Reaching for the Skies and Beyond
by Jyothsna Hegde | January 2023
Growing up in joint family in New Delhi, India, Deepak Raghavan developed strong bonds rooted in culture and values. The hot summers and cold winters of New Delhi with no air conditioning brought him close to nature as he walked the streets at night. Gazing at the stars and their patterns, Raghavan created a unique camaraderie with the night sky that would continue to flourish within even as he grew, responsibilities piled on, and the nocturnal trips ceased.
Savoring memories of his erstwhile journey, Raghavan is living his dream of exploring the skies, having earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy at Georgia State University, where he serves as a professor of practice. Inspired by astronomer Carl Sagan’s ability to evoke a sense of wonder about the universe and possibilities of life beyond Earth, Raghavan’s pursuit of happiness blossomed despite a highly successful career he carved for himself as an entrepreneur.
Deepak Raghavan is the co-founder of Manhattan Associates, Inc., a global leader in supply chain solutions, in 1990 (www.manh.com), where he conceptualized, designed, and developed the industry’s first “packaged” distribution management software for the consumer supply chain. Manhattan Associates is a publicly traded company, listed on NASDAQ (ticker: MANH). As founder member of Manhattan Associates, he steered the company’s product roadmap for twelve years. While continuing to provide strategic and governance oversight as a director, Raghavan left full-time employment at Manhattan Associates in June 2002 to pursue his passion for astronomy and science education. He earned his Ph.D. in Astronomy at Georgia State University, where he serves as a professor of practice.
Raghavan is a founder, mentor member, and past President of the Atlanta Chapter of TiE (www.tie.org), a global entrepreneur organization.
Raghavan serves on the boards of Manhattan Associates, Woodward Academy, Zoo Atlanta, and Atlanta Police Foundation, and on the advisory board of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory. He is a graduate of Leadership Atlanta and a member of the Rotary Club of Atlanta. He is a past chair of the boards of Georgia State University Foundation and has served on the boards of Atlanta CEO High Tech Council and Georgia Indo-American Chamber of Commerce.
As president of their family foundation, Raghavan guides its philanthropic initiatives, which are focused on education, animal conservation, and children’s healthcare.
Raghavan resides in Atlanta with his wife Priya. Their son Anjan Deepak, 27, graduated from Clemson University in 2018 and is a supply chain consultant in Atlanta and daughter Aditi Deepak graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2021 and works in public health in Nashville.
Raghavan’s hobbies include traveling, scuba diving, and running. He is pursuing the goal of running a half or full marathon in every state in the country.
Journey to the US and Entrepreneurship
Raghavan graduated from the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1987. Hired by Infosys during a campus interview put Infosys employee number 60 on a flight to the US at age 21, following graduation. “That was the first time I was on an airplane. I couldn’t have picked a better country to go to for my first visit outside my home country at that time. In the Unites states, I was welcomed with open arms and treated with nothing but love, acceptance, and respect. This is a country that values hard work and values, and hard work pays off. I would not change where I was born and raised with values. And I wouldn’t change where I made my career that honors these values. They have both been fantastic,” he notes.
Between 1987-1990, Raghavan served as Senior Software Engineer, where he designed and implemented ERP system for Jockey International in the U.S., as part of the Infosys team. Three other co-founders of Manhattan Associates, Prahalad Suresh, Deepak Rao, and Ponnambalam Muthiah were also part of the Infosys team. Another co-founder Alan Dabbiere worked for Kurt Salmon Associates at the time. At 23, Raghavan assumed the lead position for Infosys in this project. The experience of interacting with customers, understanding their requests and being able to customize, gave him the opportunity to absorb, learn and implement products that met customer requirements. It was also when the idea of venturing out on his own started to take shape. It seemed that the stars for his foray into entrepreneurship were lining up in perfect order. “I got a call from Suresh, and he was talking to some of the people about starting his own company asked if I would join him as a co-founder. After some contemplation, I decided to do that.”
Despite the enthusiasm, the plunge to entrepreneurship had been gradual for Raghavan. The five co-founders spent hours identifying gaps in customer requirements to decide the area they would concentrate upon, their objective, and focused on what made them uniquely qualified for this. “We also wanted to ensure we enjoy working with each other and the job at hand,” Raghavan said. With warehouse management as their focus and Jockey, which was in search of a new partner, as their first customer, the stage was set. For a startup, it also helped that they could build the product for Jockey using its own facility with access to modern systems.
Expanding the company with multiple customers had always been their goal. The group recognized the demand for serving small suppliers who catered to the retailers. The need for software to manage dispatching of not entire cartons of one product, but an assembly of hand-picked items was great, and Raghavan set about his energies on building upon that. By focusing on a vertical segment of suppliers to retail, the team quickly built expertise in the area as well as a base product that addressed the majority of customer requirements. Many of their customers began to notice the exponential rise in orders every week. The rest, as they say, is history.
