Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Exploited child worker becomes millionaire

He was just a child, just 14, working long hours for Western exploiters at low wages. Seven years later he still works hours on end. His mother complained that he eats too little and worked until 4 am only to start work again at 8 am.

That’s one way to look at the story. But it is one that the young man, Suhas Gopinath might dispute. His career started before puberty did. An internet cafe opened up near the boy’s home in India and his older brother took him there. From that moment on he was hooked. Every spare rupee he could find was used to spend more and more time on the internet. He taught himself how to build web pages.

At the ripe old age of 13 he began his first website. Then he received a call from a major softwar company in the United States. They brought the boy to the United States and made him an offer. They would pay for his education if he would come to work for them. He turned them down. He said: “Why should I do for another company what I could do for my own?”

So at the age of 14 he started his own company. He had to skirt the laws set up to protect children like himself. He was not allowed to set up a legitimate company as he was a mere child. So he went on-line and registered a company outside India with a few friends. Strictly speaking he was a child being exploited albeit by himself.

Regularly he faced a problem. The moment clients found out he was 14 years old they dropped his services. But in spite of that his company continued to grow. Two years ago an investment firm from Texas approach the boy and offered to purchase a majority share in his company. They offered him $100 million. He rejected the offer preferring to keep ownership himself.

Today he employs over 400 people directly in eleven different countries. Apparently he outsources a lot of his work to employees in the United States, where he has 125 employees.

Once Suhas was asked to address a group of business executives at a conference. He rushed to the auditorium straight from school and didn’t have time to change. He showed up in jeans and a t-shirt. The security guard refused to admit him and wouldn’t believe the boy was the main speaker.

When he recently met the president of India he had some advice. He wanted the laws restricting young people from starting their own companies removed from the books. He has lots of faith in the ability of the young. And that is shown when you realize the typical employee in his company is just 21 years old. The oldest employee is 26 and the youngest is 12 but he is forbidden to hire him full time. He gave the boy a laptop and in his spare time the boy works on web designs for the company.

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