Romesh Wadwani pledges most of his wealth to philanthropy

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  1. nrj

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    Nov 16, 2009
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    NEW DELHI: He's the archetypal Silicon Valley serial entrepreneur, having created and sold three companies in 30 years. But for the 65-year-old Romesh Wadhwani, his philanthropic foundation is as important as his companies, and he drives it with all the passion that he puts into his $2.5 billion Symphony Technology Group.

    "I'm from an Indian family of professionals and my parents had to go through hardships themselves to send me to IIT-Mumbai. And having got the best of education myself, I firmly believe it is my personal obligation to give back to the community," he says. As for his family, wife Kathy and daughter Melina, he believes that they should have only that much of wealth as is needed to keep them comfortable. "Leaving too much for one's children will take away their own entrepreneurial skills," he says.

    Wadhwani featured at Number 212 on the Forbes 400 list last year, but it all started with Canteen Corp at IIT-Mumbai's Hostel 2 in 1964, which he set up along with a fellow students. "We created a supply chain to provide snacks and beverages to the students at IIT-Mumbai and ran a profitable venture before it was shut down," he says proudly.

    And Wadhwani finds it not at all surprising that it's usually the IITians who make it to rich lists in America. "For most Indians in America, wealth is not inherited. Neither do we make it as heads of large hedge funds and private equity funds. For us to make it to the top, we have to use our knowhow to create great new technology products and build high-tech companies," he says. And that's where the IIT education comes in as a big asset, according to him.

    In 2000, Wadhwani's e-commerce start-up Aspect Development Inc was acquired by i2 Technologies, another Indian-owned company, in a historic deal which was the largest in US software industry that year. "The i2-Aspect deal - which was valued at a whopping $9 billion - gave me the financial freedom to do what I wanted. I wasn't interested in buying yachts; instead I wanted to carry on the entrepreneurial journey," he says. And Wadhwani Foundation is run by him with as much of passion and time as his private investment firm, which is the umbrella for his portfolio of global software and services companies.

    "A philanthropic venture requires all the energy, knowledge and money from its founder that a company requires from the leadership team. I set up the foundation early so that I could give it my best years and I plan to give away at 80% of my net worth in my own lifetime," he says. At least 25% of his time goes into the foundation which is focused on becoming an economic accelerator in emerging countries such as India.

    "For me, the philanthropic capital and ideas will help accelerate the Indian government's initiatives in strengthening entrepreneurship around the country," he says. Wadhwani Foundation has already spent around $25 million on its different initiatives in India which include a skills development project with the human resources ministry and two major biosciences and biotechnology research centres at IIT-Mumbai and the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore.

    In his assessment of Indian NGOs, Wadhwani firmly believes that they need to scale up their operations to deliver services to a much larger target group of people, and for that Indian philanthropists have to provide larger funding. Starting the National Entrepreneurship Network in India seven years back, was for him, the beginning.

    "Through the NEN network we helped create mentorship programmes at various colleges and universities in India and could train thousands of students on the principles of entrepreneurship," he says.

    His Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurial Development at the Indian School of Business, on the other hand, is focussed on broad-based policy research. And going forward, Wadhwani is looking at funding a policy framework to strengthen economic development both in India and America.

    The Wadhwani chairs at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington DC and the Indian Council for Research and International Economic Relations ( ICRIER), Delhi, have been set up with this broad goal in mind.

    Indian American millionaire Romesh Wadwani pledges most of his wealth to philanthropy - The Economic Times
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