Ailene Voisin

Ailene Voisin: Kings' Ranadive welcomes his chance to rock the NBA

Ailene Voisin
Ailene Voisin

PALO ALTO – On a typical day, and there are few of those anymore, Vivek Ranadive can be found here at TIBCO headquarters, a cluster of two-story office buildings occupied by many of the most ambitious and successful executives in the software industry.

This is his element, a multibillion-dollar, real-time computing company that, among other things, is credited with digitizing Wall Street. Since the company was founded in 1997, TIBCO has expanded to 50,000 employees and 60 offices worldwide, with a mere fraction of the work force housed on the complex just west of Stanford.

But that was yesterday's plan. Ranadive obsesses about today and tomorrow, about reinventing his industry and, yes, perhaps, even the wheel.

"Five years from now," the Kings' principal owner said, "more than half my revenue will come from products that these guys haven't yet invented. That's the blistering pace of innovation."

Spend a few hours on his turf, and it quickly becomes apparent that his romance with the Warriors was never going to last. He is never satisfied being a minority owner of anything. He wants to run the show, wants to make the decisions, has to be the man in charge.

As executives bustle in and out of a conference room where they have been summoned and introduced by the boss, Ranadive sits at a table, observing, hearing. His deepset dark eyes are penetrating, probing, curious. When he deviates from the script – and he is already famous for his familiar platitudes – the conversation flows, featuring insights and humorous asides and anecdotes, often with himself as the target.

Ranadive has been unfailingly good-natured about his recent bicycle accident, for instance. Without prompting, he whips out his cellphone and shows images of his workout on a stair-stepper later the same day.

"I said, 'Screw it,' " said Ranadive, his left arm in a sling. "I hadn't finished my workout. My son Andre was with me, and he became the adult. He said, 'Dad, what are you doing? You're bleeding!' The shoulder still keeps popping out, but I just pop it back in."

He smiles, proudly. Slight and wiry, with features tanned from long walks near his home, he fancies himself as something of a jock. Besides owning a black belt in taekwondo, he was an accomplished soccer and cricket player in his native India. He discovered basketball later in life, he said, while coaching his daughter's middle school team. Intrigued by the fast pace and the fundamentals of passing and movement and teamwork, he was hooked.

But he clearly wants the ball. After joining Joe Lacob's ownership group that surprised Larry Ellison when it purchased the Warriors three summers ago, he soon bristled at his lack of influence as a minority partner.

When Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson began assembling a coalition early this year to purchase the Kings and prevent the team's sale and relocation to Seattle, Ranadive remained in the background but designated TIBCO vice president and former 49ers All-Pro running back Roger Craig as his emissary. He wanted in, and he wanted control.

"Vivek isn't good at taking orders," said Craig, laughing. "He's been a CEO since he was 21, 22. He just waited for the right time to disclose his involvement, but we had been looking at Sacramento for a long time. We had many conference calls with the commissioner (David Stern). The vision Vivek has for the Kings is amazing, and he's going to do something big for the city, create jobs, bring technology. You'll see. He never allows himself to not be relevant. And maybe because of the way he grew up, he honestly believes he can make the world a better place."

Ranadive often speaks of arriving at MIT with $50 in his wallet, but that's only a small part of his immigrant story. The son of prominent parents, he grew up in a home with servants and drivers in a wealthy beachside suburb of Mumbai. His life – no, his world – changed the night Neil Armstrong stepped on the moon.

"I think I was 11 years old," he recalled about the epic July 20, 1969, moment. "Middle of the night. I had my ear plastered to a transistor radio when I heard the magical words: 'That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.' I remember thinking, 'Who are these people who were able to put someone in a box and send him 250,000 miles away? What courage! I said to myself, 'OK, I want to go to America. I want to study science, technology, and I want to be an American.' "

Ranadive's desire to explore a world beyond India intensified when his father was jailed during growing political unrest in the mid-1970s. Yeshwant Ranadive, known to friends and family as "The Captain," had flown Spitfires during World War II, his routes often over the treacherous Himalayas. A national hero, he returned home and became secretary general of a pilots' association. When he advised his pilots not to fly Indian Airlines' newest aircraft because they were unsafe, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had him arrested and jailed.

