CEOs like Naresh Wadhwa, Manish Sabharwal others find job security in entrepreneurship

 When Naresh Wadhwa quit Cisco India in January after a 15-year run, the president and country manager for the networking major was at the top of his game.

MUMBAI: When Naresh Wadhwa quit Cisco India in January after a 15-year run, the president and country manager for the networking major was at the top of his game.

But the 45-year-old chose to give it up to start a new innings: as an entrepreneur. Teaming up with infrastructure and
real estate player V Raheja Constructions, Wadhwa incubated Varz BuildOn, a venture that uses technology to build next-generation infrastructure. Today, Varz BuildOn is providing the technical knowhow for 78 W Expressway, a 14 lakh sq ft corporate park coming up in Mumbai's Andheri. More clients are on the anvil.

Wadhwa is part of a growing tribe of
India Inc chiefs giving up cushy jobs and corner-rooms to don an entrepreneur's hat.

Not all of them quit at the peak though - some were sidelined or even asked to leave and found a respectable retreat in entrepreneurship. Still, as
Manish Sabharwal, chairman of staffing firm TeamLease Services, puts it: "The motivations for entrepreneurship don't matter as much as the act of entrepreneurship."

The past six months have seen a steady stream of top-level exits - both voluntary and forced - all of whom have either taken or are planning a plunge into the entrepreneurial space.

Sanjoy Mukherjee, chief commercial officer of Vodafone India, quit last October to pursue his entrepreneurial interests. So did Shankar Halder, head of network operations at Bharti AirtelBSE -0.61 %, in end-December to start his own technology consultancy firm: Pinnacle Consulting.

Niloufer Dundh, senior vice-president & head (integrated media) at Hungama Digital Media Entertainment, left in December to start her own venture, Ventes Dundh, in the media sales, branded opportunities and consultancy space. Suresh Prabhala put in his papers as the India head of Mount Kellett Capital Management in February to start his own fund with a former colleague.

And most recently, Vikram Malhotra resigned as COO of Viacom18 Motion Pictures, to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations. "India is a huge entrepreneurial opportunity in the next 5-10 years," says Sabharwal. "After 20 years of economic reform, many of these corporate hotshots are getting bored. They may have got rich on their salaries, but entrepreneurship offers them not just money, but excitement as well."

He says the prospect of a fresh challenge; international roles losing their erstwhile allure because of the global crisis and an easy access to private equity funds have all played their part in accelerating this trend. "I had a great run at Cisco, with the past six years spent as the youngest country president," says Wadhwa.

"But at 45, one of the biggest decisions which faced me was whether I should continue in the existing capacity; look for options outside or create something that would give me the satisfaction of having built something of my own." He chose the last option. "The timing was right. I am young. I have energy. I have motivation. Three-four years down the line, the risk-taking ability would come down," says Wadhwa.