Two young employees at Tibco Software Inc. recently challenged the head of the company to a pull-up contest, and Vivek Ranadive didn't hesitate to accept.
The employees, men in their 30s, combined to gut out 12 pull-ups. Ranadive, who is 55, pumped out nearly twice as many.
"When he was done, he just hung up there for two minutes looking at them," said Roger Craig, the former San Francisco 49ers star who is now an executive at Tibco and a close friend of Ranadive's. "He said to them, 'I can do more. You want me to do more?' "
Craig said that lesson in humility for the younger workers underscores Ranadive's competitive drive – a characteristic on display in his bid to buy the Sacramento Kings and partner with the city to build a $448 million downtown sports arena.
On Friday, a group of investors led by Ranadive finalized an agreement to buy a controlling interest in the Kings franchise from the Maloof family for $347 million. The deal requires approval from the NBA's board of governors, which is expected to vote this week.
Along with his drive – he soundly defeated another Tibco executive in a push-up contest by completing 150 – Ranadive brings a hands-on leadership style, Craig said. He has been known to pitch in on sales calls at Tibco, a $1 billion-a-year software firm in Palo Alto that specializes in data analysis and e-commerce.
Craig said Ranadive didn't like the idea of Sacramento, the capital city, losing its only major league sports franchise. When a Seattle group reached agreement with the Maloofs in January to buy the Kings and move the franchise to the Pacific Northwest, Ranadive was committed to blocking the sale, Craig said. He assembled an ownership group that includes wealthy investors from the Silicon Valley, San Diego, the East Bay and Sacramento.
"He hates to lose," Craig said. "I don't care if someone's grandmother is on the tennis court, he's going to beat that person."
In an interview Friday, Ranadive acknowledged his ultra-competitive side. He said his first order of business is to ensure the sale of large numbers of season tickets for Kings games. After that, he said, "we want to restore this team to its former greatness."
Ranadive lives in Atherton but said Kings fans should expect to see him at every home game. He said he also plans to attend team practices regularly, suggesting he will transfer his hands-on business philosophy to his new role as lead owner of the Kings.
A longtime basketball fan with an admittedly "ugly" jump shot, Ranadive was part of a group that purchased the Golden State Warriors in 2010.
The Warriors finished with losing records in the first two seasons under that ownership group but experienced a dramatic turnaround this year. The team made the second round of the NBA playoffs, only to be eliminated Thursday night just as Ranadive learned the Maloofs had accepted his offer.
'Most sophisticated' arena
Ranadive on Friday wouldn't promise the same kind of quick transformation on the court for the Kings, a team that has not made the playoffs in seven seasons. And he wouldn't discuss personnel decisions he might make, saying it was too early.
"I'd like to under-promise and over-deliver (on the team's success)," he said. "We're building for the future."
Ranadive's personal wealth is self-made. At 16, he watched a documentary on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was inspired to leave his native Mumbai, India, for Cambridge, Mass. He regularly tells the story of arriving in the United States with $50 in his pocket and going on to earn a master's degree in electrical engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.
In 1997, he founded Tibco Software. Its clients include airlines, utility firms and Yahoo. He said he plans to apply that data background to the Kings.
Ranadive led the development of a mobile app for the Warriors that allows fans to read team news, upgrade their seats from their phones and explore interactive seating and parking charts at the team's Oracle Arena. The planned Kings arena would likely include similar innovations.
Mark Friedman, a partner with Ranadive in the team purchase who is taking a lead role in development of the arena, said the facility would be "the most sophisticated, digitally connected arena in the world."
"I believe this is a transformational opportunity for us to put up a 21st century, state-of-the-art arena that truly has an impact on our state capital," Ranadive said.
He touts his cool side
As a data expert, Ranadive might seem the antithesis of the Kings' soon-to-be-former owners.
More than a decade ago, the Maloofs were introduced to Sacramento as billionaire playboys who owned a casino in Las Vegas. When their team was winning – which was often in those early years – the family was the toast of Sacramento. A signature image of the era: brothers Joe and Gavin jumping wildly on the Arco Arena court and slapping hands with fans after Kings' victories.
Ranadive may not be as flamboyant, but like the Maloofs he has his glossy celebrity side. On Friday, he jokingly scolded Bee reporters for labeling him a "nerd" in earlier coverage.
"I am not a nerd," he said.
A photograph that ran alongside a profile of Ranadive in Esquire shows him dressed in a Rat Pack-style suit and sunglasses, lying on a raft in a swimming pool. In photos he posts on Twitter, Ranadive often flashes the "shaka" hand gesture (pinky and thumb extended, middle three fingers curled to the palm), a symbol of friendship in surfer cultures.
In the past month, Ranadive has hung out with NBA Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen at the Kentucky Derby and San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval at a Warriors game. He posted a photo of himself in a private jet, flying to a Warriors playoff game in Denver with Craig.
The investors partnering with Ranadive have their own colorful backgrounds.
The team includes Katrina Garnett, founder of an online social network that allows wealthy families to share travel experiences. On the side, Garnett, a native of Australia, is a competitive clay shooter and horseback rider.
Another investor, Arjun Gupta, founded a venture capital firm that has raised more than $625 million in investments. He has taken part in six expeditions to Himalayan peaks of more than 20,000 feet, and has skied to both the North and South poles.
The group's vice chairmen are the Jacobs brothers – Paul, Jeff and Hal – whose family founded communications giant Qualcomm. Hal recently won a three-point shooting contest at Ranadive's home, beating other members of the ownership group.
A late addition to the team is Raj Bhathal, whose company RAJ Manufacturing is one of the largest swimwear companies in the country, with such brands as Hurley and Nautica. He once owned a franchise in the now-defunct World League of American Football, and was part of a group that lost on a bid to buy the New Orleans Hornets.
"My philosophy has always been to surround myself with people who are way smarter than me," Ranadive said. "I have big dreams of what we can do with this franchise."
Born: Mumbai, India. Lives in Atherton.
Professional: Chairman and chief executive of Tibco Software, a $1 billion-a-year data analysis and e-commerce company.
Personal: Three adult children: Aneel, 29; Andre, 25; Anjali, 20.
Education: Master's degree in electrical engineering from MIT; master's in business administration from Harvard.
Basketball: Co-owner and vice chairman of the Golden State Warriors; will have to divest his interest in Warriors to assume ownership of Kings.