Excerpts from the $8 Men Stories
Ravi Ravindranath (1947-2013)
Editor: Ravi rode the rapid succession of technology from adding machines to networks. He was a pioneer in outsourcing. And he is surely remembered for his music and the musical creations with Sandhya. [Story posthumously by Sandya Ravindranath.]
From his story: "Ravi continued to create music, .........We were young, we had good jobs, we were in California, and we had done everything we hoped to do. That mood continued. I was writing poetry all the time, and in a room in our house we had many musical instruments. Ravi didn’t know how to play all of them, like the sitar. Every time he went to India, it seemed, he brought some musical instrument back! We have a sitar, a tambura, a couple sets of Indian drums, a tabla, a bongo, and other drums. .......He would take my poetry and set it to a tune for me, and put in all the interludes and whatever it took to support the words. I would be inspired by the tune and moods, and I would add stanzas. I would start two lines, Ravi put them to music, ....... the song would evolve—my poetry and his music together. ......Ravi believed America was built by immigrants and still has great resources, and we should continue to be open to immigration until there is a problem of resources that will run out. May the abundance of resources in America never run out! I hope America will always be the land of opportunities for young people from all over the world, for they are the heroes—the heroes who go on their missions and pave new ways for others to follow!"
Editor: Kanwal defied the odds by getting an IIT education, acquiring a Masters at Michigan Tech, humbling himself earning money as a bus boy and night guard in Chicago, and absorbed hard lessons from jobs vanishing literally overnight.......He learned self-reliance ......and broadening his portfolio of skills necessary to go from entrepreneur to CEO. He became.......a life long teacher to emerging entrepreneurs through his founding of TiE
From his story: "I encourage professors to make their students self-reliant. Don’t focus them on a job. Get them to think about the basics and enhancing their skills. What is it that they need to do differently? What is not being done today? .......It is your own job to invest in yourself. You have to because it is a free market setup, where everyone is a CEO in his or her own life. You have to have a safety net because people who are laid off from jobs are the ones who are the least able to adapt to new jobs. You have to not depend upon a job or anyone for your livelihood. Everyone has to think in terms of “What is my next move?” In this valley, a marketing person from the nineties would find that marketing today has almost nothing to do with the skills you needed at that time. ........ It is the philosophical question of who is responsible to keep up the skills of the workforce. Either you have the Russian- and Chinese-style planned economies or you say you are free people and you must advance yourself........... TiE now has become self-perpetuating and it is a nice platform to volunteer for. ...........You acquire wisdom and knowledge over a long period. It is tested and if you share it freely and if it becomes absorbed and becomes a value for others, you haven’t lost a thing. ............ You can do everything right in life and in business and still fail—timing may be wrong or the competition changes. Even if one person succeeded because of my help, I am pleased. I can look at many people in the valley who I mentored and I am proud of their accomplishments."
RAM AND NEENA GADA
Editor: This interview was with both Ram and Neena Gada of Minnesota. They have a unique story in the development of the Indian communities and organizations in Minnesota and the resulting education of the people in the state about the culture, contributions, lives, language, religions, and music of the people who have emigrated from India or are Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs).
From Their Story: "In 1992, the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS) had an exhibit on recent immigrants to Minnesota, and we sought out any missing data or stories on the new vibrant community of Asian Indians. ........... and the idea for the Indian Oral History Project was born........ The first Indian Oral History Project under IAM was completed in 1994–1995. It included oral interviews of sixteen India immigrants who arrived in Minnesota in the early sixties, recording their life experiences. ........We wanted to tell the story of our past and our present aspirations as Minnesotans. We are just like Swedes, Norwegians, or Northern Europeans, with an emphasis on family, education, and hard work. We have settled here to be part of Minnesota, contributing our knowledge, experience, talent, and resources for the betterment of the people. .......
Some of the ladies and I started volunteering at an Indian weekend school, originally called the Bharat school, in 1976. ............... five of us mothers founded a new school—School of India for Languages and Culture (SILC)—in 1977. Every Sunday morning, teachers, students, parents, and volunteers met for three hours. In the first hour, several Indian languages were taught, and second hour was devoted to Indian general knowledge about history/geography. The last hour was all elective activities, such as yoga, cooking, Indian music, and dance. ...........Our school was open to everyone interested, Indian or non-Indian, regardless of race, religion, or color. My primary aim for this school was to impart our Indian cultural heritage and values to our children, who were growing up in two cultures—one Indian at home and the second outside with the community at large. The community at large didn’t know much about foreigners in general and Indians in particular. Prejudice or misunderstanding is easy when one does not know about another person or another culture."
