Kal is the CEO of GlobalScholar.com. Prior to joining GlobalScholar.com, he was senior vice president of the world wide hardlines business at Amazon.com from August 2004. From 2001 to 2004, he was the CEO of drugstore.com and also served as COO and CIO. Prior to drugstore.com, Kal has served as the CIO of NationsRent and senior director of technology at Blockbuster and as director of technology at Walmart. He began his career with Tata Consulting Services.
Sramana: Kal, tell me a bit about where you come from and your background.
Kal Raman: My name is Kalrana Raman Srinivasan, but people here call me Kal Raman. This country gave me everything I have but took 50% of my name; I suppose it was a fair trade! I was brought up in a remote village called Mannarakoil in Tamil Nadu that does not even show up on maps today. It only had 3,000 people in it, which is small by Indian standards. My background is humble and my life is still simple, which I like. Humility, hope, and the ability to work hard are things that you are taught when you are raised in an underprivileged environment.
I lost my dad when I was 15 years old. My mother raised five of us on less than eight dollars a month. We had no electricity, running water and we never had three square meals a day. I studied under street lamps. We missed out on a lot of things, but we never missed out on school because my mother made sure that we went to school every day. We never missed school. By God’s grace, my mother’s will, and a lot of people’s support, I finished school. I did my electrical engineering studies in Chennai at Anna University.
Sramana: What did you do after your earned your degree in engineering?
Kal Raman: I got a job with Tata Consulting Engineers, one of the more prestigious firms in India. I worked in India for almost 18 months before I was shipped out of India to serve a client in Scotland, where I spent the next 12 months. From there my client offered me a job but my manager called me into his office with good news and bad news.
The good news was that he had obtained a permanent position for me in the UK at £2,000 a month; the bad news was that I should not take the job. He told me that he saw something in me and that he felt I should go to the United States. He described it as the land of opportunity. He told me that if I stayed in the U.K. I would hit a glass ceiling as a senior engineer, whereas in the U.S. I could go much higher.
With that he threw me some magazines and told me to apply for some jobs in the U.S. He gave me six months to figure out where I would work and to get out of there. I took a risk and followed his advice. I ended up interviewing with Walmart so I moved to Arkansas, which was a cultural shock. I spent six and a half years working for Walmart which was a fantastic experience, and they are fantastic people. They taught me everything I know about business. I worked with some of the smartest business people. Despite all my failings as a manager, I grew a lot and they promoted me 18 times in 12 months. I ended up running information systems for the international division. I had the experience of building that division with a great group of people, and we went from zero dollars in revenue to $8 billion in three years.