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The inscrutable Indian

He is 36, single, and a workaholic.We invited Shailesh Rao, the suave Managing Director of Google’s India arm for a drink, only to discover an American citizen who’s an Indian at heart; one who loves his dosa, adores Amitabh Bachchan and has a collection of Amar Chitra Katha comics.

Dhiman Chattopadhyay | Print Edition: August 24, 2008

He is 36, single, and a workaholic.We invited Shailesh Rao, the suave Managing Director of Google’s India arm for a drink, only to discover an American citizen who’s an Indian at heart; one who loves his dosa, adores Amitabh Bachchan and has a collection of Amar Chitra Katha comics.

Shailesh Rao has just one little grudge: that he hasn’t really been able to achieve a perfect balance between work and leisure so far— spare time that would help him socialise and perhaps even find a girlfriend. “Some day man, some day,” he jokes, as we order another round of spirits at Vasant Continental’s lounge bar in Delhi. Such ‘little’ issues apart, this 36-year-old is pretty happy with life. And why shouldn’t he be—he is one of India’s youngest and hottest MDs. Rao was born in Toronto where his father, a nuclear scientist, went to do his research in the 1960s, but moved to the US when he was still a toddler.

Although Rao is proud of his American upbringing, he remains an Indian at heart in more ways than one. “I was a very confused desi in college. I didn’t know how to reconcile my Indian habits at home to the very American way of life in college,” he smiles as we sip our drinks. Early in life, his parents wanted him to be a doctor. “I did a voluntary job in a hospital and found the work too boring. I wanted a career which was more exciting,” he says. So, after four years as a consultant with a firm called ‘Strategic Planning Associates’, he enrolled in the Kellogg School of Management in 1997. Today, as Google’s boss in India,

Rao juggles a 14-hour-a-day work schedule, manages a multi-crore business and still finds some time for fun. “Even though I have stayed all my life in the US and now live in Delhi, Bangalore is still ‘home’. I speak Kannada and I love the dosas they make at Vidyarthi Bhavan in Bangalore’s Gandhibazar (a roadside stall with a cult following),” he says. He also loves watching Bollywood flicks, having grown up on a regular diet of Amitabh Bachchan and Rekha films. “And believe it or not, I also love Amar Chitra Katha comics. I have over a hundred of the comics still with me,” he laughs. Visibly fit, Rao swims whenever he gets time and also plays tennis. “I read a lot as well and books on history are a favourite,” he says.

This doesn’t make him a geek or a nerd though. “I love dressing smart. I have my fair share of Boss and Armani suits but the brand I really dig is this small French designer house called Emile la Faure. They have outlets only in Paris and New York and I love getting my clothes from them.” Rao also loves his food. Though a vegetarian, he thrives on everything from pizzas and dosas to Japanese vegetarian cuisine! And yes, he enjoys his glass of wine and the occasional Grey Goose and tonic. And while he is not one to drink too much, he admits that at times, specially when with old friends, he can be pretty wild even when sober.

“We are a bunch of old pals and twice a year we fly down to a chosen destination from across the world, for a ‘boys week’. Once we tried climbing the Hoover Dam and got chased by the cops. On another trip, we went to a Republican-dominated state and asked residents why they had voted Bush back to power. We got kicked out of most homes,” he chuckles. As we settle the bill, Rao flashes an impish grin when asked about his single status. “Indian women are just so amazing. I think marriage is a great idea. It’s just that I need a bit of time in life first,” he laughs. Want to know more about this bachelor? Well, just ‘Google’ him!

Inside track

Born: Toronto, Canada on November 25, 1971
Family: Parents Nagraj and Rama
Educated: University of Pennsylvania and Kellogg School of Management
First Job: With a hospital while in high school
First Salary: It was a voluntary job
Favourite Film: Lost in Translation
Favourite Book: We Are Like That Only by Rama Bijapurkar
Passion: Listening to U2, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie or even Dylan on the iPod
Favourite Place: Istanbul and Tuscanny WOULD
Love To Visit: Rio in Brazil
Mantra In Life: Be fully present in whatever you do

Shailesh’s day out

4.30 A.M.
Video conference call with Asia Pacific region office
7.00 A.M.
Check mail on BlackBerry
8.30 A.M.
Leave for work. Carry a plate of fruits in the car (for a quick breakfast) along with The Economist and a daily paper
9 A.M. TO 7.30 P.M.
At work
8 P.M.
Call parents in the US
9.00 P.M.
Meet friends for a drink or dinner or simply go home and have dinner while listening to music
11.00 P.M.
Sleep  

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