N. Ravi Kumar
“The Game Changers” is not just a collection of inspirational stories whose seeds were sown in the first Indian Institute of Technology (IIT); it is a book that pans a world of struggles and government controls where the urge, of a few, to do something different is intense.
Through the “20 extraordinary successful stories of entrepreneurs from IIT Kharagpur”, it takes readers, in particular of the generation that finds it funny to imagine a world without mobiles phones, Twitter and email, through the economic transformation of India. It tells us the story from the time when the government zealously controlled the industries to one where Indian businesses started making waves globally.
Brought out to mark 60 years of IIT Kharagpur, the book, as Reserve Bank of India Governor Duvvuri Subbarao says in its foreword, is a “Tribute to the achievements of 20 distinguished alumni. Each of these stories is a remarkable tale of success, entrepreneurship, courage of conviction and leadership. The sum total of the twenty stories tells an even more remarkable tale of a great institution — IIT Kharagpur — which is celebrating its diamond jubilee this year.”
A proud alumnus of IIT Kharagpur himself, Dr. Subbarao goes on to say that even as it excels in academics, the Institute also emphasises personality development and leadership qualities.
And there is no better way to describe this than the story of Suhas Patil (1965 batch), one of the first Indian entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley to succeed and founder of Cirrus Logic; Vinod Gupta (1967), InfoUSA founder and a multimillionaire who has committed all his wealth to charity; or for that matter that of Sridhar Mitta (1969), who helped Wipro become one of the highest valued companies in India.
Apart from the success, it is the different obstacles that they overcame on their way to achieving their goals that makes for interesting reading. Many had modest beginnings, including Praful M. Kulkarni (1974), founder and CEO of construction management firm gkkworks. Praful did not own a pair of shoes until he was 11 years old.
It was not economic issues that alone came in their way, but also challenges in the form of the dominance of English and their rural background. The chapters about Mr.Kulkarni and Sunil Gaitonde (1983), founder and CEO of GS Lab speaks of how they went to schools where the medium of instruction was the local language, and found it difficult, initially, in IIT Kharagpur, to cope up with English.
Presented in a structured format, which also turns stereotype in parts, the book nevertheless is interesting in terms of some good quotes of the entrepreneurs, a list of their achievements and success tips. It provides insights into some personal decisions which had a significant bearing on their professional career.
A case in point is that of Arjun Malhotra (1970), co-founder of HCL, who fell in love with his friend's sister and decided to marry her. But the girl's father told him that he had to have a confirmed job before marrying her, whereas Arjun was planning to go abroad to pursue his Ph.D and fulfill his long cherished dream of joining NASA.
With his future father-in-law remaining firm, Arjun joined Delhi Cloth Mills (DCM) as a senior management trainee and subsequently got into DCM Data Products, which developed microprocessor based minicomputer. But the company, however, did not enter the computer business in view of restrictions imposed under MRTP Act, forcing Arjun and five other friends to tender their resignations in a single envelope to pursue their interest in microprocessors. They found an office of Arjun's grandmother's barsati in Golf Links, Delhi. When the business of their company, Microcomp Ltd, grew it expanded into the drawing room and the entire house of his grandmother.
Through all his achievements, Arjun believes that committing to his lady love, Kiran, at the age of 19 and marrying her at 22, was the “best decision' of his life.
It was their determination to succeed and commitment that mattered for them. In the case of Anti-corruption and Right to Information Act crusader Arvind Kejriwal, who was with Indian Revenue Service, the decision of resigning his government job, was an evolving process. “IIT has contributed immensely to my personality and I give the entire credit to it for whatever I am today,” he says.
There are others, who took different paths, like Sam Dalal, who had a childhood fascination for magic, founded Funtime Innovations, which now is the biggest supplier of products to magicians; and Kiran Seth, who founded SPIC-MACAY. Dalal recollects a ragging session and how he used to perform at the hostel day every year.
The three authors of the book — two of them students and the third an alumnus — have taken pains to get details, though more would have been welcome in some chapters. There is a bit too much emphasis on business details and just one chapter dedicated to a successful woman entrepreneur — Anuradha Acharya (1995).
As Damodar Acharya, Director, IIT Kharagpur, says in his introduction, the book will be of value to those who wish to traverse untrodden ways and create a niche for themselves.