Kanwal Rekhi is an Indian-American businessman, investor and entrepreneur, currently serving as the managing director at Inventus Capital Partners. Inventus Capital Partners, co-founded by Rekhi, is a US-India Venture capital firm that invests primarily in technologybased startups.
“It has been an incredible journey,” shares Rekhi, “Starting as a refugee family from Pakistan and growing up in a lower middle class family in Kanpur, one could not have imagined the heights I scaled. To a very large extent, I attribute this to getting into IIT Bombay for my undergraduate education.” With Inventus, Kanwal works closely with entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and India, as he has since 1995, to apply his full time and energy helping them accomplish great result.
Rekhi was the first Indo-American Founder and CEO to take a venture-backed company public on the NASDAQ. He had worked as an engineer, systems analyst, and manager before venturing into business. He then co-founded Excelan in Silicon Valley to commercialize ethernet and TCP/ IP – standards which became the basis of the Internet. “I was first to take a Silicon Valley company public in 1987. Excelan was a pioneering company in the computer networking,” says Rekhi of this proud moment.
Despite his success at present, the 70-year-old has had his share of weaknesses and obstacles along the way. “Nothing came easy to me. I had an awkward personality and speech impairment. People always underestimated me because of my introvert personality,” he reveals, “I overcame my low self esteem to achieve what I did. I was always very good at what I did, even in the areas where I had no background.”
His biggest achievement – becoming a CEO. “I was good technically but my biggest achievement was in marketing. I turned out to be a very good marketing and sales person. To the surprise of all, including my own, I was a natural leader and CEO,” says Rekhi, who has also been active in Indian public policy related to venture and has advised the Indian government policy makers in reforming venture regulations in the past.
He also successfully advised the Indian Prime Minister and his government on their aggressive deregulation of telecom, leading to the explosive growth of mobile telephony in India, and laying the foundation for the country’s impressive IT expansion.
The hard-working businessman loves working with young entrepreneurs, and gives them credit for his success. “I have only done well investing in young entrepreneurs. Investing in young people requires a lot of patience and mentoring. It is an act of faith in a person, but it is very satisfying to see one of your mentees succeed.”
Ask him what values should a CEO or founder of a company practise, and Rekhi says, “Humility, fair play, intellectual honesty, and giving credit to others when it is due.”
Rekhi also co-founded The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE) to promote Indian entrepreneurship and was TiE President through the late 90’s presiding over its growth into a global organization with over 10,000 members who have been behind Silicon Valley and India start-ups. “TiE initiative was a logical outcome of an incredibly lonely journey that I had as an entrepreneur. There were no role models and no mentors or sounding boards. There were no believers in us, who encouraged us along. I felt later that we need to be the role models, mentors and believers to the next generation,” says he, explaining why he started TiE.
Beyond work, Rekhi has interests that keep him physically and mentally active. “I hike, bike and do work-outs in the gym. I travel a lot for both business and pleasure. I have been to all seven continents. I love to play chess and do Sudokus.”
Q&A with Kanwal Rekhi
You have been presented with many awards for your work and achievements. What do you have to say about this honour bestowed upon you?
I have had too many of these to remember which I enjoyed most. Getting honorary doctorates in Engineering and Business from Michigan Tech probably rank up there.
Which are your most memorable moments till date?
The day I and my wife Ann were married on March 26, 1967. The day of our IPO in 1987 is another day that I will never forget. My naturalization as an American citizen in May, 1975 also is a day I remember. The birth of our children are also memorable days.
What is your advice for future immigrants?
One should learn the ways of locals very quickly and be an active part of the new environment. I see many people who have been here a while and still have no American friends, do not like local sports and food. To succeed one has to become a 100 percent American, without losing your Indianness.
Indians around the world have made significant contributions to their immigrated countries, what do you think of this accomplishment?
Indians are natural everywhere because they are accustomed to diversity from the very start. Indian set values with emphasis on the knowledge-seeking, hard work, and family orientation are a winning formula every where. To win economically in an open competitive world helps everybody.