An Interview with Vivek Wadhwa

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This is his introduction.

Haegwan Kim (HK); Today I’m going to talk with Vivek Wadhwa, who is a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, and a researcher at Duke University and Harvard Law School. It’s an honour to talk with you. Thank you so much for your time.

Vivek Wadhwa (VW); Good to talk to you.

HK; As my research is on the law of success, let me start by asking your personal definition of success?

VW; For me, success means doing good for the world, helping other people, and making an impact. But success also means rising in your career. If you’re building a company, then building a profitable high growth company. It means different things to different people. At a personal level it’s one thing. At the business level it’s another thing.

HK; Then is your success towards others?

VW; What matters most to me is giving back and helping other people. It’s about helping the world. This is why I’m in academia, because I like helping students. I want to teach them as much as I can. I’ve learnt a lot over the last 50 years. Now I want to teach. I want to give back. I want to share my ideas with the world. This is why I’m doing so much writing. This is why I do so much teaching. And this is why I mentor so many entrepreneurs. Because it’s all about giving back and helping.

HK; That’s a fantastic opinion. What kind of ability is required for the young generation in the 21st Century?

VW; First of all, you have a set of ideals and values; you have to remember that money isn’t everything, if you compromise on your values, you will never win. There’s a saying in America, if you sell your soul you never get it back. So number one, remember the importance of maintaining your values and ethics. Number two, you have to accept failure, that things will go wrong. There’ll be many ups and downs in your life. Accept that. Number three is take the risk, be fearless. Number four, work extremely hard, work day and night. There is no substitute for hard work. And number five, when you do achieve success, then give back. Help others behind you. Lift ten other people behind you and help them achieve the success that you’ve achieved.

HK; Let me ask about your personal life. Why did you become a professional in the field of business, globalisation and technology?

VW; I have been always in computer technology. The first time I saw a computer, I fell in love with the technology, and that’s why I pursued it for the first part of my career. Later on I started moving up the ranks within information technology. I went from being a computer programmer, to being a project manager, to being a vice president of technology. My team built some very innovative technology at CS First Boston, which led to the creation of a startup company, we grew that company from zero to $120 million in revenue in five years and then took it public. Then I started my second company, and became a hard-core entrepreneur. Later on I had health problems and wanted to get out of the tech world, so I joined the academic world.

HK; The development of technology is very fast. What is remarkable change compared to the past decade and what is required for entrepreneurs?

VW; Developing technology is quite easy now. Writing software, for example, used be very costly. It would take you months or years. Now the ability to develop innovative solutions is very easy. The costs have gone down dramatically in the software world. In the hardware world they’re still high, but in the hardware world, also, you can now also assemble components quite easily and you can come up with creative solutions quite easily.

Getting back to software and getting back to entrepreneurship: What is required is for you to have an idea, for you to test that idea and make sure that customers want it, and then get other people who have the skills necessary to help you build a successful company and make it happen.

HK; I reckon you are familiar with innovation. Let me ask your definition of innovation.

VW; Innovation is taking an idea and turning it into reality, turning an idea into an invention.

HK; Is there any difference between innovations of American, Indian, or Chinese?

VW; The innovation that is happening in China is happening in manufacturing. China really isn’t innovating in the American sense of the word. American’s is the capital of innovation. There’s so much new technology and new ideas that happen over here. India is beginning to innovate in technology. Over the last decade they have started moving up in the value chain of technology development. There’s a lot of interesting stuff happening there, but it’s in its infancy right now.

HK; Can you tell me your sense on what’s exactly going on in the field of technology?

VW; We’re in the middle of something which is as significant as the industrial revolution. Over the last 15 or 20 years the Internet has changed everything. 15 years ago, most people didn’t even know what email was. Today everyone is addicted to email. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have an iPhone or a BlackBerry, who doesn’t check emails 50 times a day. Everyone is now connected to the whole world through email and through the Internet. This is a revolution that happened over the last ten or 15 years. What’s happened here with the Internet is as significant as what happened with the telephone or with electricity back in a different century, excepting its happening much faster. We’re at the beginning of a revolution.

HK; Do you call this the ‘new’ industrial revolution?

VW; No, Industrial revolution was the last revolution. This is now the Internet revolution.

HK; Can I ask the difference between China and India in terms of technology?

VW: China, basically, is working top down. The government has mandated development, and mandated growth, and they’ve done an exceptional job of making it happen. India is bottom up. The Indian government, basically, is busy doing whatever they do, and it’s the entrepreneurs who are making all the innovation happen, who are, causing all the growth.

HK; Talking about economic development, which system do you think is better?

VW; Frankly, I like the democratic system much better. I have a strong bias here, living in America. I like capitalism. I like democracy. I like freedom. And I strongly value human rights. China is doing it at the cost of millions of people, which they can do, because in their society they believe that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. They make it happen at all costs; whatever it takes. In India, in America, in democracies, you can’t do that. There everyone has equal rights. Everyone is allowed to start a development project. They’re different, but I have strong bias towards the American economic model.

HK; Would you say that China wastes their human resources?

VW; In China, it’s at a brutal cost to the environment, for example. If you look at what manufacturing has done to them, that it’s really horrible to see how much damage has been done through manufacturing. Also, for example, they move the poor out from the cities and take over land as they want to. These things actually are acceptable in China, but they’re not acceptable in democracies. That’s the big difference.

HK; Can you tell me how important the female is in India and how it’s going to change for coming decades? Many people concern that the disadvantage of part of women in India.

VW; In India if you look at construction sites, for example, you see as many males as you do females. There’s no difference between them at the lower levels.

HK; Oh really? I didn’t know that.

VW; The interesting thing in India, that you see, which really surprised me, is how many women there are in top positions in companies. In financial services, for example, many of the CEOs of the leading banks are women. You don’t even have that in America. The women have been able to cross the barriers much more easily in India than they have in in America in terms of rising into senior positions. There are unique dynamics at play in India.

HK; Thank you so much for your time. I appreciate it.

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