Photo courtesy of <i>San Jose Magazine</i>

Issue: Spring 2005

Alumni Profile - Radha R. Basu

High-Stepping CEO

Whether she’s braving the bitter winds of Mount Everest or confronting the cutthroat competition of Silicon Valley, Radha R. Basu MS ’73, MS ’74 knows how to keep going: “Take one step, then another.”

It’s the through-line of her life.

Basu is CEO of SupportSoft Inc., a multimillion-dollar software firm in Redwood City, Calif. In her “spare” time, she has twice trekked 18,000 feet skyward to the Mount Everest base camp.

She has definitely followed the trail not taken – at least, not by most of her peers back in Chenna (formerly Madras), India. Born to a traditional household, Basu was “expected to be well-educated but then to marry and be the anchor” for her own family.

But while her parents were picking out a husband-to-be, Basu snuck off to take an engineering school admission test. When she got the top score, her parents gave in and let her enroll. Eventually they scrapped the wedding plans, too, and Basu, yet a teenager, was off to USC for graduate work on a full scholarship.

En route to degrees in electrical engineering and computer science, Basu worked as a research assistant at Martin Luther King (now King/Drew) Hospital in Watts, an experience that made a lasting impression. “I saw firsthand what it means to work in low-income, poor-education environments,” she recalls. “I learned resilience, being committed, making do with what you’ve got and working [amid] adversity. I also saw the power of technology [to help people] when it’s simple to use.”

That last lesson would prove crucial. After more than 20 years with Hewlett Packard – during which time she helped establish one of the first software centers in her homeland, and also met her husband of 28 years – Basu joined SupportSoft. Today she runs a firm that “creates technology to diagnose a problem, find the root cause of it and heal it.” SupportSoft’s clients include many Fortune 500s and most of North America’s large broadband providers.

So what’s it take to be a CEO? “Resilience. A super juggler. The ability to make tough decisions,” says the 54-year-old. “You have to share the success and the pride, and stand alone with the failures.”

Radha Basu stands with husband Dipak at the Everest base camp.

To weather the pressure, Basu often looks to her Everest experiences. “You must have a maniacal focus on your goal,” she says. “This requires conditioning – you can’t get to the top in either endeavor without it. Start small and build on your successes or failures.” There’s also teamwork. With the Himalayan Sherpas in mind, she points out that “those who have climbed to the top had a whole team helping them, each member with a role to play.”

Basu relishes her life path as one she chose herself, not one laid out for her. “You are personally in charge of mapping out your career. Don’t talk about a glass ceiling or male-dominated industry or cultural difference,” she says.

Which, in the parlance of an Everest adventurer, means that you “just push yourself against a yak and keep going!”

– Ross M. Levine