Editor: Vish’s family life started in very rural India, and he knew that he had to own his own education no matter where he went to school. ...........Vish has been one of the backbone supporters of TiE and has developed a talent as an extraordinary networker.
From his story: Working with people and sorting out issues became second nature to me. Lots of times I became the peacemaker between groups. I worked on the redesign and release of the product as a product manager. Interfacing with people, from the original designer to the salespeople, was very interesting. This is one thing I loved and still love about America. If you have the talent, work hard, and work well with other people, you will find that others will give you a chance. I hold this concept very dearly. People complain about this and that, but I have found that, in America, if you give it your best, you can excel. America is the best place for people to get a shot at success. There is no other society that does this like America.......................
I doubt we could have started TiE anywhere else but Silicon Valley. Not even in India. The whole notion of getting successful people together to genuinely help others succeed seems strange to people. In other cultures, they ask, “Why are you helping others when there is nothing in it for yourself?” “You have nothing to gain and you are trying to help somebody. What gives?” This is a real problem in society. This whole notion of volunteering to help someone become an entrepreneur, give someone honest and frank advice, and help them succeed is something that is accepted in Silicon Valley. TiE has not deviated from that focus. This has withstood the test of time. We are promoting entrepreneurship and giving back, and we never had to drive it from the top down."
Ram & Nayana krishnan
Editor: It’s easy to forget what it meant and means to rural America to be able to purchase food that is fresh and inviting. The logistics of getting vegetables picked in California or Florida, transported for days, and unloaded into individual grocery stores, including ensuring that the frozen food stays frozen, was difficult. Ram’s life work led to the creation of software for the management and design of food warehousing and distribution........... Nayana emigrated as a child from India with her family because her father’s expertise was needed at the University of Minnesota’s medical school. Ram and Nayana have committed their family’s talents and resources to rainwater harvesting and proper water usage...............
From their story: "In America, efficiency achieved in food selling could be applied to other areas because the margins were so small in food that if it was applied in other areas, it was more productive. A mistake in food warehousing was very costly. There were difficulties in having my own business, but any mistake was my mistake—so I had a keen desire to do it well. I needed the testimonials from my client base to get the next job. I never worked as an employee of another company again................
My philanthropy was stimulated by water limitation. When I was a child, we had to get up at two or three in the morning and go down to the city fountains, with a number of vessels, and get water that they turned on at that time. If you didn’t get there in time, you didn’t get water. ................We stored the water in the house in various vessels. No one was allowed to hook up an electric motor to the water system because it meant that others on the street would not get water. I got involved in the issue of groundwater restoration because I remembered back in Madras about the hard times we had getting water. I knew it was time to give something back, and in 1998 I became involved in rainwater harvesting."
Editor: Suhas is a lifelong inventor, innovator, and one of the founders of the global entrepreneurial organization TiE. He was educated at IIT and MIT. Suhas started Cirrus Logic, which significantly contributed to the United States’ dominance in computer technology. He provides inspirational and organizational leadership to the Computer History Museum and the Tech Museum in Silicon Valley as well as with TiE.
From his story: "I am very aware of the role education and a love for learning have played in the success of our family, starting from my grandfather. .............I was the first in my family to go abroad for graduate studies, to earn a doctor of science degree from MIT and become a professor. .............. Along with my formal education in school, I had rich educational experiences at home that most students did not have. First with guidance from my father and later entirely on my own, I built things. I did projects using cardboard, wood, metal, leather, electrical parts, and electronic parts. I learned to sew my own clothes. I learned to fix radios. When I was in high school, I learned to conceptualize interesting things that could be built, and so I designed them and built them. ................. my motivation to organize TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) was very personal. I wanted to find a meaningful way to give back to society. I had already succeeded as an entrepreneur, and I was in my midlife. It was time for me to think about how to best give back to society. TiE came out of purposeful deliberation. TiE happened when a group of entrepreneurs came together and said, “We want to give back.” "
Editor: Sometimes called T. K., sometimes Som, he is a flexible man who chose a path that was very different ..........Maybe losing his luggage on a bus ride that stopped in Richmond, Virginia, sealed his future as the leader of community housing programs for the city of Richmond. Inspired by local community volunteers,..................He has taken community housing beyond just building structures—he understood that you had to deal with the individual, the family, and the community as a whole. ..............
