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In an exclusive interview with DreamCricket.com, California businessman Ram Varadarajan announces his plan to run for president of USACA. The first half of the interview is below. Part two will be published on Thursday.
DreamCricket: Thanks for agreeing to speak to DreamCricket.com and for announcing your candidacy on our website. It has been an eventful three years for you personally. On the professional front, the company you founded in 1997, Arcot Systems, was sold to CA Technologies. Reportedly in an all cash transaction valued at $200 million. How do you feel about that?
RV: It is always good to have the fruits of one’s labor be rewarded. I am happy for myself and all the stakeholders - employees, partners, investors and customers. My team at Arcot and I had spent a decade building this business from the proverbial Silicon Valley startup on a napkin into one of the most respected security and anti-fraud solutions company in the world. Building a successful company is all about leadership, team building, fund raising, gaining confidence in your stock holders and meeting the expectations of your customers. Equally important are qualities such as – highest level of ethical conduct, transparency and communication. I am glad I could, with my team, achieve all of these.
Arcot has a great future, the business continues to do very well and my team is continuing our mission with renewed vigor. While I am still actively engaged with the business at Arcot, I no longer have the pressures that an entrepreneur CEO has. I have the freedom and bandwidth to pursue my interest in US cricket more vigorously. And I truly believe that the lessons and successes of my decade at Arcot can all be put to work once again to make USACA a world class sports institution.
DreamCricket: The perception within USACA circles is that you have stayed away from cricket since you lost the election to Gladstone Dainty. In fact, some think you completely disappeared from the scene until now. What do you tell critics who think you have reemerged around election time?
RV: As I said after the 2008 election, there is a time for politics, but when the political season ends, we need to work together and put cricket first. Because, as you know, cricket in USA has plenty of politics, what it really needs is development.
Gladstone Dainty and the newly elected team got their chance to provide leadership. Had I won that election, I would have expected the same opportunity.
DreamCricket: But since you were not front and center over the last three years, maybe that has led to the perception that you have left the cricketing scene.
RV: Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have not stayed away from cricket and will always serve cricket.
Since the last elections, I have remained active at various levels. I have continued my involvement at the grass roots level in NWR. Nationally, I have supported various cricket initiatives – especially youth activities. I advised sports marketing entities to bring professional cricket to the US. I advised USACA officials on fund raising – even arranging senior level meetings with a key potential sponsor.
I held the first of its kind national forum on youth cricket to stitch together the various youth activities – several good things came out of it including a national repository for cricket statistics – a key finding of that forum. This national statistical repository, which DreamCricket.com is hosting, is financed by my foundation. Additionally several institutions got valuable advice on incorporating as 501(c)3 organizations – increasing their ability to raise funds.
I could go on and on, but I guess the point is that I have been, and will continue to be involved in making USA cricket one of the most successful and vibrant cricket organizations in the world. I know it is a very long haul, but I am certain we will get there. So as I said, I have been in the thick of cricket. Probably, the right thing to say would be that I stayed away from the media and have certainly not been heavily involved politically since the last elections.
DreamCricket: Tell us more about your foundation. Why did you start the New Inning Foundation? What are its activities?
RV: There are plenty of small, individual, laudatory initiatives across America to help grow cricket. But there were none that dreamt big and followed up with execution. My vision is that the success and growth of cricket in USA lies in putting significant money, time, effort, and focus on youth cricket. New Inning Foundation has been created with that single objective in mind. There was certainly a need for a philanthropic foundation devoted to promoting, nourishing and celebrating youth cricket in America. New Inning Foundation achieves this by working symbiotically with community organizations whilst leveraging our financial and administrative resources. The funding is provided by me and a few private donors.
The New Inning Foundation has begun in earnest. Its initial focus is on highlighting and recognizing talent at the youth level. Towards that end we set up the national score repository for youth cricket statistics – it now contains scorecards for youth games at regional and national levels. Over time, this repository has been expanded to all inter-regional and ICC cricket. Now that all the scores are recorded, it also enhances transparency when it comes to selection.
Image (right) - Ram Varadarajan
The other thing it enables us to do as a community is to recognize and celebrate talent. The New Inning Foundation was also among the presenters of the USA Cricket Awards last year. In 2010, 10 cricketers were selected for their achievement including such assessments as performing under pressure and commitment. Awards comprised of a plaque and a cash reward.
New Inning Foundation has established scholarships for free indoor net-practice for deserving junior cricketers. The foundation has also supported the expansion of the USYCA and facilitated equipment donations to schools across USA, funded printing of instructional booklets and promotional material by USYCA for students and teachers.
Also, New Inning Foundation has campaigned very hard and been successful in influencing tournament organizations in US cities to take on youth players – by supporting tournament level awards that recognize youth achievement.
We have also supported college assistance programs for youth players.
I see New Inning Foundation becoming a significant contributor to youth cricket development across America, touching the lives of many aspiring cricketers in this country. It is a first of its kind institution in the US and perhaps worldwide.
DreamCricket: That is very impressive and the USA cricket community appreciates your support of the awards. Coming back to the election in 2008, are you still in touch with the three gentlemen who were on your slate who won that election - John Thickett, John Aaron and Manaf Mohamed. Do you think they delivered on the promises that were made last time around as part of the New Inning mandate?
RV: I am indeed in touch with them as I am with several key actors in US cricket – both in person and electronically. I brainstorm with them on several cricket topics including ways to get USACA on a sound financial footing. These are good friends that I can lean on for ideas. In fact, the successes (albeit few) of the last 3 years have been led or championed by these gentlemen – formation of Cricket Holdings America LLC, being one poignant example.
DreamCricket: How do you rate USACA’s performance over the last three years under the leadership of Mr. Gladstone Dainty?
