GlobalScholar’s Kal Raman, Fresh Off $160M Deal, Seeks to Build an Oracle for K-12 Schools

12/20/10Follow @xconomy

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of news about how dysfunctional the U.S. education system is, and how much better kids in countries like China and India are performing. During a time when schools are under increasing pressure to improve on standardized test scores, GlobalScholar intends to give teachers, parents, and administrators the kind of IT that financial firms and large companies use that helps them make better decisions.

“I want this to be the largest digital education repository in the world,” Raman says.

Raman was so passionate about telling me this story last week that I literally had to hold the phone a couple inches away from my ear. When I asked him to start telling the story from the very beginning, he started by briefly describing his childhood.

Raman’s dad died when he was 15, which certainly didn’t help for a family already living in poor conditions. He credits much of his success to his mother, who insisted that he always go to school. Raman figures he benefitted from the value his mother placed on education, along with “dumb luck, God’s grace, and being in the right place at right time.”

He studied engineering at Anna University in India, and worked his way into the technology industry in 1991 at Wal-Mart. He climbed up the ranks at Wal-Mart in IT, then, during the tech boom, joined drugstore.com in 1998 as chief technology officer. Three years later, he was promoted to CEO, replacing founding CEO Peter Neupert. Raman stayed in that job three more years, then did a couple year stint as a senior vice president at Amazon, before doing, as he says, “due diligence” on his own life.

All this left him comfortable financially. After leaving Amazon, he went back to India for a while, and started working hard on giving back to his community—and in a big way. Raman admittedly speaks fast and has a pretty strong Indian accent, so I made sure he repeated what he said next to make sure I understood. He said he adopted 2,000 kids in and around the village where he grew up, and built five schools. By adopting, he means essentially paying for room and board for a lot of orphans. He didn’t say how much this is costing him, but he made it sound like it’s not very expensive to him. He comes from a part of India where he estimates that 99 percent of his classmates growing up are still only making about $200 a month.

“I can’t take any money with me when I die, so no big deal,” Raman says.

This entrepreneurial push for education in poor parts of India caught the eye of Michael Milken, Raman says. The onetime kind of junk bonds recruited Raman for two years … Next Page »

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