From his story: "I could stay at the Y [Richmond VA] for about three dollars per night, and I eventually stayed about a month. For three dollars we had good sheets, common bathrooms—the typical YMCA........The lady at the front desk was obviously a volunteer, but I didn’t realize it in those days. She was in her late seventies and running this big switchboard. She told me, “I can’t really pronounce Somanath, so why don’t I call you Mr. Brown?” I told her she could call me Mr. Brown, but that I needed my messages as I was looking for a job. ........ There were lots of folks living in deplorable housing conditions. With careful planning, we took a vacant property in the block, fixed it up, moved a family into the remodeled home, and brought services to those families. We even helped them get their GEDs and made sure the kids had after-school programs. Once you really touch housing, you get into people’s lives. You find out why there was persistent poverty. ........................We learned how to rebuild some of these family-friendly neighborhoods, and we’ve made a significant impact on people’s lives. Of the kids that were in this development in 1997, now almost ten of them are going to college every year. .......... The result is that the Better Housing Coalition is the leader in this type of holistic community development work in the Richmond metro area. This really is a way to break the cycle of poverty."
Editor: Franklin’s story is unique among the other life storytellers................he immigrated with his wife Shirley, whom he met in India, where she was visiting. ........Franklin’s work has had many twists and turn...........He provided years of leadership to the Indian Association of Minnesota. Now his and Shirley’s life work is with the marginalized people in India through an organization they founded, PUSHPA.
From his story: " My father and mother were very strict disciplinarians, and the first thing was that you had to be good at school. This was not ambiguous. You knew your job. All the children knew this. It was the message the parents gave. ................... I was called for an interview at a 3M ....... Shirley’s mother dropped me off, as it was a rainy morning. I got dropped off at the entrance but had to walk a few blocks to get inside. My suit was totally wet. I interviewed all day to work in developing radioactive diagnostics that were going to be used in urology and other specialties. My pharmacy experience was back in activation. The hiring manager told me that he would let me know soon and that everything looked good. I told him I had no ride back home. He dropped me off .........and in doing so said they were talking about making me an offer. The next week the offer came. I was expecting some ordinary job, but it was a nice position with good money. ...... Shirley and I started an organization called PUSHPA (meaning flower in Sanskrit), which works with a tribe in India called Yanadi—an indigenous people who are the rat and snake catchers in marginalized communities. They live off the land and go around during harvest times to do this work. There are at least a lakh [one hundred thousand] of them......Some villages do want their children educated, which is our main focus—as education should be number one for all parents. We helped them use their assets, their health and wealth, as best we could. They had to have a stake in the improvements."
Gururaj "Desh" Deshpande
Editor: When one lacks access to a proper education, where does the motivation come from to learn on one’s own? ...........Desh applied his self-motivation to IIT, graduate study in Canada, and eventually to the US, where he founded several networking companies. Now his work is to encourage self-motivation in the interest of creating positive change, both in social engagement but also in entrepreneurship. Desh’s story demonstrates how people can improve their own outcomes and their communities regardless of a lack of perceived opportunities or resources.
From his story: "...... in my final year at IIT, companies would come for recruitment. I had a job offer for 500 rupees a month from TELCO, a Tata company, and my plan was to take this job. But in my final year, I had taken a course from a professor from the University of Alberta, in Canada, and one day after class when I was chatting with him, he suggested I apply to universities in Canada. Frankly, I am not sure I even knew where Canada was located. ...........He said the travel would broaden my horizons and I could always come back to a job in India..........My parents came in 1984 to visit us from India for the first time. ........... My parents obviously didn’t know the market and technologies I was involved with. They knew the company was doing well. We lived a very simple life in a small three-bedroom house, even when the company went public. They liked the fact that we had our values, including how we raised our children. .......... When I looked back at my life, I found being an entrepreneur was an amazing opportunity. Most of the companies we started in the 1970s and ’80s were based on the core technologies that came from Bell Labs. By the year 2000, there was no more Bell Labs, and the center of gravity for idea generation had clearly moved back to the universities. The US taxpayers spend about $50 billion a year for innovation and new ideas. What motivated Jaishree and me was to see if the innovation at universities could generate more opportunities for entrepreneurs, so that more entrepreneurs would have opportunities like the ones we had. Places such as MIT, Stanford, and Caltech were already doing a better job than anyone else in the world. But the big questions were, could they be doing better, and is there a process that all the other universities could use to bridge innovation to the marketplace?"
