2000 Honoree - Umang Gupta

[Note: The following biography was prepared and presented at the 2000 gala by Board Member and KRON TV News Anchor Emerald Yeh.]

A recent article about our first honoree starts with this sentence: "Umang Gupta just made another $69 million dollars" You get the feeling that he's done all this before.

Umang Gupta

He has. Umang Gupta's business career is a path cobbled with astounding and enviable successes. Yet what makes his story notable is not just how he got to where he is, but the way he lives and views his success.

For someone who started out in life with no business ambitions, Umang Gupta is regarded today as a business trailblazer. In the 70's, he became one of IBM's first Indian employees where he handled some of IBM's largest corporate accounts. As employee #17 at Oracle, he wrote the company's first formal business plan.

He went on to found Gupta Technologies, a provider of the world's first client/server database software that would run on PC's rather than mini-computers. It hit a valuation of $400 million.

Today, he runs Keynote Systems in San Mateo, which measures Web site performance for e-commerce companies. Keynote was recently cited by the San Francisco Times as the fastest growing company of the 150 publicly traded firms in the Bay Area, growing from 150 clients in 1998 to 2500 currently.

Yet it's his inner perspective on life that defines him as much, if not more than the outward successes most of us know him for.

Umang Gupta was born in Pantiala, India to parents committed to civic responsibility. His mother was a legislator, his father served in the Ministry of Labor. Umang got his degree in chemical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur -- the MIT of India, if you will. But rather than pursue a career in engineering, he came to the United States to get his MBA from Kent State. That's when he realized he preferred building organizations to building products. Shortly after, he went to work for IBM as a salesman and moved up to several sales and marketing management positions.

At about that time, he met a British woman named Ruth -- a meeting that would lead to a soul-searching episode that he describes today as "Ruth or India?" Tradition dictated that he go back to India and build a company there. His heart chose Ruth.

His next crossroad was deciding whether to live in Cleveland or San Francisco. With all due respect to Cleveland, Umang's romantic nature ruled once more. To this day, Umang describes his decisions to marry Ruth and move to the Bay Area as the best and second-best decisions he's ever made, respectively.

With his heart properly rooted, Umang's entrepreneurial instincts took flight. After seven years with IBM, he joined a Silicon Valley start-up that was an IBM competitor. Then he set out to build his own software company in 1981. But he couldn't find any venture capitalists to fund him.

After several frustrating months of NOT getting money, he ran into a start-up on Sandhill Road called Relational Software. It had 16 employees. Umang hit it off with the boss, a guy named Larry Ellison and became the company's 17th employee. The company later became Oracle Corporation.

Umang wrote Oracle's first formal business plan and became a vice-president of the microcomputer products division. Three years after joining Oracle, Umang left and became the first Oracle executive to start his own company that went public. (Is Larry still speaking to you, Umang?)

The revolutionary Gupta Technologies company was founded in 1984 and became the first Indian-founded software company to go public in 1993. It was a hot IPO and the company reached a valuation of $400 million. Then it hit a wall. Gupta Technologies was getting squeezed by the big guys like Oracle and Microsoft who took notice of his company and began competing with it. Umang left the company -- a defeating chapter in his professional life. But on the personal side, he had already endured the worst tragedy in life -- the loss of a beloved child.

Raji was Umang and Ruth's second child. He was born severely disabled and lived only two years. To this day, it is a difficult subject for Umang and Ruth to discuss, but the impact Raji had on their lives and hearts -- now touches other families living with the challenges of loving and caring for a developmentally disabled child.

Umang and Ruth are on the board of PARCA, the Peninsula Association of Retarded Children and Adults, which provided them so much support while they cared for Raji. In turn, Umang and Ruth donated time and money to renovate what's now called "Raji House," a respite care home honoring the memory of Raji while giving relief to hundreds of other families over the years.

While Umang and Ruth were already doing so much for these families, Umang's own spirit was somewhat shattered by the time he left Gupta Technologies. He said for the first time, he felt like a failure. Taking some time out from work afforded him a chance to look back and see that his life had lost its balance. Even when he was home, he said, he wasn't home. So he spent the next two years repairing that sense of balance.

He declined invitations to run start-ups and join boards of companies. Instead, he traveled with his family, Ruth and their two children, Anjali and Kashi, now 18 and 11 years old. He joined the board of his daughter's high school.

When he was ready to re-join hi-tech profession, he decided to test himself this time with a different meter of success. Could he build a successful company while maintaining balance. He wanted to prove you don't have to choose one or the other. He said "Having a sense of balance does not mean you are bad in business or don't work hard. It simply means you do well in both." Success in business does not have to come at the expense of family.

Umang's testing ground for this measure of success would be Keynote Systems, a company he first invested in, then was invited to become chairman of. Keynote is the J.D. Powers of the internet world, monitoring and measuring how well websites are serving their customers. With a mission to improve the quality of e-commerce worldwide, its 2500 customers include Dell, Microsoft, Charles Schwab, E-trade and Amazon.com.

Getting back to Umang's goal of balance, how's he doing, you ask? He still works long days. He still e-mails on weekends. So what's different? He doesn't take his worries home. His wife Ruth says, "The company doesn't consume his every waking moment. That comes from experience. Not all of us can change like that."

Yet Umang understands that the journey to balance for the younger ones in the start-up world inevitably begins with imbalance and that only through their own individual journeys can they find true equilibrium.

"When you're new and ambitious and striking out in uncharted territory," Umang says, "you fear the unknown." And the only way to overcome the fear of the unknown is to worry about everything. Only after time and experience is there less fear.

Umang's understanding and compassionate view of those living life perhaps a little out of balance is paralleled by his views on philanthropy in Silicon Valley. The abundance of money here is way ahead of the level of philanthropy, he feels. At the same time, he defers from imposing his own standards on others.

"We all have different views of how much is enough before one can give," he said. We all arrive at that answer differently. " It's a personal matter."

For himself, he's donated $1 million dollars to PARCA, and his company Keynote Systems donated pre-IPO stock to the Entrepreneurs Foundation. It also works with Samaritan House, which provides free services such as food, clothing, furniture, health care and education to low-income families living in the shadow of Silicon Valley wealth. Employees at Umang's company are allowed to set aside 10 hours a month of company time to volunteer for Samaritan House.

Umang and his family live in the same house in San Mateo they bought 15 years ago, a deliberate choice. At the end of the day, he says, what matters most to him is whether he's setting the right example for his family.

As he contemplates his future, Umang Gupta, already established as a serial entrepreneur, says he still has a few more start-ups left in him. For guidance, he continues to draw upon the words his father once imparted to him: "No victory is final, and no defeat is fatal."

Copyright © 2004-2013 Asian Pacific Fund. All Rights Reserved. | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | E-mail Us | (415) 395-9985