NET WORTH: $3 billion
SOURCE OF WEALTH: Aspect Development, Inc., Symphony Technology Group
FUNDING AREAS: Entrepreneurial development, skill development, creating opportunities for the disabled, and innovation in India
OVERVIEW: A signatory of the Giving Pledge, Wadhwani is a strong proponent of philanthrocapitalism, mostly in his home country of India.
BACKGROUND: Wadhwani attended the Indian Institute of Technology in Mumbai and earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Carnegie Mellon. Having always had an entrepreneurial spirit, he began building his own companies, the first specializing in software and solutions for computer-integrated manufacturing and the next in technology-enabled energy management solutions. He seemed to run on a ten-year cycle, building the company, selling it for a handsome profit, and then starting anew. In 2000, Wadhwani sold his third such company, Aspect Development, to i2 Technologies for $9.3 billion, almost entirely in i2 stock. When the tech bubble burst later that year, Wadhwani lost a great deal of his fortune, but he got right back up started rebuilding, taking $250 million of his own money to develop not just one but several new tech companies. He currently serves as Executive Chairman of Symphony Teleca Corporation, a private equity and investment fund.
PHILOSOPHY: Wadhwani has signed the Giving Pledge, happily promising to give away most of his money. But unlike many other Giving Pledge signatories, he has a specific number in mind: 80%. At the time he signed the Pledge, he commented that he would leave his wife, Kathy, and his daughter Melina only enough money to keep them comfortable. "Leaving too much for one's children will take away their own entrepreneurial skills," he said.
It is clear that he attacks his philanthropy with as much passion as his entrepreneurship. In fact, if you compare his current company, Symphony Technology Group, which is a private equity firm that makes investments in global software companies, with the Wadhwani Foundation, you see that their business models are largely similar. While Symphony provides seed money to start up or grow software and software services companies, the foundation acts as an economic accelerator in developing countries, with most of the focus on Wadhwani's home country of India.
RESEARCH & DEVELOPMENT: Through the Wadhwani Foundation, he has already invested more than $25 million in a number of projects in India, including a cooperative skills development project with the Indian Human Resources ministry and two scientific research centers — one at IIT-Mumbai and another at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore. The foundation also invests in smaller businesses inside India to make more consumer products available to more people in the country.
ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Wadhwani believes that other philanthropists, especially those inside India, need to target larger groups with their largesse and provide larger funding pools, and that the best way for him to create an impact with his giving is to fund promising entrepreneurs. To that end, Wadhwani started India's National Entrepreneurship Network (NEN) in 2003. NEN has led the way in the creation of a number of mentoring programs at Indian colleges and universities, and it has trained thousands of potential entrepreneurs on basic business principles in that time. He has also funded the creation of the Wadhwani Centre for Entrepreneurial Development at the Indian School of Business, which engages in broad-based policy research, and set up chairs at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C., and the Indian Council for Research and International Economic Relations (ICRIER) in New Delhi, India, to fund the development of a policy framework for that purpose.
- Rishi Chopra, Program Coordinator, Wadhwani Foundation, 2475 Hanover Street, Palo Alto CA 94304