Editor: M. R.'s ....... career is a sampling of law, marketing, sales, and company-building experiences. He motivates the members of his vast network to become agents of change. He continues giving back through his leadership, supporting environmental sustainability stewardship programs in global corporations and organizing the India diasporas in the US.
From his story: "......I worked with an economics professor who was doing a lot of econometric modeling. It was quite interesting to do research and get involved in a topic I didn’t know much about. It was useful to broaden my skill set, but I really wasn’t interested in going into research or teaching. One of the things that I wish I had done more is really meet more with external companies and organizations. I didn’t know how the world worked. When I give advice these days, I say maximize and leverage everything you can with the placement center in college or get a mentor. When there is an external guest speaker, go visit with them, get to know them, get advice. I never did any of that; I was too naive at the time..........I didn’t have a mentor who told me to do all these things. If I’d had a mentor who gave me all that advice, I’m sure I would have followed it.......
We’ve done a lot of work around green data centers, making sure everybody understood the best ways to create data centers,............. We’ve got pretty much anyone who knows anything about how to do data centers, and they’re willing to share best practices.........All the companies who are members made a commitment to what they’re doing with water and forests. We’ve also done work in something called the materials marketplace, which is a way for companies to get rid of all their waste. ..........We do both the inspirational and also the practical. .......But people have started measuring their greenhouse gases and measuring similar things and making commitments to lower them. It’s now a full-fledged function within these companies. The challenge is doing more. Always the challenge is doing more. And doing more good, that’s the other challenge. Not doing less bad—doing more good............"
Editor: Kumar experienced being a guest worker in Germany and a citizen of Canada before his final immigration to the United States. Kumar’s story includes a brief introduction about the founding of Brocade Communications, highlighting the circuitous path and unique approach that led to its founding and formed the basis of the company’s technology and start-up. Brocade’s beginning was a significant milestone in Kumar’s $8 Man journey as well as in the computer industry. .............
From his story: "I arrived in Toronto with no job, with the little money I saved in Germany, and two suitcases. My first day in Canada was Thanksgiving weekend, and I didn’t know about this Canadian holiday. I arrived the day before the holiday, and I couldn’t go to any employment agencies. I asked at the arrival area for someplace inexpensive, decent, and clean to stay in Toronto. I had to stay in the hotel while I waited for the Thanksgiving holiday to end. When the workday came, I went to register with the Ontario Welcome House, which welcomed new immigrants. They gave me the addresses of employment agencies, and I went there to register. They found me a job within three days.............They didn’t trust my background as an engineer so they made me a technologist. I wanted a job so I took it. A technologist versus an engineer was a status thing—the job was up from a trainee but not quite an engineer..........
I’ve learned some good lessons along the way. If you believe in something, if you understand the true fundamentals of customer needs and applying technology to those needs, and if you are willing to work tirelessly, you can succeed. When Brocade went public, I was fifty-six years old. I started the company in my fifties and was an immigrant from Canada. Everything was against the outcome .............And many good start-ups fail, but so do giant corporations. If you want to have intellectual satisfaction, you have to sometimes buck the odds. You have to believe in yourself. You have to create wealth for others and it will come to you. I believe my success came from my direct relationship with customers, the industry, and standards bodies. I could integrate the various segments that became the basis of products. I was comfortable cooperating and competing, and I always respected the competition."
Editor: Following Prabhu’s graduation from IIT Kanpur, he immigrated to get a PhD at Carnegie Mellon University. After summer jobs at IBM, he gained full employment and was awarded an IBM corporate award for solving the problem of testing of very large integrated circuits. He went on to found Verilog .........Prabhu and his family have changed the lives of thousands of very low-income families in India by financially supporting their children through engineering and medical school. This scholarship program should be considered the model for focused philanthropy.
From his story: "My natural curiosity drove me to look for problems that IBM needed to be solved in the electronic design automation group. I came up with ideas, published, and filed for patents and invention disclosures, as IBM had a system of rewarding innovation through giving you points. ....... There was a very interesting problem IBM had with their 370 not being able to test particular chips........The algorithms they used would get lost in the circuitry.............I came up with a simple algorithm that helped test those very large circuits and helped IBM solve a major testing problem............By the time they put them all together, they would have to test the combined group of connected chips externally, but they couldn’t test it because it was too large in complexity. My algorithm helped them come up with tests effectively.........................
