Ahead of the Curve
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Hand-picked by Vinod Dham—the father of the Pentium chip—to work at Intel after his graduation from IIT, Rajeev Chandrasekhar (M.S. CS ’88) says he had something besides drive, perspective, and a contrarian streak to jumpstart his success as a chip architect, telecom pioneer, and venture capitalist.
“I was where I was when I was,” he says via telephone from India, where he is serving his second term as an independent member in the upper house of India’s Parliament, representing Bangalore and the state of Karnataka. “It’s fate and a bit of a blessing to be where you are when you are. I found myself a little ahead of the curve and in places where people hadn’t yet reached.”
Chandrasekhar was a member of the architecture teams that invented the 486 chip and later, Intel’s signature Pentium chip. He recalls that co-founder Andy Grove often stood at Intel’s main entrance clocking employees and that it was common to see Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or Larry Ellison in the company cafeteria sharing doughnuts and discussion. It was a time when many people believed computing was reserved for helping businesses improve productivity and calculating the bottom line—not for households or personal communication.
“But I felt like a participant and witness to the building of a new world, one that we now live in and kind of take for granted,” he says. Chandrasekhar’s initials appear on every 486 processor ever manufactured, and one of his treasured keepsakes is the first 486 fabricated chip that went into production, signed by all members of his design group.
Infused with an entrepreneurial spirit from his time at Intel, Chandrasekhar returned to India in 1991. He got married and joined his father-in-law’s company, BPL Group, and hoped to expand its reach by investing in the country’s fledgling private telecom sector. He admits he was totally naïve about the industry and remained steadfast in the face of naysayers who proclaimed mobile phones “complete nonsense” and a luxury reserved only for India’s rich. By 2001, BPL Mobile was one of the largest cellular operators in India.
Facing increasingly restrictive regulatory challenges, Chandrasekhar says he simply didn’t wish to run a business anymore and sold the holding company, BPL Communications, four years later for $1.2 billion. He used some of the proceeds to take what he saw as the next logical step for an admitted risk-taker: the founding of Jupiter Capital, a venture development, management, and investment company.
“Jupiter has a fairly significant technology portfolio but not in the usual areas, such as Indian information technology or the Internet,” he says. “We instead select areas that are high-value and niche-oriented, such as aerospace and space aviation technology, that require significant amounts of specialized competency and knowledge. We pick markets where we believe people haven’t yet spotted the opportunity and we therefore create the opportunity ourselves.”
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