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December 10, 1997


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The Rediff Business Interview/Vinod Gupta

'I just loved America with its opportunities'

From humble beginnings in Rampur, a small town in north India, to one of the richest Indians in the United States, Vinod Gupta has come a long way. After 30 years in the US, he runs American Business Information with a turnover of $ 250 million and employing 1,800 people.

After graduating from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, in the mid-1960s, he is now repaying a debt to his alma mater. He has just set up the Vinod Gupta School of Business Administration at IIT, Kharagpur. Gupta, incidentally, did his MBA from Nebraska, and is reputed to have made his first million when in his early 30s.

On his visit to Calcutta, he spoke to A Pal. Excerpts from a free-wheeling interview:

Tell us something about your early life in India.

I grew up in a small town called Rampur, near Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh, with a population of 12,000. My dad was a doctor. There, I got my school education up to class 10. After that, we moved to another village called Barod, near Baghpath, where I did my 11th and 12th there. In fact, the first time I saw a big city was when I came to Calcutta on my way to Kharagpur.

What prompted your move to America?

Opportunities! In 1966-67, India was having a lot of difficulties. And then the whole thing about travelling, seeing other parts of the world, and education. Economic opportunities were crucial in the decision, and I always had this thing about adventure -- going out and so on.

What were your first impressions of America, on landing in the land of hope and glory?

I loved it from the moment I set foot in the country. I thought it was great. I made American friends, got my education and thought America was one of the finest countries in the world. There were opportunities for everybody and I just loved it.

How did you set up American Business Information, which today has a virtual monopoly, challenged only by Dun and Bradstreet. What prompted to to enter your present line of business?

It was an accident. After I got my MBA, I worked for a mobile home company. They needed a list of mobile home dealers which was not available. Then I thought it would be in the yellow pages and I got the yellow pages and compiled the list. It was a kind of a no-brainer. A simple idea and I didn't think anything much would come of it. And then the business sort of grew and I left my job and we are where we are today.

You have set up the Vinod Gupta School of Business Administration at IIT, Kharagpur, where nearly $ 8 million have already been invested. What inspired you to set up this venture?

You know, IIT is one of the best engineering colleges in the world and when you look at engineering colleges in the USA, most of them have business schools such as MIT. So I thought it would sense since IIT has good infrastructure -- departments of humanities, computer science engineering, etc. A business school would be an ideal extension, specially for engineering graduates with two-to-three years experience.

I had once said: 'God, if someday I make a lot of money, I’ll set up a school of management' and I decided to do it. We went public and I wrote to Professor Chopra and said it is my kind of dream and I would love to do that. He jumped at it and the whole thing got going.

You have decided to donate a major portion of your personal assets currently valued at over $ 250 million to charity after your death. Why this philanthropic gesture?

I believe you come into the world with nothing and you leave with nothing. We get education and we work hard because we want to be happy, we want to be challenged. And if you are lucky, in the process we accumulate some wealth. I believe that wealth should be given away to society which gave it to us. I am not a saint like Mahatma Gandhi, who was the ultimate saint in my view, or like Mother Teresa. I live good, I enjoy a good life, but at the same time, whatever wealth I create or accumulate, I'd like to give it back to the public or society who gave it to me in the first place.

What are your plans for India?

At present, we are compiling the entire white-paged database of about 5,000 US and Canadian telephone directories in India. We are compiling a database or about 130 million people here. It is being subcontracted to an Indian company, and they have hired about 600 people. We are looking at the quest industries, where we have a minority interest. As we go forward, the plan is to have more investment in databases, software…

You will soon be appointed the US ambassador to the Bermudas. This would make you the first man of Indian origin to represent the US as its envoy to a country. How do you feel?

I really cannot comment on that right now. There have only been rumours. I have received nothing official as yet. But if it does come through and it is offered to me then it will be a great honour. But so far, there’s nothing official about it and that’s why I cannot comment on it.


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