Right after we sold our first company, we knew we were blessed with the wealth that we had and we wanted to see how we could do something meaningful with it other than try to make more money. So my wife, Poonam, and I took a significant portion of our wealth and committed it toward meaningfully transforming the lives of ten thousand children in India. We didn’t know how we were going to do it, and we eventually founded what we call the Foundation for Excellence ........ What we do is find very bright but very poor children, our scholars, who have made it on their own through high school and are accepted at medical or engineering schools but do not have the funds to complete their college education. We assume the funding of those scholars and transform their lives. Their parents might be drivers, maids, or slum workers—that’s the economic level of their families. When they become doctors or engineers, they make a transformation not only in their own lives but also in the lives of their families. And they become role models within the communities they come from, so the leverage effect from this investment is very high."
Editor: Sat’s family was personally impacted by the partition (of India and Pakistan). He later received an education at IIT. His immigration to America included drafting blueprints and working at a car wash before landing in the nuclear industry, where he finally used his engineering background and experienced the thrill and the challenges of running companies both pre- and post-IPO.
From his story: "My father had no time to read to me. He was busy with his agriculture work. My mother was not educated. I had my own passion and my self-motivation. I knew I would get out of the village. I had no desire to take over my father’s business. I wanted to be a mechanical engineer. Right from the beginning, I liked looking at things mechanically. I would open up an engine and want to put it together, ..................I took a bus ....... with sixty-five cents for a one-way fare, which was a lot of money in those days. I went to New York City and bought the New York Times and looked at anywhere they needed engineers. I walked all around New York looking for a job. I had a resume that my brother-in-law made for me. I looked everywhere for three months and no job. I got to speak to people, but everyone wanted experience. I had no experience. With an Indian accent and no experience, who was going to give me a job? Then one day, I didn’t have money so I decided I had to do something. There was a car wash nearby. I went to wash cars to make some money to survive...... In the meantime, I saw an advertisement ........ for a mechanical engineer who could design pipes for nuclear plants. I applied and got the job. ..............I started the job, and for the first time in my life I had money. ...... They liked me because I could design these pipes.....This is how I became a nuclear engineer. I went to school in the evenings and got further education in nuclear engineering......The company allowed me to go to school and work................. When I think back to when the government of India gave me eight dollars, they told me that I would always be Indian and that someday I would come back and repay the dues to my country. It was always a symbolic moment. We all have to give back, not only in India but here too. There are lots of kids who are very intelligent, but they can’t go to college because they can’t afford it."
Editor: Kailash’s route from the hills of northern India to becoming a general manager of IBM and eventually helping IBM return to India after decades of absence is extraordinary. Kailash is one of the founders of TiE and also the American India Foundation (AIF). His personal life philosophy is inspiring, and as a humble man he continues to advance the causes of equity, fairness, and philanthropy both in India and the United States.
From his story: "....... In manufacturing I learned about a different mind-set: people dedicated to high quality and work ethics. They are very special people. They have insights that are almost never tapped. When I came to the Tucson plant, I did not park in the management parking area. Instead, I parked my car in the back of the factory and walked through the factory to my office. As I walked there were all these employees, many of them middle-aged ladies who would whisper to me, “Let us show you something, there is something wrong here.” So now I was loaded with facts before I even entered my office. My team now could not tell me “all is well” during the management meetings since they knew that I knew a lot, so we spent time in constructive discussions. I therefore learned that factory workers have valuable insights that don’t get tapped for various defensive reasons..........
"..........At one point a senior executive asked what would I rather do if I had my choice. To this I said, “I don’t know, but perhaps I could take IBM back to India after a long absence.” Now, that wasn’t something I planned to say. I didn’t expect the question. They didn’t want to lose me. I wasn’t being outrageous, but in the back of my mind it had bothered me that IBM had left India in the 1970s and had never even discussed going back to this huge market. IBM left because of the adverse political situation. He said, “What makes you think you can do it?” I said, “You have never had a senior executive on your team who could do this, and I’m here now and can possibly succeed.. He called Ed, the Asia head of IBM... ..........and told him, “I have Joshi in my office, and he has this crazy idea of going to India.” Ed said, “I love it.” So, I went on to set up office in Singapore, and I would camouflage my work because I didn’t want the media in India to know about IBM’s efforts to come back..........."