Manhattan Associates was growing and required capital. Going public would give the company a higher profile, apart from the necessary money to enable accelerated scaling of the organization. In 1998, Manhattan Associates was listed on the NASDAQ and Raghavan became the Chief Technology Officer. Deepak’s leadership in the development of customer-focused software products and implementation services enabled Manhattan Associates to achieve a consistent track record of growth and profitability. A scholar at heart, Raghavan received his MBA from Georgia State University in 1998.
What, according to Raghavan, contributed to such a successful maiden venture?
“Focus on the journey rather than the destination,” was one of the key mantra to this success, Raghavan notes.
“We did not set any financial metrics or success metrics. We discussed the specific business cases and ended up picking warehouse management system, because we knew that there was a need based on previous experience.” Identifying the gap/need in the system and ensuring that we were uniquely qualified to meet those needs and fill the gaps and enjoying the process, Raghavan notes, was another key factor.
“Knowing/Defining who we are, and more importantly, who we are not,” Raghavan says was vital factor. “Rather than a plant-and-expand strategy that some companies use to get as much business as possible with one customer, we decided to focus on a group of customers with common needs.. Our goal was to get in, implement the solution, train the customer to run it so that they can be successful on their own, and move on to the next customer because we wanted market share.” Raghavan also added that setting boundaries and working with a customer only when the requirements fell within the guardrails of what they set out also defined them as company. “We were not trying to be all things to all people. Instead, we stayed true to our strategy of building a product to address the needs of an industry.”
Responsive Product Development or Product development based on real customer projects/ needs as opposed to taking money from Venture Capitalists and developing software that “might” have a market, Raghavan says put them ahead of the game. Their product development was happening around projects that gave them the ability to bring a cash flow from day one. “We had not raised any money from outside . We put a little bit of money from our pockets but there wasn’t much,” he noted.
The last piece, Raghavan adds, was the “element of luck of being at the right place at the right time.” In the early 1980s, U.S. textile industry faced a daunting challenge. Global competition had intensified with many foreign manufacturers selling their apparel for prices that undercut the capabilities of most domestic producers. Experts brainstormed and came up with “Quick Response” to increase the efficiency of the supply chain. This technology improved the flow of information among manufacturers, distributors, and retailers, allowing retailers to inform manufacturers and distributors of what merchandise they needed more rapidly. Manufacturers and distributors were able to restock retailers more efficiently. The reduction in idle inventory enabled textile product retailers to reduce the cost of goods sold, making the industrywide initiative a success.
Manhattan’s interest in enhancing the supply-chain execution centered on one part of the complex process that carried a product from manufacturer to customer: the warehouse. Its first software product aided customers in complying with the shipping-label specifications of retailers. Manhattan’s proprietary PkMS, a flexible, modular software system that controlled the efficient movement of goods through the supply chain, drove Manhattan’s physical and financial growth throughout the 1990s. Manhattan’s solutions resolved some of the most pressing problems challenging U.S. textile manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. By the end of 1997, Manhattan had made its mark in the warehouse management system sector of supply-chain execution, recording a remarkable surge in financial growth, with sales of $32.4 million. Manhattan filed for an IPO in the spring of 1998. Manhattan’s advantageous position as a warehouse specialist in the broader supply-chain software field helped the company record impressive growth while others suffered from the downturn. The company expanded into Germany and France in 2001, ending the year with more than $138 million in revenue.
“We identified commonality across projects and were able to build a product from many projects. And nobody has done that in this industry before we did,” Raghavan notes.
Seeds of Change
In 2001, Raghavan took charge as the Chief Strategy Officer. A hands-on guy, two years into the position, Raghavan felt “removed from the action,” simply “managing people who were managing people who were managing people.”
While several other ideas danced around his mind, his childhood desire to explore the skies reemerged with full force and Raghavan plunged into the world of astronomy in 2002. His Ph.D. work was a comprehensive multiplicity survey of Solar-type stars, aimed at improving our understanding of the propensity of Sun-like stars to have planetary and stellar companions. Deepak earned his Ph.D. in astronomy at Georgia State University in 2009.
Watching Carl Sagon’s Cosmo series growing up in India, Raghavan was inspired to uncover the mysteries of the universe. “Sagon had such a fascinating way of communicating his passion, curiosity and his wonder about the universe. No one has equaled him in communicating to that level.” Quotes such as Arthur C Clarke’s “Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe, or we are not. Both are equally terrifying,” fueled his desire to learn more about the habitats of sun-like stars, leading to a better understanding of the life-sustaining environments in the Universe.
The shift from Business to Academia
“I consider myself a lifelong learner. I’m curious to learn, curious to grow. And so being in the classroom and being able to do that was a lot of fun,” says Raghavan about returning to school, earning an executive MBA at Georgia State in 1998, and returning to work on a Ph.D. His research project is one of the most cited papers with more than 1300 citations.
These days, he sends time in the classroom, teaching introductory physics and astrophysics classes. “It is really those light bulb moments that I enjoy the most,” Raghavan said, adding that working with a student who has been struggling with a certain area and helping them suddenly realize it are some of his most gratifying moments. “Making even a small positive impact on the students is what drives me.”
What continues to keep a highly successful entrepreneur rooted in Academia?
