How about this for a story? A man leaves India for Omaha with $58 in his pocket. He starts a company in 1972 that reaches peak revenue of $400 million, spends a night in the Lincoln bedroom, puts Bill Clinton on its payroll, sails Bill on his 80-foot yacht with an all-female crew, and flies Hillary Clinton to campaign events on his corporate jet.
And he’s as happy as a clam — despite getting sued by shareholders, being pushed out as CEO, incurring over $12 million in debts to settle shareholder lawsuits, and using insurance to pay $13 million to settle a lawsuit alleging that he sold his company — netting him $150 million for his 40% stake — at too low a price.
The man is Vinod Gupta, former CEO of InfoUSA, a company that built a database that marketers use to sell everything from consumer products to politicians.
Gupta got himself into a larger-than-life heap of trouble.
According to the New York Times, a 2006 lawsuit filed against Gupta by disgruntled shareholders — Connecticut-based hedge funds, Dolphin Limited Partnership and Cardinal Capital Management — charged that Bill Clinton and current presidential candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, took a January 2002 family vacation to Acapulco on InfoUSA’s private jet — costing the then-public company $146,866.
Gupta also financed a voyage for Bill on American Princess, the $3 million, 80-foot yacht with an all-female crew bought with InfoUSA funds, according to the lawsuit.
He helped Hillary as well. In January 2004 InfoUSA paid $18,480 — about $2,000 of which was reimbursed — to fly Mrs. Clinton "and her four-person entourage" to New York from New Mexico, where she had made a campaign appearance and attended a book signing, according to the lawsuit.
But that was only the tip of the iceberg. As the Times wrote, “InfoUSA paid Mr. Clinton more than $2 million for consulting services, and spent almost $900,000 to fly him around the world for his presidential foundation work and to fly Mrs. Clinton to campaign events [when she was running for Senate in New York].”
Bill Clinton made appearances in exchange for the cash and Hillary said that the flights were made in compliance with the law, according to the Times.
Gupta has been a big supplier of cash to the Clintons as well. The Times wrote that “he has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Clintons' campaigns over the years, and has donated $1 million to Mr. Clinton's foundation.”
In 2008, InfoUSA changed its name to InfoGroup and that August Gupta stepped down as CEO as part of a settlement of the lawsuit — receiving $10 million in severance while he stayed on the company’s board, according to AP.
In 2010, CCMP bought InfoGroup for $436 million. An investor — New Jersey Carpenters Pension Fund — charged that the company was sold too cheaply so that Gupta could raise cash to pay his debts. InfoGroup used insurance to settle for $13 million in February 2014, according to Bloomberg.
But Gupta — who has since started Infofree.com, a database of “240 million consumers, 100 million homeowners, and 14 million that helps thousands of small businesses ” — sounds deliriously happy to me.
As he explained in an interview last week, “I am incredibly fortunate that, at this point in my life, I spend about 95% of my time doing things that I love. Of course, that has not always been the case.”
Now he feels that he has great balance between work and family and is helping to make the world better. “Today, I have my personal ideal job in that I get to make my own choices and decide what I want to do. I enjoy spending time with my family and engaging in pursuits that help other people. Professionally, I feel fortunate to be building solve their greatest challenges and find new customers,” he said.
Gupta loves his life — with all its ups and downs. As he said, “I feel successful because I measure success by happiness. Warren Buffett characterized his love for what he does by saying that he tap dances to work--and that is precisely what I do each and every day. I have always tap danced my way through life every single day, regardless of the circumstances.”
Success is “not about money” for Gupta. “Even when I was dirt poor growing up, I was just as happy as I am today because I always found ways to stay active and engaged,” he said.
He is proud of his relationship with the Clintons — naming schools after them and his mom that he founded in the village where he grew up.
As Gupta explained, “Today, in that small village where I grew up, there is a high school named after Bill Clinton, a nursing school named after Hillary Clinton, and the Ramrati School of Technology (a polytechnic institute) named after my mom.”
Gupta credits education — with a push from his physician father — for turning him into a successful entrepreneur.
As Gupta said, “My father personally spent time teaching me biology, mathematics, and other subjects, and he would hire tutors for me to ensure that I learned everything I could in school. He made sure that I studied, worked hard, and stayed focused, and his efforts paid off, instilling me with invaluable qualities and keeping me on path toward more opportunities,” said Gupta.
This focus got him into and through a “highly ranked engineering college, IIT Kharagpur” that gave him the confidence to be an entrepreneur.
“I think it is in my nature to do things on my own. Before I started the company that would become infoUSA, a terrific success, I launched two companies that failed. Nonetheless, I kept my head up, remained determined, and never let setbacks stop me from pursuing my dream,” said Gupta.