Known in the Silicon Valley for his never-say-die attitude, Umang Gupta passed away peacefully at his home in San Francisco Bay Area’s city of San Mateo on Tuesday, 19 April. The extraordinary diaspora citizen was fighting bladder cancer for the last two years.
The first Indian to take a software company public on NASDAQ, in 1993, Umang Gupta is considered a pioneer. His company, Gupta Technologies, became the precursor to the Silicon Valley boom of tech companies led by Indian American CEOs.
Gupta was a prominent figure in the information technology world. Among the pioneering Indian Silicon Gurus who found companies and fame in California’s Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s, his professional achievements contributed to forging the identity of Indians as an entrepreneurial force.
His community-building initiatives spearheaded the efforts of these silicon trailblazers in making Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) the prominent brand it is in the US and the world.
A 1971 IIT Kanpur graduate, Gupta co-founded the IIT Kanpur Foundation in 2002, becoming its founding chairperson in the US. He was also the chairperson of the USA Board and Global Board of PanIIT, one of India’s most prestigious alumni networks.
The IIT Kanpur Alumni Association was also formed by him. Sanjiv Sahay, a Bay Area-based entrepreneur and CEO of Asquare, who is also an IIT Kanpur graduate, fondly remembers working with Gupta: “I met him in 1999 when I moved to Bay Area at an alumni event and we became good friends.
"He was very active in the IIT Kanpur issues. I was the president of IIT Kanpur Alumni Association. It is a different experience working for non-profit. Umang was great at motivating volunteers. We organised the largest IIT conference ever to be organised in the world – the PanIIT Global Conference in 2007 where Hillary Clinton was the keynote speaker.”
In 1996, Gupta received the Distinguished Alumnus Award of the Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur. His IIT Kanpur Foundation raised funds for his alma mater. A 21 April, 2022 statement from his family released upon his passing away, mentions that ‘he became a leader in the movement to bring (together) the alumni association of all IITs’.
A tech entrepreneur and community activist based in San Francisco Bay Area Abhay Bhushan, also an IIT Kanpur graduate, knew Gupta well, “He was active in The Indus Entrepreneurs (TIE) and in the IIT alumni affairs. He and I worked with the (IIT Kanpur) Foundation to help the alumni movement. A couple of us from IIT Kanpur recommended for him to get the award. He is a distinguished alumnus as I am,” shares Bhushan.
‘Techie at Heart’: Who Was Umang Gupta?
Born in Patiala in 1949, Umang Gupta grew up in many Indian cities as his father was a government official. He studied Chemical Engineering at IIT Kanpur, but the ‘techie at heart’ wished to understand the emerging corporate world. Gupta left for the US for his MBA at Kent State University, Ohio.
Upon graduation in 1973, he joined IBM as a computer sales representative, soon taking on senior marketing management roles. It was a time when the world was shifting from industrial machines to business machines. He worked for a year at Magnuson Computers and in 1981, he joined Relational Software (now Oracle) becoming its 17th employee.
It was a new software company then, founded in Santa Clara. Gupta worked closely alongside its founder Larry Ellison and became well known as the person who wrote the first business plan for Oracle Corporation. He served as vice president and general manager of its Microcomputer Products Division through 1984.
Another first was when he left Oracle to start his own company – Gupta Technologies – he became the first Oracle executive to leave. This was driven by his love for personal computers. Gupta Technologies created a SQL (Structured Query Language), his brainchild, a relational database system for microcomputers which helped usher the age of Client Server Computing.
The company went public in 1993, the first enterprise software company founded by an Indian American to be listed on an American exchange. In an interview to CIOReview in 2013, Gupta recalled the heady days: “I felt at that time that my dream had come true. I was on top of the world.”
At the forefront of client-server revolution, Gupta Technology became less of a force when Microsoft and Oracle poured investments into the profitable sphere. Gupta left the company he created.
After a year-long contemplative phase, Gupta started investing in software companies. It was at this time that he invested in Keynote Systems which tracked performance of websites. The company board soon appointed him as CEO. In 1999, Gupta took Keynote public as well and acquired many other companies to increase its offerings.
Gupta remained CEO till 2013 when a private equity firm purchased the company for $395 million. After which, he immersed himself and his investments into educational software, which helps children learn to read. When asked what helped him succeed, Gupta responded to CIOReview, “First is the love for my craft. I love what I do, I love technology, I have always been a techie at heart, but I also love the art of building a business.”
His Family Life
Umang Gupta fell in love with British American Ruth in the US. They married in 1980 and had three children. Despite the intense nature of his work, Gupta made certain that he was always home for dinner.
“I’m a great believer in work-life balance,” he said in a Mauna Lani Resort Association’s (the couple lived in their Hawaii home for a few months of the year) member spotlight write-up about him.
Their daughter lives in the Bay Area and younger son in Anaheim. They lost son Raji, their middle child in 1987, within three years of his birth. In his memory, the couple contributed significant funds to PARCA, an organisation for people with developmental disabilities, and created ‘Raji House’, a respite home for children and teens with disabilities. They also sent in donations to the Silicon Valley-based Computer History Museum, and to the Immigrants Gallery at the San Mateo County History Museum.
'Encouraged Numerous Entrepreneurs'
Umang Gupta’s family announced that he passed away peacefully on April 19 2022 at his home after a two-year battle with bladder cancer. Abhay Bhushan recalls Gupta being very positive in the last couple of years when friends kept in touch with him electronically, “He was constantly updating us about his new treatment. He was very hopeful.”
Sanjiv Sahay, who met him for lunch often before the pandemic, kept in touch with him regularly. He describes his friend as he reminisces time spent together: “Umang was very positive, always very clear-headed, strong in his views but extremely open to being corrected.”
Bhushan speaks of him as, “Very motivated and helpful. Always looked out for the other person. He encouraged numerous entrepreneurs and guided them.” Gupta was an angel investor, adviser, and board member for many technology companies. He lives on in the software and businesses he created, and in the hearts of those he worked with, inspired, and loved.
In a note in July 2018 – ‘Walking with my grandfather’ – Gupta vividly describes his earliest memories being the daily walks he and his cousins took with his maternal grandfather in the hot and dusty Laksar town in North India.
He goes on to say that he was inspired by his grandfather – Papaji – a prominent physician, and similarly wanted a successful and fulfilling career, doing something he truly loved when he reached America.
Gupta goes on to express in the note that he is thankful that he did and adds a wish, “I recently took a walk with my grandson to wave at the trains passing through downtown San Mateo. I only hope that one day my grandson will have as equally vivid memories of his time with me as I have of Papaji.”
With an infectious enthusiasm, Gupta lived up to his name ‘Umang’, which means both wish and zeal in Hindi.
(Savita Patel is a San Francisco Bay Area-based journalist and producer. She reports on Indian diaspora, India-US ties, geopolitics, technology, public health, and environment. She tweets at @SsavitaPatel.)