RV: I contested the last election; I am contesting this one. The reasons are largely the same. I feel that USACA management has lacked structure, organizational leadership and transparency. Over the last three years, we have not really seen a common vision as a result of which problems big and small remain unsolved. A consequence of all of this is that there is factionalism, confusion and despair among the cricket lovers, players, volunteers and elected officials. US cricket could have been taken to greater heights and our youth given the opportunities they deserved. My campaign is therefore about addressing all of these. I am confident that I can remedy this.
In the midst of all this, we must not forget that a few bright spots did appear. Women’s cricket got a start. The Pearls Cup was a good one-off event. I like the revival of the KA Auty Cup. The establishment of Cricket Holdings America LLC was clearly a singular major achievement and I am proud to say that members on my 2008 slate were instrumental is bringing this about along with the President and the board. This did bring much needed funds allowing for many of the cricket tours that the U-19, men and women have made. But increased activity also leads to increased expectations - governance & execution need to keep up with that.
I want to look forward – I know that the situation can be improved significantly. It starts with the top - leadership bringing the cricket community together – that will establish the right priorities, formulate the right structure, team and governance, and energize the participants to take things to the next level.
In my view, the leadership should serve the leagues and has to explain the benefit of the decisions to the membership. More efficient communications are naturally very important, which means the President and the board must seek and take input, be open to criticism. USACA must bring value to the leagues beyond just the right to play for the region or for the US team.
DreamCricket: How did you get involved with CHA, LLC? What is your role as a board member?
RV: As I mentioned earlier, I advised entities that wanted to bring professional cricket to US. I was, therefore, educated in the challenges and opportunities that the LLC presented. Here I was, sitting in the Silicon Valley, home to some of the greatest success stories in corporate America. My own story at Arcot Systems is akin to other Silicon Valley success stories. And I told myself that I must deploy that spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship to cricket administration. Cricket Holdings America LLC presented me with that opportunity. And I accepted. Since being part of Cricket Holdings America LLC, I have executed my duties with the same passion, commitment and leadership that I had for Arcot.
DreamCricket: What is your answer to critics that think that you have been 'silenced' by Mr. Dainty by hanging a CHA board position as a carrot? We have seen a lot of criticism lately centered on how the USACA board was not consulted in making board appointments.
RV: I contested “Dainty the President” in the last elections. I have nothing against “Dainty the person”. I talked to him then, and I talk to him now. I have never been afraid to be critical about the quality of his administration or about decisions made by the administration. So let that be on record. The fact that Dainty invited me to be part of CHA goes to show that I am issue-based and not personality-based.
Now, about the USACA board, the workings of the USACA board are outside my knowledge and influence. There could be several reasons for discord on the USACA board over such appointments including mine – speculating over them is not fruitful.
From my standpoint, I was invited by USACA to take a board seat on Cricket Holdings America LLC. I gave it thought and I accepted because I felt that I was fully qualified to join the board and I was confident that I could add value to the board. The USACA board approved.
I am positive that many of the board members that had misgivings about the process that USACA adopted actually have no issues with my candidature or selection - I am very confident of that. Let me also make it very clear – my services are pro bono – there is absolutely no compensation for my time and effort and I expect none.
DreamCricket: Did you not file your nomination to run for the Regional Representative of the North West Region? Why did you withdraw, preferring instead to join the board of CHA, LLC?
RV: I believe USACA had an objective to expand the number of individuals involved in USACA activities. I was told they did not want one person holding two posts. I could continue to help the NWR region in many ways without having the Regional Representative post – and there were several outstanding individuals interested in the position.
The CHA board position was an entire new way to serve US cricket interests; I felt I was uniquely qualified and I am privileged to serve. I will serve US cricket at every opportunity that I have.
DreamCricket: Coming to the process or deficiency of processes at USACA, what would you have done differently? Do you feel that the USACA governance would have been more transparent had you been at the helm? With respect to the commercial deals and with respect to consensus building that has been lacking.
RV: Instead of indulging in hypotheses, let me tell you what I will do differently to immediately improve transparency and confidence. I have a bold new plan for governance and leadership. I will delineate, decentralize, and bring about transparency. Let me explain:
On “delineation”: First, I will separate executive management of USACA from cricket administration. The latter should be left to experts who should work without interference from the executive. The process of appointment of coaches, selectors, selection criteria, etc., these are administrative duties and these processes will be transparent and published.
Second, I will personally take up the job of mending our fences with the ICC and seek their active financial and governance help in putting USACA back on track. Third, I will introduce term limits: Presidents – max of two terms. Term limits are important for smart governance.
Coming to decentralization, USACA has become a large organization and it needs organizational acumen befitting its size. I will delegate more to the VPs and other board members. Everyone in my team will have a well-established portfolio of duties and responsibilities. I will let them perform their duties without interference but with a clear expectation of accountability and ethics. I will also move decision making and funds to the leagues and regions, as a rule. Decentralization also would mean that the administration would have to become more predictable – cricket calendars, board meetings and the like should be on a schedule. Once again, not rocket science; that is how successful companies operate.
Finally, I will bring about transparency. In my administration, all board meetings will have an open and closed session. Most of the cricket business can be discussed in open sessions. The open session will be open to all the league presidents. After all, the board is working on their behalf. This in itself will make the working of the board more civilized and productive –the league presidents can see for themselves what is going on. In the closed session, we will discuss any confidential aspects and personnel matters. The structure, conduct and governance of this board will be no different than how it is done in all successful companies globally. Also, in an effort to improve transparency, I will have town hall meetings every quarter so that the broader cricket community can come together, ask, criticize and learn.
This is a short list but this is how I think change can be ushered in. As President, my role will be to set the right tone at the top. Everything else follows from there.
[Part 2 will be published tomorrow]