In 1969, 12-year-old Vivek Ranadivé sat in his Juhu home with his ears glued to a transistor radio. Neil Armstrong had set foot on the moon, and Ranadivé was mesmerised when he heard the famous words, “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.” The moment was a defining one not only in the world of aeronautics but also for Ranadivé. The kind of kid who was always taking things like watches and radios apart, Ranadivé made up his mind to pursue science and technology.
A few years later, a documentary he saw on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), USA, had him hooked. He applied and got through at the renowned institute, and at age 16, with $50 in his pocket, left for America.
Ranadivé has come a long way since. Today, the 58-year-old IT millionaire is credited for digitising Wall Street in the 1980s with his first company, Teknekron. His current venture, TIBCO Software, is a multimillion-dollar company. The California-based tech tycoon is a sports lover and owns the National Basketball Association (NBA) team, Sacramento Kings — the only Indian to do so.
It’s not often that Ranadivé visits the city of his birth. On one of his rare trips back home (he was here for an awards function), we caught up with him. “I miss this place,” he says. “I’ll always be a Mumbaikar at heart.” Ranadivé has fond memories of playing on an empty Juhu beach, and of flying kites from his terrace. He also grew up playing cricket at Shivaji Park. However, Mumbai is almost unrecognisable to him today: “I lived by the beach in a beautiful mansion in Juhu. This morning, I went where it used to stand, and now there are just buildings everywhere.”
By his own admission, a fair bit of luck aided his journey from Mumbai to USA. He had to convince the American Consulate, which used to issues visas only to graduate students, to grant him a visa. The next hurdle presented itself soon after. “The rupee was not a convertible currency back then,” Ranadivé says. “They gave dollars for graduate students but not for undergraduates.” The determined teen wasn’t ready to give up on his dream just yet though. He camped outside the door of the head of the Reserve Bank of India’s office all day. “Finally, at the end of the day, his secretary took pity on me and let me in for a few minutes.” Ranadivé convinced the RBI chief to give him just enough to reach America and find his feet.
Ranadivé’s fray into basketball happened by chance too. As a single dad, he was trying to find ways to spend more time with his then 12-year-old daughter, Anjali. “I foolishly volunteered to coach her basketball team even though I’d never touched a basketball,” he says. So, on the first day, he simply made the team run up and down the court for an hour. Ranadivé went back home and studied the game. “I was always a math guy so I created a math equation for the game. I taught them a formula which they embraced. We ended up winning every single game, and made it to the National Championship. That’s how I fell in love with basketball,” he says.