The Smart Techie was renamed Siliconindia India Edition starting Feb 2012 to continue the nearly two decade track record of excellence of our US edition.

“Don’t Look Over Shoulders!”

Karthik Sundaram
Thursday, January 30, 2003
Karthik Sundaram
When today’s road warriors swap gripes on the longer sales cycles and scarcer client dollars, one company in southern California is not. In contrast, it is finding that requests for quotations are converting to orders in a shorter time frame. OSI Systems (NASD:OSIS, market cap $229m), a Hawthorne, CA company, is capitalizing on the increasing homeland security infrastructure boom. EPS in first quarters of 2002 have been positive, despite the diving bourses. Leading this company is Deepak Chopra, President, CEO and director, since its inception in 1987. With a history that includes hostile take-over bids, fall-outs with boards, and a series of post-public acquisitions worldwide, Chopra brings a unique definition to leadership. What makes him tick at the top?

On his beginnings
I came to the U.S. in 1971 for a master’s degree in electronics, at the University of Massachusetts. When I graduated in 1973, I found it was a bad year for finding jobs. I finally found one in the R&D group of a semiconductor power devices company, in New Jersey. I didn’t like the “big company” atmosphere, nor did I like New Jersey. In November 1974, I came to Los Angeles for a technical conference; fell in love with California, its beaches, the climate, people, and those American images of Archie, Jughead and Veronica, which I had only seen in comic books till then. I quit my job in New Jersey and landed up in the west coast, without a job. Luckily, I found one in a fortnight at TRW, again in semiconductor research. And in two years, I grew tired of yet another “big company” atmosphere, and went on to join a small startup in Santa Monica, United Detector Technology (UDT), a company involved in electro-optics devices. After three years, in 1979, I fell out with my boss, who wanted to shift the company from Santa Monica, and I quit to join Intel.

While at Intel, my claim to fame was in bipolar testing, and I was into my third year there, when I heard of UDT’s closing down. I wasn’t surprised. DeKalb Agricultural Research from Illinois bought over UDT and put it on the block for sale. I was 29 years old, an Indian, and with absolutely no chance of raising capital in the conservative decade of the early eighties, when venture capital was unheard of. My friends introduced me to a company in Santa Clara, ILC Technology, who were interested in buying out UDT. They bought out UDT, and sent me in to head it.

I fired my boss at UDT, moved the offices to Culver City, tightened belts, and started making money. In the fall of 1983, ILC went public, but in 1985, the space shuttle disaster occurred and ILC was in trouble. In the overhaul at the top, I was made the president and CEO. Two years later, I fell out with the board and I left. The biggest mistake ILC made was in not making me sign a non-competitive clause.

With an angel investor, who was also a major shareholder at ILC, I began Opto Sensors (subsequently renamed OSI), in May of 1987. In 1988, the PanAm disaster happened, and our company was put on the mark, as we were key suppliers of electronic components to AstroPhysics, a contractor for the aerospace industry. We suddenly found ourselves growing.

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