‘Kanwal gave US $3 million to IIT Bombay to help set up
a new School of Information Technology, named KReSIT
(Kanwal Rekhi School of Information Technology),
which opened in 1999. He has been a major donor to
Michigan Tech, including a gift of $5 million
for new computer science facilities.
He made a promise to his wife Ann
that they would be well off by the
time he was 40. Kanwal made
$ 210 million in 1989. He was 41…
he was a year late, but he had
basically kept his promise to Ann.
Rekhi Believed in himself
Kanwal Rekhi made his millions by launching and then selling his own start-up. Kanwal Rekhi was born in 1945 in Rawalpindi… the third of eight children of an Indian army officer. Within two years of his birth, Kanwal’s family fled the newly partitioned Muslim Pakistan with little more than the clothes on their backs and settled in Kanpur, India.
After what he described as a middle-class upbringing with an emphasis on education, Kanwal graduated from the highly-esteemed IIT Bombay with a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering.
He came to America to earn a Masters in Electrical Engineering at Michigan Tech University.
Newly arrived, he recalls having only $10 in his pocket. He found a room at the YMCA for $4 a night. That first day, he found a job washing dishes for $1.25 per hour. After a full day’s work, with meal provided, he had earned $10… and that’s when he knew he could survive in America. “I had a place to sleep, food in my stomach, a little extra money in my pocket… and a sense of purpose,”.
He took on odd jobs at night as a busboy, doorman and even factory welder.
While he was still in school, he somehow struck up a pen pal relationship with an American-born woman named Ann Holt who would soon join the Air Force.
They corresponded for three years before they actually met. Within a few weeks of their meeting, they decided to get married. By this time, he had gotten his Master’s degree and was working as a computer engineer. He made a promise to Ann that they would be well off by the time he was 40.
Kanwal, along with two Indian colleagues, started Excelan, a computer networking company. Kanwal ran the company for awhile and worked hard to fit the role of American CEO, shaving his beard, buying lots of suits and white shirts and taking speech therapy. He was named Entrepreneur of the Year by Venture Magazine in 1987. The company went public… it was a successful IPO and Sold to Novell. He later turned to a group called TIE which he had helped start in 1992. TIE stands for The IndUS Entrepreneurs, a Silicon Valley based non-profit support network that helps bring young Indian entrepreneurs along, providing advice, contacts and funding.
Because education was so essential in his success, Kanwal pledged $5 million dollars to the Foundation for Excellence, which identifies bright, but poor students in India and pays for their college tuition AND living expenses, so that they don’t burden their families. The Foundation has funded more than 1,500 students so far. Kanwal’s particular interest is in supporting disadvantaged girls. “That’s how you leverage education for the whole family,” he said. “If you educate a boy, you have educated a person. If you educate a girl, you educate a family down the road.”