by Frank Witsil, Detroit Free Press
Before becoming an entrepreneur a decade ago, Tel Ganesan was an automotive engineer.
The Indian-born immigrant said he had a passion for cars, and was drawn to the Motor City to work in the auto industry. He studied engineering at Wayne State University, took a job with Chrysler — and worked there for 13 years.
“All I wanted to do when I came to this country was to pursue the American dream,” he said.
He steadily rose through the company, he said, working hard, thinking about his future — and sometimes even attending meetings on behalf of his manager.
But, he said, he felt like there were limits to how far he could go — and long hours with limited compensation. Every time there was a change in top management, he had to build new relationships and shift gears — and start over.
One day, he said, he asked for a modest raise of $5,000. It wasn’t just the money that he wanted. He was looking for a gesture, some assurance that he was valued there. But, he said, he was turned down and that’s when he started thinking about running his own enterprise, Kyyba, an IT staffing firm.
He asked his manager if he resigned, “What would be the worst that would happen to me?” His manger told him he’d be welcomed back to the company because he’s a good worker. That gave Ganesan the safety net he needed to leave.
He now employs about 500 people, and this year, expects to have revenues of $40 million.
We sat down with him to talk about becoming an entrepreneur and what it takes to succeed.
QUESTION: What does your company do?
ANSWER: The company does two things. We do staffing services for IT and automotive engineering. We put people to work at all the major companies like Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz financial services in the metro area and 3M, BSNF across the nation. And we’re also developing software products and getting into big data initiatives.
Q: Where did the name, Kyyba, come from?
A: The name came from child’s play. I bought three companies, and all of a sudden it was so confusing to customers. So there was an immediate need to consolidate and have one name. I paid $3,000 to a marketing company to come up with some names. They came up with long, long names. I was really looking for something short, like Apple, Google. I went home disappointed. I asked my young son, can you throw me some names? He ran up to me excited waving a card: “Dad, dad, dad, you should call it Kaiba.” I said, “What the heck is Kaiba?” Then, he said: “Dad, this card is so powerful and aggressive you can trump anyone with it.” That resonated with me. I later came to know it was a Yu-Gi-Oh trading card. Then, my son said, “But, don’t call it exactly Kaiba.” So I took that cue, and made the “ai” a “yy.” The yy means yes, yes.
Q: You’ve had some fast growth. What’s driving it?
A: Acquisition and aggressive strategies. Now, we’re trying to go to the next level. My goal is to get to $100 million in the next couple of years. Given a chance, by 2025 I’d like to be a $1-billion company.
Q: Considering that you’re a staffing company, what’s your best free advice for people looking for a job?
A: People have to network. Network is the key. the more people they know, the more opportunities they get. It’s that simple.
Q: Your advice for other entrepreneurs?
A: Business is risk. Risk is business. They have to understand that, and act. Make it happen. Failure is part of the equation, and they have to take it.
Q: What have been some of your failures?
A: Not managing the finances. Not managing the growth properly. Not having the team grow with the company. For example, the people who are right to work on a $5-million company are not the same people for the $25-million and $50-million company. As we start moving in that direction, people have to move, and some we have to take off the bus. I did not do that fast enough.
Q: So you were too nice of a boss? Do you have to be a little ruthless?
A: In a game, you have to have the best players. People have to be ruthless if you want to play the game.
Q: You said you came here in search of the American dream. Do you think that dream is real?
A: Yes. Very much so. I was only looking for $100,000 of income, and America has given more, more than I imagined. It’s only the tip of the iceberg, and there are still many more years left for me. I don’t know where it’s going to end. But, the journey is interesting, and I could only find it in America.
- Title: Owner, president, CEO.
- Age: 47.
- Education: Anna University in India, bachelor’s degree; Wayne State University, master’s degree in engineering; University of Michigan, master’s degree in business administration.
- Experience: Chrysler.
- Family: Son, Ashwin, 17.
- Hobbies: Yoga, meditation, tennis, travel.
- Car: 2004 BMW X5, 2013 Mercedes GL450S
Story originally appeared in the Detroit Free Press. Read here.