I had four girls in my teams, who are 6- feet tall. I got an assistant coach who was a professional player (again somebody smarter than me). I trained them in a very aggressive style to make my girls the fittest. And we ended up being one of the top teams in the entire country,” says Ranadive. The real fact is that he has never played basketball, but by applying the same principles he was successful in making his daughter happy.

One of his customers, who ran a European bank, advised Ranadive to put all his experiences in a book, to make people learn from them. He asked Ranadive to make it a Monday morning book, so that on a Monday morning, entrepreneurs know what to do. This idea pulled out the recently published book called The Power to Predict which doesn’t have high-minded theories but is actionable. It is a natural sequel to his New York Times business bestseller The Power of Now.


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