The Economic Times
As the hours-long euphoria over Vivek Ranadive securing a deal to buy a majority stake in popular California NBA team Sacramento Kings wound down, the Mumbai-born Silicon Valley hotshot told ET Magazine: “This is a great moment for a man who came to the US in 1975 with less than $50 in his pocket.”
On late Friday, a team led by Ranadive, the founder and chief executive of Tibco Software, which is widely credited with digitising Wall Street, agreed to pick up a 65% stake in the Sacramento Kings for $535 million. The deal will ensure the National Basketball Association (NBA) team stays in the Californian capital. The NBA is expected to officially approve the sale next week.
“California has given me a lot. My growth here has been phenomenal. By doing this [agreement] I wanted to thank this place that made me what I am now,” said Ranadive.
He became the first Indian-origin owner of an NBA team when he bought a minority stake in Golden State Warriors a few years ago. He had to sell his stake in the Warriors to buy the stake in Kings.
“It is a bitter-sweet thing,” he told ET Magazine on the phone, reiterating his plans to bring the NBA to India. Currently, the NBA has a presence in India, but not as a professional league.
“I owe a lot of things to a lot of people and places, including California. In fact, I owe a lot to India and for my upbringing there,” he said early Saturday, adding that he would soon take Sacramento Kings global and set up outreach programmes to connect with India. The 55-year-old alumnus of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University forecast that basketball could easily be the second most popular game “if it is given enough attention”.
The author of several bestsellers, including the latest Two-Second Advantage, and a black belt in taekwondo hopes to galvanise efforts to make basketball popular in the country. He knows that it involves forming a domestic NBA unit, hiring local players, holding exhibition matches of professional teams and entering into partnerships with corporates. Ranadive, who grew up playing cricket and soccer in Mumbai’s Juhu area, has never played basketball. But he has trained his daughter Anjali’s team to win a few matches in a junior league in the US.
Incidentally, celebrated author Malcolm Gladwell has written an article in the New Yorker, titled “How David Beats Goliath”, on Ranadive’s strategy of training his daughter’s team. “That write-up explains my strategy of staying ahead in the race,” Ranadive, a person even the late Apple Inc founder Steve Jobs called the “guru”, had told ET in an earlier interview. He had vowed to use Spotfire software — visual analytics developed by Tibco — to improve performance of athletes.
“It will allow you to look at where different players should be shooting from — what their sweet spot is. It will give us some competitive advantage and could be a secret weapon for us,” he had told a TV channel.
The key to the strategy is applying 21st century analytics to sport, he said. The Indian-origin billionaire expects the culture of basketball viewing and playing to sink easily into the country. He notes that “in a country that doesn’t have much space, thanks to high density of population, this is a game which can be played in smaller courts,” unlike cricket and soccer. “Look at how popular the league is in China [launched there only two years ago]. Similarly, it will be a huge hit in India,” he adds.
Contrarian by Nature
Tibco, which has offices in India, is looking at aggressively pursuing opportunities in the Asia region as orders slow in the West. His company, however, remains highly profitable, consistently beating analysts expectations. But then, merely beating market expectations isn’t enough in Tibco, which has been resetting the rules of employee appraisal. Aaron Schwartz, a New York-based analyst at Jefferies & Co, had said the “[Tibco] management has pretty high internal expectations”. Last year, Ranadive sacked his America sales chief despite the Palo Alto, Californiabased infrastructure-software provider surpassing market expectations. “If you do everything you are asked to do and you do it very well, you get a C,” he had told ET. “In order to be a superstar [to get an A or A+],” he says, “you have to do things that nobody asked you to do.”
“Facebook” for Global Leaders
Thinking out of the box is certainly Ranadive’s key to success. He had sat on a dharna outside the RBI offices when the central bank refused to give him dollars in exchange for the Indian currency before he left for MIT in mid 70s. Last year, his company launched a ‘Facebook’ for participants of the World Economic Forum at Davos. Called Top-Com, it is a social networking site that Ranadive said will offer an “opportunity for global leaders to interact”. Ranadive, a father of three children, has great hopes on India. Most importantly, he expects his home country to cater to 21st century demand for quality engineers.
Born to a communist family — he is a grand nephew of the legendary Indian communist leader BT Ranadive who had in 1948 made an open call to his followers to take up arms against the state — life seems to have come full circle for this techno-entrepreneur. In an earlier interaction, he spoke to ET about his grand uncle: “I know he wanted to make people’s lives better, which is what I also want to do, but in a different way. It is ironical that I am a capitalist.”