Tell us about your background…
I grew up in Chandigarh in India, part of a civil service and academic family (my father was in the state civil service, and my mother was a college professor and principal), who were refugees having moved to India after the 1947 partition. The spirit of “make your own future” was very much ingrained in us, and my parents sent us to the best schools in Chandigarh and demanded we aim for nothing less than being the best. My two younger sisters and I largely delivered on these expectations. We also learned a lot from our grandparents (including some sad stories about partition) and our cousins with whom I spent many a summer in Delhi or Dehradun or Faridabad or Sonepat.
Somewhere during that period, perhaps as a result of some of my history and geography readings in grades 5 or 6, I developed a strong wanderlust — I dreamt of not only traveling the world, but going to space someday (and still may if commercial space travel continues its trajectory). No surprise then, that I gave up IIT to join Indian Railways before I turned 18 (having joined the Special Class Railways Apprentice Engineers aka SCRA in Jamalpur in Bihar), and traveled and worked in several parts of India. Around the same time I went to SCRA, my mother’s astrologer told me — maybe to assuage my mom — that I would stay in India and never travel internationally, and there and then I decided that I had to rebel against such pronouncements, and “go abroad” for studies. I did precisely that — took the GMAT in 1987 and applied for my MBA and Ph.D. (to 5–6 universities, including U. of Michigan) while I was working in the Railways, but gave in to my parents’ ask that I get married before I went to the US. My wife and I came to Ann Arbor, MI as newly weds, and 5 years later, armed with an MBA and Ph.D., I decided to teach in the US, and got my first tenure-track role in late 1993 to teach at Boston University’s Questrom Business School.
What is your professional background, and how did you get started?
You could call me a “jack of many trades”. My undergrad degrees are in engineering and economics, and my first job was in the Indian Railways — which gave me a ton of experience in design, manufacturing, and management. That quickly evolved when I came to the US and became a b-school prof after my MBA and Ph.D. I soon convinced myself that I was “too young to teach”, happened to “meet” TiE-Boston around the time, did an unsuccessful start-up, and then joined TCG, a private equity firm, as an operating partner, and over a ~ 4-year period, went through a series of roles in business development, operations, product development, investing, and international M&A.
I then gravitated to consulting and joined PRTM, a Boston headquartered boutique consulting firm initially in their private equity and strategy team. The spirit of exploring new frontiers led me to agree to lead the setting up of a new practice in the Middle East, and our family moved to Dubai in 2008. It was an amazing experience for several years, working with investors, government, and global and regional corporations, and learning a range of practices, cultures, and languages as well. We did some really cool and innovative work, e.g., working with a sovereign wealth fund to set up and implement an aerospace cluster in Abu Dhabi, developing a global EV charging services strategy and JV, restructuring and transforming all the airports in Saudi Arabia, working on a legacy strategy for the Qatar World Cup, designing and implementing transportation and integrated mobility solutions for Dubai, working with the Saudi Crown Prince and team on a strategy for developing national champions in Saudi Arabia, and many others.
While I was with PRTM in the Middle East, I was elected to the PRTM Board, and helped shape the strategy including negotiating an offer from PwC to acquire PRTM in 2011. PwC asked me to extend my stay in the ME beyond 2011, co-lead the integration, and run a part of the PwC business in the Middle East.
In 2018, we put into motion my plans to return to the US with PwC, and at the same time, was elected to run the global industrials, manufacturing and auto business unit. In the 4.5 years in that role (including a couple of years impacted by COVID-19), I was based in Boston, and led a team of almost 30,000 globally to create a more globally-integrated operating model, expand our innovation portfolio — including setting up new businesses in clean mobility and sustainability — and go-to-market by focusing on a range of clients and offerings.
In mid-2022, I decided to retire from PwC, and change gears by slowing down and choosing to do a few things that are of greatest interest to me. These include joining two corporate boards in the US and ME (digital manufacturing, climate-tech and EVs), incubating a couple of start-ups (EV, sustainability, and AI), working with TiE-Boston, starting an “action” think tank at Georgetown University (working at the intersection of business, government, and society), and throwing myself into a couple of social causes. All that still leaves plenty of time for my wife and I to travel a bit, me to learn a few things I had always wanted to do, and spend a bunch of time with our grandkids!
Tell us about the work you do outside of your professional career and how you began.