Because of his parents' political and legal problems, Vivek, who was 17 and preparing to enroll at MIT, never asked for financial support. The youngest of the three Ranadive children arrived in Boston with $50, but he went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from MIT and an MBA from Harvard.

His progression in engineering and technology continued its swift ascent, and included positions with General Motors (robotics), Ford, Fortune Systems and Linkabit, the company that spawned San Diego-based Qualcommm and is headed by Kings minority owners Paul, Hal and Jeff Jacobs.

Ranadive, who met his former wife, Deborah Addicott, in Southern California, relocated to Palo Alto and founded Teknekron Software Systems in 1986, followed by TIBCO in 1997. The couple, who divorced 15 years ago, have three grown children: Aneel, 29, recently started a software company in New York; Andre, 24, is an executive with TIBCO and charged with expanding the wireless capacity at Sleep Train Arena; and Anjali, 20, is an aspiring singer/actress who is studying marine biology at Cal.

"That's all fine now," Ranadive said quietly, "but it was a very bad divorce. We shared custody, and I fought for as much time as I could get, but it was less than half. I was pretty devastated. I used to give my kids baths, help them do homework, coach their teams. After the divorce, literally, if I had a meeting in London, I would go there for an hour and fly back, and pick them up for school. Very painful time, though."

Asked about his social life, Ranadive, who lives alone in a mansion and describes himself as a bachelor, with a passion for blueberries, manages a quick grin.

"I date," he said. "I like my life, but if I met someone . My focus has always been on my kids."

Photos of his children, at various ages and functions, alone and on family outings, dominate the decor in his office. Textbooks on software are stacked, precisely crisscrossed, on a coffee table. A varied assortment of trophies and awards – all pertaining to Ranadive's business achievements – are aligned neatly in a corner of his desk. Apart from the family photos, his most prized possession appears to be a gold-embossed basketball autographed by Julius Erving, Karl Malone, George Gervin, Clyde Drexler and other NBA notables.

The gift was accompanied by a note from NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, congratulating Ranadive on his purchase of the Kings.

Ranadive, who is spending an increasing amount of time in Sacramento tending to arena negotiations, repairs to Sleep Train, schmoozing politicians, meeting his coaches and players, etc., is buying a loft in midtown. He will not be an absentee owner. Already, his presence is a given at news conferences, at many of the scrimmages and most of the important dinners.

During a welcoming gathering last week for new minority owner Shaquille O'Neal at Zocalo in midtown, Gov. Jerry Brown and his wife, Anne Gust Brown, stopped in to say hello.

Ranadive said he speaks often with the governor, and not always about basketball. The prospect for a bullet train between San Francisco and Sacramento was one recent topic, the Kings' and the league's potential global reach another.

Europe, South America, Russia, China. But that all happened yesterday, remember. Ranadive is consumed by his vision for today and tomorrow, and what comes as no surprise, India is beckoning.

Despite the nonexistence of NBA-sized arenas, Ranadive hopes to schedule a Kings preseason game in his homeland next fall.

"The numbers are staggering," he said, leaning forward, visibly energized by the topic. "My goal is to make basketball the second-most-popular sport in India. We're not even going to try to surpass cricket. No chance. In fact, we are looking at partnering with famous cricket players."

Meantime, there is a basketball franchise to fix, a downtown arena to construct, and a community to discover. And according to several of his executives, Sacramento should prepare for a fullcourt press. Ranadive, they say, is a formidable competitor who speaks softly but operates with the force of a hurricane.

"Vivek never raises his voice," TIBCO senior vice president Fabio Pulidori said, "but he doesn't have to. We see in the eyes if he is not happy. The worst thing is to see disappointment. You want to please him, so you are always working harder, trying to do more, to do special things."


Monday: Annual media day

Tuesday through Sunday: Training camp at UC Santa Barbara

Oct. 7: First preseason game, at Warriors, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14: First preseason home game, vs. Los Angeles Clippers, 7 p.m.

Oct. 30: Opening night, vs. Denver, Sleep Train Arena, 7 p.m.

Call The Bee's Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208. Follow her on Twitter @ailene_voisin.