A superstitious, middle class millionaire Venkatachari Jagannathan

By Venkatachari Jagannathan | 25 Oct 2004


From venture to venture, this entrepreneur-millionaire adds to his learning curve.K B Chandrasekhar

The chairman of the $100 million e4e Inc and the Exodus Communications Inc fame K B Chandrasekhar has a fixation with the alphabet 'S'. While by providence his wife's name is Sukanya, he has named his three sons with names starting with S — Sandeep (17) Sidharth (15) and Suraj (8).

"I am known as Sekhar to my relatives and friends and hence we chose names starting with S for the children," he explains.

Not only that, he named his first company as Fouress Inc (read 4S Inc) promoted before Suraj's birth and two other ventures as Fivess Ventures Limited and 5S Ventures LLC, floated after his last son was born.

Chandrasekhar's other fixation is with superstition, success and software each that again start with S. "I don't start any new activity without checking out the auspicious time."

And now e4e — a technology holding company — is on a shopping (another S word) spree. After acquiring the Bangalore-based Aztec Software Limited couple of years ago, the e4e group has become active again.

In June 2004, the group acquired controlling stakes in the Bangalore-based business process outsourcing (BPO) unit iSeva and an US technical support company Absolute Quality Inc.Last month, Aztec Software entered into an agreement to acquire the Pune-based software product testing company Disha Technologies Limited.

"You will hear more from us," says Chandrasekhar while declining to divulge the size of his war chest for acquisitions.

Born in Kumbakonam town in Tamil Nadu, the 44-year-old Chandrasekhar has come a long way from his middleclass moorings in T Nagar in Chennai. His is yet another success story, though chequered, of an Indian mining riches in Silicon Valley.

Talk to this veggie who loves his Thayir Sadam / curd rice, owning a palatial home in the US and a time share in a jet about his life a tinge of regret is evident — of not getting into an Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) or the Guindy Engineering College in Chennai like many of his friends. During his student days he used to benchmark his academic achievements with those of his friends and was found to be a tad behind.

After schooling at the Ramakrishna Mission High School, Chennai, and graduation with BSc in physics from the Vivekananda College, Chandrasekhar entered the portals of the Madras Institute of Technology (MIT) to get the Btech.

However, this had a positive effect on him. It made resolve to do better in life than his friends who had studied at IIT. But the phase of personal benchmarking seems to be over. He answers in the negative when asked if he continues making personal comparisons with the achievements of other Silicon Valley Indian millionaires.

Like any other engineering graduate, he too dreamt of flying-off to the land of opportunities — the US. In fact, he even equipped himself with information on American culture, accent and slang, to ensure a smooth transition.

The desire to fly-off to distant shores, however, was tempered by a middle-class Indian's most ardent desire — a job. In 1983, he became a Wipro customer support engineer.

In 1990 Chandrasekhar's dream came true when Rolta India Limited sent him to the US as country manager. Initially he started with cold calls on what he terms as `dialing for dollars'. With the cold calls warming up he soon began to taste success and for two years life moved along peacefully, if uneventfully.

Come 1992 and the entrepreneurial bug bit him. With wife Sukanya's moral support, $5,000 in hand and two kids to take care of, he promoted Fouress — a network software design and development company. "I just had 45 days to succeed," he says.

With success smiling on him, two years later in partnership with B V Jagadeesh, he founded Exodus Communications, a pioneer in web hosting. For a brief while the venture found itself in difficulties. But the momentum of the boom took the company forward and sustain future growth Chandrasekhar opted to step down in favour of a professional manager.

Riding on strong demand and a public issue wave, Exodus Communications went public in 1998. The company's market capitalisation at one point exceeded $22 billion. However, when the dot com bubble burst, Exodus Communications faced bankruptcy and was sold off.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Chandrasekhar floated Vital Tone, Inc, that later morphed into Jamcracker Inc, an outfit that offers different software products as a service over the net. Unlike Exodus Communications, at Jamcracker he remains the CEO managing the show.

Chandrasekhar also teamed up with Somashankar Das and Dr Sridhar Mitta to promote e4e (entrepreneurs-for-entrepreneurs) a technology financing and holding company for different new economy infrastructure ventures. "We will build another IBM Global Services," he declares confidently.

"I decided to invest in places where I can differentiate," he remarks. So the group started scouting for suitable buyouts in India and got Aztec Software.

Chandrasekhar is more than happy with the Aztec Software purchase. During the first of the current fiscal the company has logged Rs36.44 crore and an after tax profit of Rs6.65 crore. The company closed last fiscal with a turnover of Rs41.4 crore and a profit of Rs1.31 crore.

Speaking about e4e's investment criteria, he says that the group looks at a 10-year internal rate of return before putting in money in any company.

Apart from these, Chandrasekhar has invested in setting up a research centre at Anna University, his alma mater, where he put in Rs9 crore.

Initially, the AU-KBC Research Centre worked on Internet over power cable and other technologies, but soon changed tack to look at two areas viz information sciences (cryptography and network security, natural language processing and wireless communications) life sciences (experimental and modeling work on the nanoscale biology of membrane and interfacial processes).

While Indian universities are not known to be accountable for the funds they gets, the AUKBC Research Centre is pleasantly different as the researchers and the professors are more accountable.

"Today the centre attracts good research talents and is self sustaining. The basic aim was to create a culture of research that generate obscene profits and a model that could be replicated easily," remarks Chandrasekhar about the public-private partnership research centre.

While research is one part, generating good managerial talent is the other. Here he joined hands with noted management authority, Prof. Bala V Balachandran, to promote the Great Lakes Institute of Management, a business school in Chennai.

So, how does he describe himself — a corporate trader, venture capitalist or a businessman? "I am a value builder for the shareholders and not a corporate trader. But I don't have sentimental attachments towards any outfit. A lesson that my father taught me when I was young," he remarks. His father was referring to his his father got an allotment of 25 shares of Ponds India Limited when it went public couple of decades ago.

Nor is he a venture capitalist. "I am a hands-on person. I cannot be a passive investor having lost a couple of millions that way."

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