iMahal Interview Series:  Rahul Roy
August 22, 2002

iMahal:  At this time, did you accept the notion that you were going to have to stay in India?

Roy:  I was still in the middle, between my brother and my dad, not knowing which way to go. I got past the IIT entrance exam. This was in 1978. My other brothers studied engineering and science at IIT. I got a chance to study chemical engineering; my father said, "No, you are staying here buddy."

I asked what I was supposed to do. He gave me a choice: become a doctor or a chartered accountant. If you become a chartered accountant [like a Chartered Public Account (CPA) in the US but more prestigious and demanding] you can rebuild my business. So that convinced me that the CA was the best way to go. So after finding my spot in IIT in engineering, expecting to be with all my buddies who also got in, I had to pull out of that program.

From there on my father started nurturing me to take over his business, father started nurturing me to take over his business..
Bengal Lamps, which was a very successful business in India. These lamps were a source of pride for many in India because they were the first to be made in India and compete with the lamps made elsewhere by companies such as Philips. Part of the sales pitch was "support India" by buying these lamps; this was before independence.

My father asked me to join this CA thing and I became a commerce [business] student, which I did enjoy. But once I learned the bookkeeping, there was not much else to do. Of course there was business law and other topics. So what happened was, I passed a couple of the exams and then I started getting pressure. Then several years passed and I took the exams.

iMahal:  It sounds like at that point in your life, things were well established. You were in line to become a businessman in India. So how did the move to America still happen?

Roy:  One of my brothers in America said, "Look, I will tell you -- in the city you come from it can't go easy. It is so corrupted with bribery and mafia you will not be able to tolerate it. Dad could not do it. Your brother could not do it. How can you do it?"

I said I'm a fighter, I'll do whatever it takes. So I got some lifetime experiences looking at the system there. I got scared. I decided that I agreed with my brother in America who also said that the system there was clean and a person who is focused can be very successful. And my brothers were doing well in America. One was a manager at IBM making $50,000 salary [nearly two decades ago] while the other was working for Bechtel and also making good money. They were both very happy.

I won't go into more details about the extent of the corruption where I come from.
..I couldn't continue my life there in that type of environment..
But it was enough for me to get a shock. What was I going to do? I couldn't continue my life there in that type of environment. My brother said, "If you come to Silicon Valley I don't think your CA will cut it here." Luckily I had just started to study computer science at IIT.

All my brothers agreed with the change, even my older guru brother, who was getting sick at the time. He said, you go and I'll follow you. But my dad said, "No; we'll move to another town and start again." So I said let me think about it. Anyway, I took my brother's advice and continued to study computer science and planned to go to America.

And then I said to my dad, "You will not pay a single rupee to anyone who asks for a bribe to get your payment out. And your payments get delayed. If you won't pay a penny you won't get paid, period. So you know, being your son, that I can't do that either, or I become part of the process." Dad said he understood.

first job
Silicon Valley



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