labels: profiles, it features
Midas mannews
T Radhakrishna
01 October 2003

Vivek Kulkarni, who helped Bangalore become an IT and BT destination, has stepped down as secretary to the Karnataka government

Vivek Kulkarni in his erstwhile officeBangalore: Information technology and the epithet of Bangalore as the Silicon Valley of India were phrases that were not much in vogue, say, five years ago. It all began when Bangalore began getting global attention just two years back, just before 2000, when the Y2K bug did its rounds like wildfire around the globe.

That was the period when Bangalore and Karnataka got universal recognition. That was also the time when the state government decided it had to do something to leverage the attention it was gathering.

First on the list was the creation of an IT department headed by an IAS officer. Nevertheless, for reasons best known to the government, the first incumbent was quickly replaced, and in stepped an unassuming officer - Vivek Kulkarni. (And it's another story that now he too is leaving )

IT became a buzzword in Karnataka immediately after Kulkarni took up this challenging job. At the time many thought Kulkarni is just another IAS officer and will not make much difference to the role he is assigned to. But the sceptics were proven wrong. Simple, quiet and modest, he was everything that one thought an IT secretary should not be. And yet he managed to achieve things that were quite remarkable.

Kulkarni has had an ordinary background, a fact that probably helped him to climb up the career ladder. In fact, his beginnings were so humble that he is something of a role model for every aspiring student from a non-urban centre. He studied in a municipal school before going on to complete his engineering degree from Karnatak University, Dharwad.

Vivek Kulkarni addressing a Nasdaq meetBut that was not all. His aspirations went beyond the boundaries of the country and he successfully emerged with an MBA degree from the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. A 1981 batch IAS officer, Kulkarni served the usual round of postings all over the state before being appointed as the secretary to the Karnataka government department of IT and biotechnology - a high-profile designation.

(Prior to this assignment, Kulkarni has worked as secretary (resources), financial department, Government of Karnataka. Earlier he was also the head of Crisil Advisory Services, the chief of a Securities and Exchange Board of India division, and was also the deputy commissioner of Chitradurga.)

Man for all seasons
IT boomed. And then boomeranged. But Kulkarni took that all in his stride and endeavoured to get Bangalore's lost glory back. Instrumental in making 'Bangalore IT.com' the largest event in South Asia, he also introduced many new initiatives. Yuva.com to train youngsters in computers, the rural IT quiz to create awareness and keen interest in IT among rural students, and the much-acclaimed IT policy… all are his babies. In addition, he is known to coordinate with all the other departments in making e-governance a reality.

When the boom busted, he stood rock solid, trying to instil confidence in investors and becoming the face of the state government. He is credited with playing a key role in winning back investors' confidence in Bangalore and also in being part of numerous IT initiatives of the government. He and his team successfully managed to organise the Bangalore IT 2001 in the post-9/11 scene when most conferences and exhibitions were cancelled all over the world.

Fresh from finishing IT.com 2002, claimed to have done business worth $300 million, Kulkarni managed to do his magic despite the economic downturn. But laurels were not something that he rested on. After making Bangalore the uncrowned king of IT in India, Kulkarni stepped out to conquer the uncharted territory.

The IT department held a seminar in Bangalore to promote Hubli as another IT destination in Karnataka. His reasoning: "Most IT companies primarily came to Bangalore. We wooed the companies to Bangalore first, and later informed them about other cities in the state. That's how Hubli Destination seminar was launched. It was also to promote the IT Park. Some seven entrepreneurs set up firms apart from some call centres there. And I am sure that, in about three years, Hubli will become the next IT hub in the state."

IT was not the only aspect he wanted Bangalore to be known for. After promoting IT, it was biotechnology (BT) that caught his attention. And his dream: to make Bangalore India's capital of BT as well. Hence, the annual BangaloreBio.com, a global conference on biotechnology.

Vivek Kulkarni with Karnataka CM S M Krishna"Bangalore will be the biggest BT city in India within five years. We were able to get more than Rs 800 crore for BT. To spread it to other parts, the government released Rs 5 crore for establishing the Institute of Agri-biotechnology in Dharwad. It became operational from June this year and has now become the nodal centre for agri-biotechnology. Also on the anvil are BT corridors and a host of other initiatives. To this end we were the first to announce our BT policy with many incentives to investors," he says.

His mind has always been full of ideas. "There are some many advancements happening around us, and I want Bangalore to be in the forefront. Opportunities are existing in core sectors like governance, finance and banking. The focus should be on BPO [business process outsourcing]. The possibilities are endless. Recruitments and the market too are looking up, so there is no reason why we should sit idle," says an ever-optimistic Kulkarni.

Now since Kulkarni is quitting the job he enjoyed most, it is worthwhile to remember that it requires a man of vision to foresee the future and prepare for it. Kulkarni might dismiss it with his typically modesty as high praise, but people of Karnataka, the country and those from abroad who have interacted with him know better.

When the news of Kulkarni stepping down came in, Karnataka Minister of State for IT and Tourism D B Inamdar said: "He was a good officer and executed his role very efficiently. I wish him all the best in his future roles." We too wish him the same.

also see : Karnataka IT secretary quits

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