Mr. Patil pulled out his cycle and called out to his three-year-old son. “Suhas! Let’s go!” he said as he picked up the toddler and thrust his small legs through the metal seat strapped to the front of his cycle. Furiously pedaling towards the maidan, Mr. Patil, an executive at the Tata Iron and Steel Company in Jamshedpur, was very excited. The day was August 15th 1947. India had declared its independence from British rule. As the smoke from the chimneys of the steel plant curled towards the sky, so did the spirits of the father-son duo. India was independent of British rule! The toddler Suhas Patil would have the world open to him as a young child of independent India.
A few years later, the teenage Suhas left the steel city of Jamshedpur to study engineering at the newly minted Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur. It was situated in a building that had served as a jail to lock up Indian freedom fighters during British rule. Young Suhas grew up imbibing the optimism of the new nation and the lofty intentions of freedom fighters – to change the world for the better.
As a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Suhas became interested in a new method of designing large semiconductor chips for computers. Based on his work at MIT and the University of Utah on Computer Aided Design of semiconductor chips, he pioneered a new type of semiconductor company, one that focused effort on the design of semiconductor chip products but did not undertake the manufacture of the chips themselves. He persuaded established semiconductor companies with fabrication facilities to make semiconductor wafers for them. His company Cirrus Logic made application specific chips to support the emerging personal computer market that was rapidly unfolding around them.
“I was working for Digital Equipment Corporation when Suhas, a professor who was then at the University of Utah, came to me,” says Prakash Bhalerao, serial entrepreneur and investor. “He had developed an algorithm to design chips that until then had been designed using schematic drawings and graphics. As Suhas’ algorithm had no UI, the existing chip manufacturers found it complicated and difficult to use. Not one to be deterred, Suhas swallowed his own poison. When he found no buyers for his algorithm, he decided to design the chip himself and Cirrus Logic was born, as was a smaller chip built at a lower cost,” said Bhalerao.
“To manufacture the chips, massive capital investment was required, which made the task too daunting. Therefore I started as a fabless semiconductor chip manufacturer. This way we could benefit from lower capital costs and concentrate on research and development, ” shared Suhas.
Suhas’s tenacity paid off. In 1989, the company Cirrus Logic went public, earning a profit that year of $4 million.“Cirrus Logic is the fastest fabless company to achieve $1 billion in revenues, doing so in 45 quarters,” recorded Semiconductor Industry Milestones in 1995.
“Many people have ideas but they don’t have the tenacity to do whatever it takes. Tenacity, not taking no for an answer, and finding a way to solve the problem is Suhas’s sine qua non,” says Bhalerao.
Suhas’s father, Mr. Patil looked on with pride from Jamshedpur as his son made a name for himself in Silicon Valley turning sand into dollars. Raised in post Second World War times, Suhas knew the value of these dollars. He maintained a Gandhian lifestyle and did not run out to buy a Ferrari; instead he turned his focus towards other engineers in Silicon Valley who may have the ability but not the social smarts to navigate the pathways of entrepreneur alley. The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) was born to guide and mentor engineers to achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. As its first President, Suhas played a hand in shaping TiE’s structure.
“Suhas was the lightning rod that brought people together. His name was so highly respected in the Valley that people were drawn to the organization by his very presence. His presence at meetings got more people to come to them,” says AJ Patel who hosted the TiE offices, for the first three years, in his office building. “While AJ Patel brought conviction and confidence to the future of the organization, Suhas instilled a new commitment to quality as a basic TiE value,” said Kanwal Rekhi.
Sanjay Subhedar, Founding Managing Director of Storm Ventures agrees with this thought. “He was a mentor to entrepreneurs and an early investor in many young companies . Along with Kanwal Rekhi, he was a driving force in starting TiE, an organization that continues to help entrepreneurs to this day.”
Vani Kola was one of the new entrepreneurs who was supported in her first start-up by Dr Suhas Patil. He guided Vani as she slowly found her feet as well as funded her company RightWorks with $2 million of his money. Today Vani herself is a mentor at TiE and an IT visionary. “He was a great mentor because he genuinely enjoys giving and sharing from his experiences. He likes to see others grow and succeed. A good teacher takes pride and passion in teaching what they know and allowing the student to spread their wings and fly. It is a model I want to strive to embody,” Vani said.
Suhas also mentored K. B. Chandrashekar in the formation of Exodus Communications says AJ Patel. After the initial public offering (IPO), the company was valued at $560 million with clientele like Oracle and Hewlett Packard.
Jayashree Patil, Suhas’s wife, put her shoulder to this wheel – of building TiE in its initial days. “In addition to working at the non-profit India Community and Service Center (ICSC), the precursor of India Community Center (ICC), I started attending TiE’s monthly meetings. ICSC and TiE were always next door to each other.” says Jayashree Patil, “We worked hard to ensure that TiEcon was well attended.”
