Promod Haque ’83
‘Midas’ winner Promod Haque ’83 puts theory into practice as top investment expert
By Matt Golosinski
Promod Haque has the golden touch.
The Kellogg School graduate has parlayed his engineering and business education into a successful career as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist.
Since 1990, he has been with Palo Alto-based Norwest Venture Partners (NVP), where he is managing partner. During that time, he has earned the respect of industry observers, like Forbes, which has repeatedly named Haque ’83 to its annual “Midas List” (including the No. 1 spot in 2004) in recognition of his superior wealth-creating ability. Boasting particular insights in the semiconductor and software sectors, Haque was an early investor and board member in Cerent, Siara and Extreme Networks, to name a few. He also staked a claim in many other ventures, including Open-Silicon, Yipes and Veraz Networks.
What drives him is the ability to make a difference, both as an investor/owner and as a manager.
“The excitement comes from having a major impact on these companies,” he says, recalling his various leadership roles in firms large and small dating back to the 1970s, including as COO of Emergent Corporation and CEO of Dimensional Medicine Inc. “You are starting from nothing. You are looking at what exists and trying to figure out ‘How can I do something that’s different from what everyone else is doing, and better?’”
But acquiring these skills took some strategic thinking on the part of a person who might have chosen a less adventuresome path in the sciences.
Haque, 60, began his academic accomplishments by earning an undergraduate engineering degree from Delhi University in India, the country where he was born.
Afterward, he worked three years in a sales position for a medical instrumentation company before coming to Northwestern University — with only a $4,000 loan from his father. There, he earned a doctorate in electrical engineering in 1976 and his Kellogg MBA in 1983.
This melding of science and commerce clicked for Haque thanks to a faculty mentor who showed him how the two fields could harmoniously intersect. “I was shaped by my professor, John Jacobs [now professor emeritus from the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern],” says Haque, who attended the Kellogg Part-Time MBA Program. “He was more of a researcher, but very product-focused. To a large extent, that laid the groundwork for me.”
From that foundation, Haque went on to Northbrook, Ill.-based EMI Medical Inc., the company that pioneered the CAT scanner. “Sir Godfrey Hounsfield was the inventor and a scientist at EMI Labs in the U.K, and I had the honor of working with him,” Haque says. Hounsfield would eventually be awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine for his contributions.
“EMI was doing some fascinating things at the leading edge of medical instrumentation.” Haque remembers.
It was at this point that Haque decided to reinforce his existing management experience with formal MBA training. He had to determine whether to pursue engineering management or a general program of management study. A mentor advised the latter course, with some emphasis on marketing and finance, and so Haque once more turned to Northwestern, this time enrolling at the Kellogg School.
During his MBA studies, he continued working at EMI Medical, a circumstance that let him put leadership strategies into immediate practice with his staff. Particularly useful were the insights of Kellogg professors and Haque’s fellow students: “The people you met and collaborated with at Kellogg were very diverse, from banking to insurance to brand management. It was a broad cross-section, and that was very useful.”
After graduation, Haque accepted the top job with Minneapolis-based startup Dimensional Medicine Inc., which was developing a three-dimensional medical imaging workstation for surgical use. As the company’s CEO for five years (1983 through 1988), Haque raised funds and led the effort to bring the workstation to market. Eventually the company went public in 1986 and was sold in 1988.
He admits the move up to chief executive was “a bit of a jump,” but says his broad academic and professional background opened the door to the opportunity.
“They were looking for all those domain skills that I had, which included product development, marketing, sales and engineering,” Haque says. “I had a lot of credibility because of my experience and connections in the medical community — big hospitals, radiologists, surgeons.”
When he ended his tenure, Haque looked for consulting opportunities, one of which led to NVP in 1989. The venture capital firm, which today manages some $2.5 billion and has funded more than 450 companies, was seeking someone with expertise in evaluating potential technology deals. “They wanted someone who understood marketing, sales, operations and technology to evaluate whether these firms had the right skills sets in the company,” Haque recalls. Norwest was so impressed by his performance that they offered him a full-time job. “I’ve been there ever since — 18 years.”
As an investor, Haque looks around the globe for opportunities, including the U.S., India, Israel and China. But he says that innovation within the United States should enable American firms to remain competitive.
“You need to have your core innovation team be close to the market to understand customer needs,” Haque says, pointing to Apple as one example of a company that, while utilizing a global supply chain to keep costs down, still relies on its U.S.-based team for the innovation and the customer insights that drive successful products. “For every Apple, there are thousands of companies that failed because engineers never listened to the customers,” he adds.
At Norwest, Haque relies on teams with deep specialized knowledge across diverse fields, such as telecommunications, semiconductors, software and services.
“If a company shows up and says, ‘We’re building the next, best storage system,’ we as an investor need to understand what the storage landscape looks like now and five years from now.”
Posted October 2008