Master of his own destiny
Vivek Ranadive, Chairman and CEO, Tibco Software shares
his experience of achieving his entrepreneurial dream with Priya Jain.
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 dont want to work for somebody else and be a master of
my own destiny.
There wasnt 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 quarters 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 dont 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 thats been his lifes workto create a layer of software
that ties applications and systems together, in real-time. After Fortune he
started a company in the mid 80s, 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 dont 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 daughters 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
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 doesnt have high-minded theories but is actionable.
It is a natural sequel to his New York Times business bestseller The Power