“I’m passionate about their(student) success. I care about their success, and I’m willing to do whatever I can to help, but at the end of the day, it’s really up to them . And when it comes to science, a lot of people think science is about memorizing a lot of complicated things. It’s not – it’s a way of observing the world and figuring things out. It’s playing detective to learn more about the world around us. One of the things I emphasize is it’s not memorizing and regurgitating is more understanding and applying. And that’s a very transferable skill. It’s not a question of what you know, but it’s a question of, can you analyze a situation, analyze a problem, come up with a solution and implement it? And that’s what I emphasize when I teach.”
Raghavan also consciously makes efforts to pursue his hobbies including traveling, scuba diving, and running.
“I love to run. Running is my meditation,” Raghavan said. What started as a physical fitness goal, Raghavan said also enlightened his understanding about limitations of his own body – how far he could push himself without breaking down and the most pleasantly surprising was also getting in touch with his mind. With no headphones/distractions and clear of thoughts, Raghavan says the mechanical act of running blossoms creativity that otherwise does not happen.
“I have this desire to accomplish things. That’s what has driven me for all my life. And getting a PhD was part of that. Starting a company and growing up was a part of that and in my running, I have set goals for myself, whether it’s annual goals or how many miles I’m going to run,” Ragahvan said. He currently plans to accomplish running a half or full marathon in every state in the country. His last half marathon was on weekend before Thanksgiving, in Tulsa, Oklahoma – his 44th state. Six more states to go!
“I’ve always been clear that we are custodians of the wealth we’ve been fortunate enough to create and the stakeholders are, immediate family, the community and society that has enabled our success, and our extended family,” Raghavan opines about giving back.
His family foundation, incepted in 2001 mainly supports in areas of education, children’s health care, and animal conservation. “With the three causes we have chosen, most of our support goes to local organizations, because this is where we have made our success and this is where we make our living.”
The foundation is also supporting some organizations in India and some animal conservation organizations in Africa. “Priya and I spend time on this, and we also started to include our kids in this process. They are trustees of the foundation right now.”
Raghavan has also donated generously towards IACA. “It was because this gentleman Vir Nanda approached me at that time and told me about his vision for India Center. His vision really rang true with me, and I regarded him highly in terms of his passion and commitment to work on behalf of the community.” Raghavan believes that it is important to get the younger people interested in it (IACA) through various activities that interest the youth. He also rightfully pointed out that the geographical location of IACA, away from the ever-burgeoning Indian diaspora in Duluth and Suwanee area might be a challenge to bring the community together.
What does Success mean to Raghavan?
Upon some deliberation, Raghavan said Success ultimately is personal and that one must define it based on what they deem important to them. Initially troubled upon hearing Abraham Cowley’s quote, “Life is an incurable disease,” Raghavan realized that it is all about the journey. He says ‘we have to make it (life) as meaningful to us as possible. And the more you focus on your moral compass, and what guides you with that, the more satisfied you will be. The more you focus on what’s in it for me and what I can get, the less you end up being successful at achieving those goals. The questions to ask, he says are –“ what do I want to do with my time? How do I want to be an asset to people that are near me and our society?
What was the biggest challenge he faced and how did he overcome it?
“I would go back to 1999, which was a year of rebuilding for Manhattan Associates,” said Raghavan. The company had grown and gone public and ended up with a business without the right processes or our internal infrastructure to match the scale it had reached. “So that was a tough year of reflection for us,” Raghavan said. The solution Raghavan says were laser focused spirited discussions all directed towards the end goal. “We were fortunate enough to have a group of people that discuss the problem with only one focus: what is right for our customers and our employees.” The team, Raghavan says finally agreed to hire people to come in from the outside to take over the roles that they were theirs. “That was not an easy transition. But it was actually made pretty easy because we were focused on what is the right thing for our employees and for our customers.”
What is Raghavan’s advice for upcoming entrepreneurs and folks at crossroads contemplating pursuing their passions?
“Not everybody is meant to be an entrepreneur,” Raghavan said, adding, one cannot try to be one just for the sake of it or because someone else did it successfully. “You must have something that is a need-based priority that you can add value to your customers. You can only be successful as an entrepreneur, if you’re giving your customers more value than they’re paying you for.” The key Raghavan says is to identify the need/gap in the area of the entrepreneur’s area of expertise and be convinced that the knowledge you have will successfully fill that need/gap. “ And you must enjoy the process of doing that. It will be a lot of hard work. if you do not enjoy it, you won’t be able to compete, you won’t be able to keep up with what’s needed to be done.”
For those in pursuit of their passions, Raghavan says, “It requires a lot of soul searching to realize who you are.” Raghavan advises solicitation of trusted friends and family members if one is not sure about changing paths. He believes that while most people hold back from opening up to others, it helps to build relations where one can. This, he believes, is very helpful in finding support and advice one needs, especially when trying to discover themselves.
At 56, Deepak Raghavan is a self-made man, having reached the pinnacle of success pursing and accomplishing his set goals professionally and personally. Guided by a moral compass within, Raghavan is giving back society and the causes that matter most to him. What awaits next? Well, Sky is the limit.. or is it?