From a middle class boy growing up in Perambur to the CEO of Bally Technologies, a billion-dollar American gaming enterprise in Las Vegas, Ramesh Srinivasan’s journey is a fascinating one, finds Karthik Subramanian

“For those in the U.S. who have trouble pronouncing my last name, I tell them ‘better get used to it... soon there might be a Supreme Court Justice with the same last name’,” laughs Ramesh Srinivasan, president and CEO of Bally Technologies, a gaming technology company that has a major presence in casinos worldwide. (He’s referring to the U.S. Circuit judge Srikanth ‘Sri’ Srinivasan).

Srinivasan surely is an odd-enough last name for one of the biggest decision makers in a multi-billion dollar industry headquartered in the global capital of entertainment.

He is part of the Indian diaspora in the U.S. that is reaping the benefits of a journey that began in the mid-1980s. Today, while Ramesh heads an enterprise with a market cap of US dollars 3 billion, there are many others who had settled down there over the last three decades, making their own mark. What makes Ramesh’s story more interesting is that it started in a typical middle class home in Perambur, which is still not considered among the more happening localities of the city. And today it is set in Las Vegas, amidst the gaming industry and slot machines, conjuring up images of glitz and glamour.

However, the 53-year-old, who meets me at his office in Bally Technologies’ Chennai development centre at Ascendas Technology Park, says straight away: “Just so you get the story correct... I am a technology executive working in the gaming industry. It is just the same as a technology executive who works in any other sector.”

Ramesh has been named twice in the last decade — 2006 and 2010 — as ‘One of the Top 25 Personalities to Watch’, by reputed gaming magazine Global Gaming Business.

How it all began

So, how did this journey start? With a degree in Metallurgical Engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (Banaras Hindu University), Varanasi (Best Outgoing Student in 1982) and a postgraduate diploma in management from Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore (1984), Ramesh started his career in Chennai and made a few career moves early and found himself as a works manager at a foundry in Perungudi, a Chennai southern suburb, by 1986.

“In 1987 I noticed a rather strange advertisement in The Hindu. It was strange because it was a bit clever and said something to the effect of ‘if you think you are smart, come talk to us’. I still remember the small advertisement as if I saw it just yesterday. I immediately applied and got called for an interview.”

That advertisement was placed by Infosys, then a company working out of a multi-bedroom apartment in Jayanagar, Bangalore. And Ramesh was interviewed and recruited by Infosys co-founders N.R. Narayana Murthy and N.S. Raghavan. And quickly enough — by September 1988, he was a contract programmer for an American firm, Bugle Boy Industries and was headed to Los Angeles.

“I was among the first batch of engineers to head to the U.S. for such technology jobs. And, we did not have the kind of support system that the Indian community thriving now there has created.”

His first tryst with the U.S. was not meant to last too long. After being there for just over an year and having earned enough “to settle debts and start a life of my own”, Ramesh headed back home in 1989. “I quit my job and came home to get married. The idea was to settle down here,” he says. “Aaah. What if I had stayed on with Infosys. Wonder how terrific that would have turned out,” he laughs.

When Ramesh was ready to bid adieu to the U.S., Bugle Boy Industries called back the newly-married engineer with a job offer.

In his second innings, he held on for a much longer time because of a more rewarding experience. He had moved on to other companies such as Mattel and Manhattan Associates, before joining Bally Technologies in 2005 as executive vice-president of Systems.

Now he divides his time among his home in Las Vegas, his home Chennai where his parents reside, the development centres of Bally Technologies across the globe (in India there are two — Bangalore and Chennai), and the many cities in the world where casinos thrive, including Macau. The Bally Technologies development centre in Chennai, in fact, looks like a huge playground with plenty of gaming machines across the office space.

So, how has Chennai defined him to be the person he has become, heading a huge company in a gaming industry that one can’t relate to culturally because gambling is illegal in India? He says he just treats it as a management job, nothing else.

Chennai’s role

On the role of the city, though, he has plenty of memories. The most striking one is the one of his father, an ex-serviceman, and his mother constructing a house for them in Madhavaram, where the family could move in from Perambur. “It was just a just small house that he was building, but the care and attention he gave... I learnt a lot from that.” He is still in touch with a lot of his high-school friends from Perambur and they have regular meetings.

One passion he has carried from Chennai to the U.S. and has retained all these years is cricket. A regular cricketer at Southern California Cricket Association’s league even till recently, Ramesh is most excited about having been able to play the game for more than three decades.

A recent fracture in his right hand, while taking a catch, could very well mean an end to his playing days. But he is very proud of his record — he took 13 wickets last season, making him the second highest wicket-taker for his team.

He has taken to running too. “Some personal goals help. I have a personal goal of running at least 1,000 miles every year; 2013 was the sixth consecutive year of achieving this goal. I hope I reach that goal in 2014 as well.”