They set about organizing an annual conference,TiEcon, to bring tech mentors and mentees together. It has gone on to become one of the most successful conferences in Silicon Valley and soon developed a cult following. With four children and two aging parents at home, Jayashree was not one to stay behind in this revolution. Along with Meera Gupta and Hem Joshi, she staffed the office. Jayashree helped with evangelizing the cause and drove attendance to the conference. She was to be the wind beneath its sails for 5 years till TiE sailed its way to success.
Five hundred people attended the conference in 1994. At the TiECon 2018 alone, there were over 5,400 participants from 22 countries. Over the years, TiEcon has attracted over 60,000 entrepreneurs and professionals from over 50 countries. It was ranked alongside Demo, TED and World Economic Forum as among the top 10 conferences worldwide for ideas and entrepreneurship by Worth magazine. TiE now has 60 chapters in 17 countries.
In addition to encouraging the creation of new technology, Jayashree and Suhas Patil were cognizant of the importance of recording the history of the computer revolution. They supported the Computer History Museum in Mountain View and the Tech Museum in San Jose. Suhas joined the board as a founding member. In 1999, Jayashree brought together the Marathi community in the Bay Area by helping organize a convention attended by over 5000 people.
Jayashree Patil loves colors – they suffuse her paintings, her clothes and her rangoli drawings, as she works to promote the arts. The Patil Theater in Harker School’s performing arts center, funded by them is a premier venue for Harker student performances and community events. Jayashree is also on the board of the India Currents Foundation and helps guide the magazine’s social media strategy. India Currents, a 32-year-old publication and, now a community media platform, is devoted to the exploration of the heritage and culture of India for the diaspora.
The walls of the Patil house are bare. Large windows frame the majestic California oaks, a single crystal chandelier reflects at itself in the long mirror above the fireplace. The lilting music of Suronki Baraat, a CD of songs written and composed by Jayashree Patil fills the air. Jayashree is drawing a rangoli drawing on the floor. The face of a woman emerges from the white outline as she colors in the profile with red and yellow lentil grains. A vibrant flaming tea light sits as the bindi on the face of the goddess. The benign goddess has kind eyes and a non-threatening expression. She infuses love and joy into their Cupertino home.
Suhas, their children Chirag and Rajita Patil, Dr. Teja Patil, J. P and Julie Patil, and Dr. DJ and Devika Patil, are looking through the photographs, taken by Suhas with his beloved camera. Suhas’s shy eyes have painstakingly captured the world through its lens. His commitment to quality is evident in every picture. The Patil grandchildren, Surya, Beyla, Om, Veyd Samaara, Eva and Milo run around the backyard chased by Lalipop, their caramel colored dog.They are secure in the love of their parents and grandparents confident that the world they will inherit from them will be a better place.
The family is planning their evening at San Jose Harker’s Patil Theatre on April 13th where a Hindustani classical music vocalist from Mumbai, Ashwini Bhide, is singing in the Jaipur-Atrauli style. The concert, organized by Swar Sudha a Silicon Valley cultural organization that hosts classical music concerts in the Bay Area, starts at 6 p.m.
A Lifetime Achievement award awaits them that evening.
Voices of Friends
“I remember once when Suhas was invited to deliver the keynote in Bangalore and he missed his Delhi Bangalore flight. Suhas did not take no for an answer. He demanded a solution. The answer was to charter a flight and in order to do that he had to speak to his credit card company in the US. His credit card limit was raised and he did reach Bangalore to deliver the keynote.”-– Prakash Bhalerao, Serial Entrepreneur and Investor.
“Suhas and I have traveled over half the world together, sometimes even sharing the same room. There are a lot of memories but Suhas is so low key and matter of fact person that there is nothing I can think of as out of the ordinary. With him around you have that peace and calm around all the time. During our last safari in Africa, we had a baboon jump in our vehicle. The baboon landed in Suhas’s lap, stole Jayshree’s supply of vitamins and ate them all. During this we were all shouting except ,you guessed it, Suhas. He did not say a word. That is Suhas for you.”-– A J Patel CEO Odyssey Enterprises
Suhas despite all his success is a very modest person. Jayshree and Suhas’s home in the hills of Cupertino was always a place for hosting politicians, entrepreneurs and other thought leaders. Suhas and Jayshree have given back so much to Silicon Valley in general and to the Indian diaspora in particular. Suhas is an avid photographer and has a great collection of photos from weddings and other family events. He usually will print large enlargements. And give them as gifts. What could be better than a personalized gift like that taken so lovingly and patiently by Suhas. Suniti and I are proud of Suhas and feel privileged to have him as a friend.-– Suniti and Sanjay Subhedar Founding MD Storm Ventures