Like many of us, having grown up in India and being privileged to have had a great education and a successful career, I had always wanted to give back to society. I started that almost 20 years ago — before I joined consulting — when I worked via the Boston Pledge with a couple of state governments in India for about 2 years to help inculcate grassroots entrepreneurship (partly TiE inspired). When I joined consulting, that became almost impossible to do given the time constraints, and took a back seat. My new found freedom last year enabled me to renew my commitment to a couple of interrelated social causes — education, refugee children, and homelessness. I have joined the Boards of MassInsights (equity in education), FamilyAid Boston (family homelessness), and Amal Alliance (refugee children education).
What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who want to follow in your footsteps?
I’m a different kind of entrepreneur than I was 20+ years ago, and having been through many cycles of experiences, also have a different perspective. The couple of very simple things I would say is that: first, it is great to be able to build something from scratch, but do it with passion and not (only) for the money! Second, create a great team, based on both skills and trust. Third, get your family’s buy-in — because it will be a long and challenging journey — and family could be your parents or your spouse and kids!
Who is your role model/and or leadership mentor?
In my view, role models should enable one to learn. It is not about hero-worship and ego-building, but who and how can teach you and help shape you. Books are the greatest teacher, and role models and mentors help with practising and implementing what we learn. In that sense, I’ve had many role models, from my middle school teacher who ingrained in me a strong sense of ethics and humanity, first boss who led with his engineering expertise coupled with humility, one of my Mormon Ph.D. classmates who taught me to always have an open heart, a junior consultant in one of my project teams who was excellent at cultural interpretations, one of my classmates who is a meditation guru, my music teacher in India who has taught me how to blend music with mental calm, Bill Gates’ commitment to work on many of the issues the world faces, Steve Jobs’ vision to change the world and “stay hungry and foolish” (and recognizing his weakness of being too ruthless), someone like Tom Cruise who has a down to earth flair, and others. I also worked with some colleagues and bosses that are the anti-thesis of what NOT to do, and one learns from those folks too.
What tech or industry trend excites you the most, and why?
I am most enthused with both digitization, that is enhancing efficiency and customer focus in a number of sectors including manufacturing and health etc., and a range of climate technologies and solutions, since these are innovations focused on an urgent need, whether those be for mobility or carbon sequestration or recycling or climate analytics. And I am investing and incubating businesses primarily in these areas.
What’s the biggest challenge facing entrepreneurs and professionals in your industry today? What is your advice about how they can overcome adversity both on a personal level or on global issues such as sustainability?
It is great to see the immense volume of technology being developed by innovators and entrepreneurs. Yet, what will win is innovations that are differentiated in their application, are developed within strong organizations and teams, and have the sustaining power to live through down times. So, be well informed, focus on building the differentiation and moat, build strong teams that have a strong purpose and trust and can run the marathon, use tools and methods that can reduce the burn rate, and never stop raising funding!
How did you find TiE Boston, and what prompted you to become a member?
Very simple. I was teaching product development and innovation at Boston University, and Ashok Boghani was a neighbor. He said if you want to see innovation in action, attend a TiE event. I did, and got hooked! Volunteered for TiECON East and gradually got more curious and more involved. My philosophy was that I would be curious and enjoy the experience and not worry about what I got back.
What is your current involvement in TiE?
As a Charter Member, I’m mentoring a couple of start-ups (part of scale-up as well), part of TiE Boston Angels, and also chair the Special Interest Group on Advanced Manufacturing.
What do you find most rewarding about this role? How can people engage in TiE Boston to help their personal and professional growth?
I stay in touch with interesting people — both CMs and early entrepreneurs — and ideas at large. At TiE Boston, the several programs around mentoring start-ups, encouraging youth, angel investing, and topical special interest groups offer a diverse set of opportunities. If one can give some time and effort and open to mentoring and learning (irrespective of age and experience), you will meet fascinating people who will be open to helping and sharing.
Are there any books and or podcasts you would recommend to rising professionals and entrepreneurs?
Two books I’ve found useful …. First is John Doerr’s Scale and Speed which gives a series of ideas for climate entrepreneurs, coupled with Doerr’s insights and savvy based on his investment record. The second is “The Lean Start-Up” by Eric Ries which is a discussion of how entrepreneurs can build successful businesses that can adapt dynamically to the uncertain world around, while minimizing mistakes, and find the right set of customers and business model to succeed!