[BUSINESS] Himanshu Bhatia: Chief Executive of Rose International
- The Boss
A Flair for the Unconventional
As told to Patricia R. Olsen.
The New York Times
Published: September 11, 2005
WHEN I was a teenager living in New Delhi, I read "The Fountainhead"
by Ayn Rand and decided I wanted to be an architect. My parents
wanted me to be a doctor, but I stood my ground and took the entrance
exam to study architecture.
Admission to college is very competitive in India, especially for a
professional degree. At the time, there were about 2,000 students
competing for about 28 openings in the School of Planning and
Architecture. I was one of six women admitted.
I have a history of doing unconventional things. After I graduated
from college, I saw an ad for a beauty contest and entered it for
fun. I had no expectations. I grew up in a family where girls were
encouraged not to attract attention to themselves, so this was more a
rebellious act than any desire to win. To my surprise, I came in
second. I was offered a modeling contract, but I had bigger plans. I
left for the United States two months later.
I had worked in architecture for a year in India, and I wanted to get
a master's in my field here. The semester had already started in that
program, however, so I got a master's in management information
systems instead. I also got married. It was an arranged marriage.
My last salaried job was working in information technology for Edward
Jones, the investment firm. They had a program where I could work at
home, which seemed attractive because I had two small children. But
when they told me the hourly rate compared to my annual salary, I
thought, "Is that all, for my qualifications?"
My husband tried to talk me out of starting a business. "Why do you
need to do something different?" he asked. I had seen my parents
struggle, and I wanted a better life. "I have to," I told him. I was
ready to fail. I started cold-calling and attending networking
breakfasts. I wrote a business plan with the help of the Small
Business Administration. I was lucky to get a few contracts and felt
I owed nothing but outstanding service to these clients for putting
their trust in me.
The early years weren't easy. I was always trying to keep costs down,
so I'd take late-night flights and look for the cheapest rental cars.
Once I took a late-night flight to Arizona and couldn't find my way
around. I ended up in the desert and it was pitch black. I wanted to
put my head on the steering wheel and cry. Another time, in
Washington, I hailed a cab to take me to a meeting. The cab driver,
who had just arrived in the country, drove around for two hours. I
was afraid I was being kidnapped. This was before cellphones and I
was late to the meeting.
It was sheer luck that we were able to survive when the technology
bubble burst. A majority of our clients have always been government
organizations. A few people said that wasn't too smart, but it saved
us. We saw a lot of our competitors go under. I never understood the
dot-com hype, and the business model just didn't make sense. I see
the same thing now with the overvaluation of offshore companies.
The lessons I learned early in life helped me immensely in making a
company grow. My mother used to teach night school and wasn't there
when I got home from school, so I learned how to fend for myself.
When I was 12, she visited the United States for several months,
leaving the household responsibilities to me. I had to learn how to
use my time and energy wisely. I learned survival, which is what
business is all about. I've also learned that as a leader, how kind
you are is more important than how much you know.
Two years ago we put a great deal of time and money into landing a
new client in Texas, but the company chose three large multinational
companies instead. I said fine, remember us. I got busy with other
ways to strengthen the company. The client called recently and said
one of its suppliers was not performing. They gave us the contract
instead. Persistence pays.