Kamal Karanth

I never thought I would be writing this as an entrepreneur one day!

For most of my formative years, I wanted to be a cricketer or Bollywood actor. In my teenage years heading to college, I aspired to be a politician too and contested in elections (in vain) in high school. But it was college, which changed my direction as I turned out to be a pretty good Microbiology student. I aspired to be in the field of scientific research, thanks to my friends, who brought a very academic culture to the class. But when I received my final year awards for topping Microbiology and Chemistry in Bachelors of Science, I realised that my family could not afford my higher education. I sat at home for 3 months brooding and enviously watched my friends joining post-graduation courses.

After what seemed like forever, a college mate called me and asked me to look at a newspaper ad by Eli Lilly, which had recently launched their India operations. I had no clue about the job other than the information on the ad that it was a US pharmaceutical company in a joint venture with Ranbaxy. The interview process and my own experience of clearing seven odd eliminations amongst 1000 applicants gave me the high. I joined them as a Trainee in Sales. It was a fascinating 3 years, during which time I got promoted to Manager within 18 months and got to work in 3 different states with some great people. I was mostly away from my hometown during the 3 years and left Lilly with a heavy heart to join my family in Bangalore.

My second job was with a Biotech Startup called XCyton in Bangalore. I started as a Marketing Manager and left them as the Assistant General Manager of Sales. During the 3+ years that I was with XCyton, I learnt the triumphs and travails of start-ups’. I had a great boss who taught me the art of empowerment and risk-taking. I was responsible for setting up the distributor network for their HIV detection diagnostic kits across India. I frequently traveled across the country in my tenure and got a flavor of the Indian Healthcare Industry. I got married during this time, and the 20-day travel per month was becoming a hindrance to a productive marriage. Hence when one of my childhood friends introduced me to his employer, who was then emerging as a leading staffing company, which needed a sales guy (and I needed a job where I could come home every day), I took the plunge into an unknown industry through Ma Foi.

I had a liberating experience with Ma Foi as it was promoter-driven, where new ideas and meritocracy were part of the DNA. As the economy was booming and Ma Foi had the right leaders, I got more substantial opportunities fast. I was soon heading branches, countries, and before long, I was heading their APAC operations. My timing was right in joining them; I guess some factors worked for me, my team did not mind making me look good, I worked hard enough, I was always mobile, my bosses were kind; so from Bangalore to Chennai, Chennai to Malaysia, I packed my bags with minimal fuss. During the 9 years that I worked for Ma Foi, the company successfully moved from a 13 Crores turnover to almost 1000 Crores. During my stint with Ma Foi, I had the opportunity to launch the company’s China, Hong Kong, and Thailand operations while managing their Malaysia and Singapore.

These diverse operations gave me the exposure to Executive Search, RPO, BPO, ITO, Staffing, and cross border recruitment within the APAC region. I had insights into the Oil & Gas, IT, Pharmaceutical, and Banking industries – expanding my knowledge and expertise within the 5 years, which I traveled across APAC. In 2009, just before Randstad acquired ma Foi, I received a call from Kelly Services to head their operations in India. And since I was beginning to become adverse from being away from family & friends for almost 7 years while not knowing how the merger between Ma Foi and Randstad was going to unfold, I decided to accept the offer from Kelly. Bangalore became my home again.

Returning to India and leading Kelly to its repositioning in the market brought excitement. This was also the period where leading staffing companies in India were coming together and formed ISF (Indian Staffing Federation). I had the privilege of being part of the Executive Board of ISF; I continue to be the Founder Trustee of ISF. The young and energetic team of Kelly produced excellent results over the last 4 years; I got to enjoy the fruits of their labor.

In 2014 I got the opportunity to lead Kelly Malaysia. This was a cool international assignment that gave me some great insights. Kelly is an undisputed market leader in Malaysia, and it gave me the mental make up to work with a dominant mindset. 

After working for 22 years, 2 stints in Life sciences, and 2 meaningful tenures in the Staffing Industry, I decided to pursue my entrepreneurial instincts and CoFounded Xpheno (means Extend Your Expression) in 2017. As you read this, I am working on our vision to build the largest specialist staffing company in India. 

 My wife, Suma, has allowed my career to flourish by being a supportive partner. Varna and Vismaya, my daughters, have kept me young in my thoughts. My mother, sister, and brother have been my anchor and motivation. I lost my father in 2012, and he was a significant influencer and my most honest critic. If I can attribute only one person to my writing skills, it would be my dad as he oriented me about absorbing English as a majority of our schooling was in Kannada medium.

Movies, Cricket drives me, I try to hit the gym five times a week and also do yoga when I am traveling!

Gosh! when I read about what I just wrote about me again I sound like a narcissist, but if you don’t know me you wouldn’t be able to relate to me, isn’t it?