YOUNG & LOVING IT! Suhas Gopinath

Mehru Jaffer Vienna
His love for Mozart is not the only reason that Suhas Gopinath keeps returning to Vienna. Apart from turning over every stone here in his search for more music by Mozart, the 23-year-old, who is one of world's youngest CEOs, also looks upon Austria as a very special work environment that Indians have yet to discover.

Gopinath was back in Vienna recently to receive the Make a Difference award from Brainswork, a Viennese consultancy boutique that celebrates individuals whose unique talent and creative ideas have made a positive contribution to the world.

After several visits to Vienna and after much thought, Gopinath chose Maya India, an Austrian IT consultancy company, as the local partner for Globals that has been providing software solutions to clients since 2000.

Son of a defence scientist MR Gopinath, he belonged to a middle class family. He learnt to be a web developer at a cyber cafe in Bangalore. At the age of 14, he was already offering software services online.

Gopinath founded Globals when he was 14 from a cyber cafe in Bangalore. As Indian laws did not allow a minor to start a company, he was forced to register the company at San Jose, California in 2000. An American friend helped him with this. He continues to operate out of Bangalore. The average age of employees at Globals is about 25 years today. By the time he was 16, he was recognised as the world's youngest CEO by the world media including BBC, Washington Times and the Limca Book of Records.
Meanwhile, the reputation of Globals continues to grow as a multinational IT company with representation in at least 11 countries and serving more than 200 clients including the Government of India, UNICEF and the European Business School in Germany. More from Gopinath in an exclusive interview at the Vienna Hilton with Hardnews:

Globals already has an office in Bonn, Germany. Why Vienna?
Vienna is neither Bonn nor Zurich. We make the mistake of bracketing Austria together with Germany and the German speaking part of Switzerland when in fact Austria is unique. There is a much more traditional and conservative work environment here. I find it an exciting challenge to work out of Austria. Now, Maya India will act as a bridge between Globals and Austrian companies. The focus will be to support IT companies here to improve their cost structure and to look at R&D and innovation. I would like to attract Austria's attention to India as a cost-effective destination for outsourcing.

What is it like to be an entrepreneur at the age of 14?
It is exciting. It is very adventurous to think of an idea and to have the courage to put it into practice.

At the age of 23, do you look back on your teenage years as a lost childhood?
I do have some regrets that I did not play a little more but I was so overcome with passion for the Internet that I also look back on that time with great joy.

Do you do wild things like getting drunk or dancing all night at a discotheque like many people your age?
No (laughs). I can't afford to do that. Besides, that is not my idea of having a good time.

Tell me, what do you do when you are not working?
My work is my joy. But, to beat stress I listen to music. I spend time at animal shelters. What gives me most pleasure is to see young people working in my office. I feel very happy at the thought that I have made a difference to the life of another by providing employment and to have added value to human lives.

What about romance?
At the moment I am married to my work. I have been in love but I had to sacrifice the relationship. Once Globals is not as centralised as it is now, I will have more time for love. But, the woman I love must love me for who I am and not for what I have achieved in life.

Do you nurse a fear that women may be attracted to you for your name and fame?
That is a great fear I live with. I know material success is temporary. I want to be loved by someone who will be by my side both in good times and bad.

Is entrepreneurship a conspiracy to convert life into one, big market?
Entrepreneurs are not money-making machines. We add value to society. We give birth to new ideas. We provide jobs to unemployed young people. We don't just follow the beaten path.

The uncertainty of an entrepreneur's life is what excites me. We make money but we also contribute to making the society a better place. In partnership with the World Bank, we have helped to detect fake medicines and to provide high quality IT education online to young people in Africa where unemployment is a huge problem.

You are admired for having achieved success at such a young age. But, many parents also consider you a bad role model for having dropped out of school to start a business?
This is true. As a teenager, I lost many friends because their parents thought I was a bad influence. My mother, too, told me that everyone is not as fortunate as Bill Gates, the most famous school dropout to have made a success of his life. I am all for formal education but as long as it does not come in the way of a passion. By insisting on formal education many Indian parents kill the passion and dreams of their children.

I did want to complete my education. Due to my profession, I was short of attendance and was not allowed to appear for examinations. The education system failed to appreciate the fact that I could study as well as earn a living.

Do you think 50 years of socialist economy killed the spirit of entrepreneurship of Indians?
It is not so easy to kill the enterprising spirit of Indians. Now is the time to encourage this spirit, to make it more labour intensive.
It is not enough to open a vegetable shop for one's self but to embark on ventures that benefit as many people possible in society as well.

What is the ideal relationship of the public sector and the private sector in any society?
The public sector is a good idea but it has its limitations. It is unable to scale up employment requirement. It provides large-scale employment but the job remains the same.

India needs more and more entrepreneurs who can think of innovative ways to involve university graduates in different professions that will allow them to earn a living and help others in society.

The current economic crisis is caused by the private sector...?
The situation has come to this due to lack of regulation by the State on the private sector. I really admire the Indian administration very much. The economy here is liberalising but there is watch and control by the State. In the USA, where the economy first collapsed during the current crisis, the private sector was allowed to exploit the State.

The crisis is caused by the failure on the part of the government to correct the mistakes made by the private sector that misused a very flexible system. However, I see the economic downturn as an opportunity to be innovative and to look for new solutions, ideas and fresh ways to manage life.

Since you are already a veteran at 23, what is your advice to another 23-year-old today who is jobless, homeless and without hope?
Not to sit and complain. This is a time to move beyond conventional ways of doing things. It is not exciting to just send CVs everywhere but to evaluate all the opportunities possible to make a go for life. I believe necessity is the mother of invention.
After I fell in love with the Internet, my next thought was to find ways to make money so that I could pay for using the Internet. My dilemma was I had no money but still wanted to use the Internet. How I managed to do that is the story of my life.

Is the market more important or the human being?
Without the right kind of human beings you can never have the right kind of market. Both are important. To be sustainable, a market has to be manned by the right people.

 

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: AUGUST 2009