Like countless other Indian software whizzes, Rajesh Hukku got his start anonymously writing code on a contract basis for products sold by foreign companies. By 1992, Hukku had had enough. "I was fed up with Indian brains being labeled as cheap, English-speaking labor when I knew we were capable of innovating," he says.
One example is Hukku. While working for Tata Consultancy Services, India's biggest software-services provider, he helped create a stock-trading system for a U.S. entrepreneur that allowed Wall Street brokers to get everything from stock quotes to financial news from various sources on a single terminal, rather than through a gaggle of different machines. The entrepreneur got rich by selling the system to Reuters for $150 million. Tata collected a small fee.
Hukku is the one who is profiting now. He's CEO of Bangalore-based i-Flex Solutions, one of India's first software companies to succeed globally with its own product, FLEXCUBE. The world's best-selling banking software package, FLEXCUBE lets banks manage a range of business processes, from handling savings accounts for consumers to processing letters of credit, through a single system. Customers include the International Monetary Fund and banks in 90 countries, from Citibank and UBS Warburg to Egypt's Banque Misr.
What's more, i-Flex was the only Indian company to successfully float an initial public offering last summer, when markets were roiled by India-Pakistan nuclear tensions. The IPO raised $42 million. Last year, i-Flex earned $37 million as sales rose 50%, to $133 million, and it edged past Switzerland's Temenos Globus as market leader.
The son of university professors from Kashmir and a graduate of the Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Hukku, 45, got his break at Citibank. After leaving TCS, he joined a small Citi subsidiary that developed software in-house. The first product, MicroBanker, was an early version of FLEXCUBE. Citi started selling the product to other banks and spun the unit off in 1992 -- naming Hukku CEO.
Having developed FLEXCUBE and marketed it globally, Hukku is ready for what he calls "Mission Impossible 3" -- cracking the U.S. A big contract with Citi, which owns 42% of i-Flex, has provided a boost. If Hukku succeeds, he will surely inspire other Indians to market their own innovations.