Vinod Gupta’s (My) American Dream. And How You Can Dream, Too
The Great Recession may be over, but that doesn’t mean the American Dream isn’t alive and well. Young people can easily get discouraged, burdened by student loans and limited opportunities. Perhaps I’m a bit too optimistic — I was, quite literally, born on the Fourth of July. But for the hardworking American I do believe that anything is possible with innovation, dedication, and belief in one self. This is true if you’re here by choice or by chance
Allow me to tell you my story. I was born in a small Indian village without electricity, roads, running water, toilets, televisions or cars. After receiving my high-school education in a village school, I enrolled in IIT Kharagpur, majoring in agricultural engineering. Shortly after graduation, I was admitted to the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, Department of Agricultural Engineering, under the leadership of Professor Bill Splinter. Dr. Splinter had been a visiting professor at IIT Kharagpur, and he encouraged me to continue my education.
And then I’ll never forget this, my family borrowed the money for my plane ticket to America, and this Indian kid flew to Nebraska with one suitcase of clothes and $58 in my pocket. Receiving my American engineering degree two years later, I spent another two years at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, earning a Master’s degree in Business Administration.
I made Nebraska my home and found a job in Omaha as a marketing research analyst with Commodore Corporation, a manufacturer of mobile homes. I was asked to evaluate the performance of rival companies. To solve the problem, I took charge of acquiring a list of every mobile home dealer in the United States. It was difficult to get information, and the information I gathered also tended to become obsolete in no time. I felt that I could do better. And I was right.
So ordered all available 4,800 Yellow Pages phone directories and set out to compile the list myself on my own time. When the list was completed, I gave Commodore two options: pay for exclusive rights to the information, or receive it free of charge and allow me to sell it to competitors. Reluctantly, and balking at the cost, Commodore chose the latter option.
I invested borrowed funds — $100 from a local Nebraska bank — in mailers that he then sent to other mobile home manufacturers. In less than a month, I received checks for $13,000 and orders for $22,000. I found my American Dream, and my career was about to take off.
Well before the internet and search engines, I founded Business Research Services & American Business Lists (ABI) and left Commodore a year later. Hiring two part-time employees, my company created lists from the information available in telephone books. These lists became cost-saving marketing tools for mobile home manufacturers that needed sales prospects and warm leads.
The business expanded quickly. With a philosophy of identifying the customer’s needs and offering solutions backed with first-class service, I methodically added other industries to his database. Motorcycle, bicycle, boat, automobile, tractor, and CB radio dealers were among the first focus groups, and I found that the demand for accurate business-to-business marketing information extended to just about every industry. The possibilities were endless.
The long and the short of it is that I’ve done very well for myself and my family. But my greatest joy and most profound impact hasn’t been the wealth I’ve accumulated. Not by a long shot. Instead, I’ve invested in what has been the greatest gift to me: education.
If you ever go to India, you’ll hear about the Vinod Gupta School of Management. I don’t like to brag, but it’s the best in its class. Today, the school offers several programs for its students (MBA, Executive MBA, and PhD in Management) and hosts many seminars, Management Development Programs (MDPs), and workshops for students and faculty. VGSoM, in fact, has a unique curriculum that stresses data analytics and supply chain management for its MBA students. The school also offers a unique need-based scholarship to its students with the sole aim to ensure access of deserving students to world class management training. When you’ve made you, you have to reach back and help the next ones in line.
What I’m saying with all of this is that nothing is impossible. If you feel stuck in a rut, take a look around you. There are problems all around that need solving. Find those solutions to those problems, and you’ll make your American Dream come true. It’s closer than you think.
Vinod Gupta is a noted entrepreneur and business executive who possesses nearly 40 years of experience at a wide range of companies in the United States and abroad, Vinod Gupta currently serves as General Partner of Everest Capital Partners, Inc. in Omaha, Nebraska.