How many children do you know who take career decisions at age 11, and then go on to implement them within days? Not many perhaps, it’s the rare kid that gets to do that.
Rarer still, when you consider that the kid comes from a pretty close-knit joint family, has several dozen cousins under the same roof for company, and numerous elders to make up his mind for him. So when the kid from one of northern India’s well-to-do business families, and a student of class VI at an aristocratic English medium school decides to leave his native Kanpur and move to New York, just about 10,000 miles away, it surprises, even shocks, everyone in his family. And we are not talking of the 21st century here; we are in the India of 1979, a time when a telephone is almost a luxury, the fastest car on the road is, well, not fast enough, batsmen are shy of wearing helmets, and carrying foreign exchange in excess of 500 dollars could definitely get you behind
It surprises his family even more when after a year or so in New York---where he attends the Churchill Elementary School at Rochester, and has to make very independent decisions at age 11 which at times are “scary, but good” ---the kid decides to return to his roots. This time, he opts not for the aristocracy of his Kanpur school, but for the boarding confines of a Hindi-medium school at Lakhimpur
Kheri, Uttar Pradesh’s largest district. “That turned out to be best phase of my life, the times I value the most” he tells you.
But then Amit Kanodia, now 38, is a rare guy.. Instead of opting for the obvious by slipping into the shoes of his business family elders, and becoming “just another one of them”, he chose to carve out a niche for himself, the hard way. He’s done well, that’s for sure. You could see it in the way he was the much-in-demand venture capitalist delegate at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2006 at Hyderabad held in January.
People who find out about him want Kanodia on their side for what he is. But what exactly is he? Nobody around him, not even
Kanodia, will spell out the exact extent of his team’s investments and fundings as a VC for reasons that can lead to “unwanted publicity” and much more. But those in the loop indicate that the amounts could be humongous, equivalent to the GDP of small republics..
The business card Kanodia pulled out at the PBD says he is the CEO of
LincolnVentures, a Brookline, Massachusetts-based firm. Kanodia says he was inspired by Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg address to name his firm after the great American President. The name certainly has a ring of credibility to it. The firm makes investments in commercial and residential real estate projects in the United States and now in India. And overall, all his ventures allow him the luxury to retreat to his giant farms at Vermont and Cape Cod.
LincolnVentures is obviously only one among many of Kanodia’s calling cards. There are businesses and ventures across the world where he and a core group of investors have put in large amounts of money. They range from information technology, storage, retail, wireless technology, mobile phones, coffee, biotechnology, life-sciences, health care, education, and much, much more. Whenever they zero in on a venture, and decide to bankroll it, the Kanodia think-tank (that includes his 6’5” tall close buddy Steven Watson, a Harvard B-School graduate of 1977 who’s started several businesses across the world) looks at the teams they’d deal with, their overall expertise, the strengths of the products and the ideas, the processes involved, the market-size of the businesses, and the opportunities that they present. The decisions have as much to do with the comfort zone (people involved, the value addition) as with the basic economic principle of making money. “Finally, after all evaluation is over, we go by our guts,” says
Kanodia. “We understand each other very well and that helps,” adds Watson.
Back in the U.S.A after boarding school at Lakhimpur
Kheri, Kanodia self-financed his way through college, refusing to ask his family for a dime. At times he worked up to 40 hours a week after fulltime classes. The slogging helped, he earned a triple baccalaureate in three years, and an MBA in another.
While the entrepreneur in him is shaped much by what he studied and grasped in the United States, the patriotism in him is shaped by what he went through at his school at Lakhimpur
Kheri. “India has a rich history, but the 700 years of invasion caused much confusion as to who we are as a people. We need to build a sense of community and civic pride, what we had before the invasions. It’ll change our land.”
Here’s a young man with three things—a future, a vision, and a few bucks too.