I feel deeply honored that Emory University has just appointed me a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at The Halle Institute for Global Learning. I will be assisting with the Emerging India and Knowledge Futures programs, and advising on the University’s programs on India. I am going to be working with some legendary people—the Vice Provost for International Affairs, Holli A. Semetko; Professor of Decision & Information Analysis, Benn Konsynski, and Professor of Marketing, Jagdish N. Sheth, at the Goizueta Business School. This is in addition to my roles at Duke, UC-Berkeley, and Harvard (don’t ask how).
This is special and fateful for me. I am going to tell you a story to explain why.
A long time ago, I was hired by New York City-based investment bank First Boston (now known as Credit Suisse First Boston) to be part of a $100 million project to move all of its trading systems to a client–server architecture. This was in 1986, when IBM mainframes still ruled the world, Microsoft Windows was a fledgling technology, and there weren’t yet any such mission-critical client–server implementations—anywhere. The business analysts whom First Boston had hired to redesign its systems did not have the programming skills to code these types of applications. So I was given the task of inventing new technologies to enable this.
My team ended up creating the world’s first Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) tools for building client–server systems. This technology was far ahead of its time. And it was a huge risk for the company. If it failed, not only would the bank would lose its entire investment in the project; it would also fall behind its competitors, and its survival would be jeopardized.
I was in my (late) twenties and had three programmers working for me. We claimed that we could build a technology that would change the world. Needless to say, the company was really nervous. And a rebellion was brewing in the ranks of the business analysts who did not want to become guinea pigs for our experimental technology. Fortunately, First Boston’s C.I.O. and managing director, Gene Bedell, believed in my team. To pacify the company’s board, he brought a Harvard Business School professor in to review the project.
The professor spent many days reviewing our technology and hearing out the mutineers. I was convinced he would tell the company they’d be nuts to bet the farm like this. Instead, he declared our technology “revolutionary” and gave it his endorsement. The project ended up becoming a huge success, and First Boston’s systems still run on the infrastructure that my team built. Its success led to the creation, in 1990, of a spinoff company that marketed the CASE tools. This company, Seer Technologies, achieved annual revenue of $120 million and had a successful I.P.O. in 1995. This launched my career as an entrepreneur.
If the professor hadn’t blessed our technology, Gene might not have been able to pacify First Boston’s board and I would probably have ended up leaving the company. I would probably have become a bored-out-of-his-mind I.T. manager at some other company.
That was 25 years ago. And I never thought I would meet the professor again, because we were from different worlds (and I never wanted to be under the microscope again). But guess what? I did meet him again and he is a good friend. The professor is the same Benn Konsynski who I mentioned above; who is today, my key sponsor at Emory. Never in a million years would I have imagined that I would end up in his world—academia. And that I would have appointments at four of the greatest universities in the world.
It is amazing where life takes you, isn’t it?