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April - 2000 - issue > Cover Feature
Kanwal Rekhi
Friday, November 21, 2008

Age 54
Place of Birth Rawalpindi, Pakistan

Residence Monte Sereno, CA

Family Wife and two children

Came to the U.S. 1967

Education B. Tech, IIT, Mumbai; MSEE, University of Michigan

First job EAI, New Jersey, 1969

Company started Excelan

Year did an IPO 1987

Year became millionaire 1987

Favorite charity Education

Lifetime goals Help transform India

Net worth

Philosophy of life Make a difference

Most inspired by Mahatma Gandhi

Most excited by Seeing entrepreneurs succeed

Most expensive thing ever bought House

To say that Kanwal Rekhi shoots straight from the hip would be putting it mildly. Rekhi doesn’t mince words and is known to rub many the wrong way. “I’m not smooth,” agrees Rekhi, whose magnetic personality and rapid-fire delivery makes people sit up and take notice.

Rekhi, a Sikh by religion, though “without a turban,” as he puts it, was part of the exodus of refugees from Pakistan after the partition of India. The family settled in Kanpur and Rekhi went on to graduate from IIT Bombay, an institution he still holds dear to his heart In fact, he was the first big individual donor to the IIT, contributing two million dollars towards the construction of “The Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology.”

Rekhi came to the US in 1967 to get a Master’s degree in electrical engineering at Michigan Technological University. “In the early 70s, you had to scramble to survive in this business,” recalls Rekhi who was laid off from his first three jobs after graduating. “It was not a great time to be an engineer.”

Rekhi’s latent talent of spotting winners, be it in people or places was kindled from the beginning. Recognizing the potential that Silicon Valley held for the future of technology, he packed his bags and along with his wife moved to San Jose and a job at Singer-Link.

The ever-restless Rekhi soon quit Singer-Link to join Zilog, Inc., a microprocessor outfit. But the entrepreneurial fire began to burn in Rekhi and he longed to be his own boss. A year after joining Zilog, Rekhi along with two other colleagues who were Indians, started Excelan, to build add-in boards to connect desktop computers into a local area network.

It wasn’t easy for Kanwal and his partners to set up Excelan, or for that matter it wasn’t easy for an Indian to launch their own business. After meeting with approximately 100 venture capitalists, they consistently heard the same objection: The company lacked the right manager. It wasn’t hard for Rekhi to decipher the hidden message, “It meant that we didn’t have a white guy in the group,” recollects Rekhi.

Rekhi decided that incidents like these would not be the quagmire patch that would bring him down; instead he was all the more determined to prove that Indians could run as well as engineer a flourishing company. A successful Excelan was later sold to Novell thus making millions for Rekhi.

Rekhi joined Novell but quit after he was passed over for the post of chief executive in favor of Robert Frankenberg. A disillusioned Rekhi decided that it was time to utilize his talents, skills and money to help other start-ups mainly by Indians.

Recently, Rekhi along with a few other Valley veterans have joined forces with the mission of raising venture capital for Indian companies. Their goal is a venture-capital industry capable of putting together over $3 billion a year.

Rekhi has also made a $1 million donation to the Foundation for Excellence (FFE), a non-profit organization that helps students in India. He has pledged to match the sum for each of the next four years to assist disadvantaged students, particularly girls, in India.

Rekhi is the president of the IndUS Entrepreneurs (TiE), a non-profit global network of entrepreneurs and professionals that has often been termed the “Indian Mafia”, established to foster entrepreneurship and nurture entrepreneurs.

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