And that, in turn, will contribute to world peace.
"That's the mission that's driving me," he said.
Karsan is always talking that way: Everything is somehow larger and more monumental than the straight facts might suggest.
Kenexa designs software that helps with many aspects of employee recruiting, hiring, training, retention, and even departure. Its products can scan resumés to determine the best fit, automate interview scheduling and evaluation, create a checklist for orientation, and enroll employees in training classes.
Research buttresses the software. Global surveys measure workers' attitudes to assist management.
IBM wants to buy the company, its executives said Monday, because it wants to marry Kenexa's human-resources capacity with IBM's growing expertise in "social business," meaning the business application of networking in the style of Facebook and LinkedIn.
Karsan's philosophy on "social business"?
"It's storytelling and oral communication," he said, adding that online networking more closely mimics talking than company memos do.
"Writing is a more recent phenomenon," he said.
Growing up in an Indian family in Africa, Karsan was 15 when his family left Kenya. Life was hard for ethnic Indians, who faced discrimination, he said.
"My parents didn't have enough money to send us to study overseas," he said. "So, they did the next best thing: Run like hell." They wound up in Canada, living in Toronto.
Kenya, he said, taught him three lessons: the value of meritocracy, the importance of diversity, and an appreciation for a society conducted without magendo, the Swahili word that Karsan roughly translates as corruption.
"Anything you wanted to do in society," he said, "you had to bribe."
In Kenya, Karsan said, an Indian like him had a slim chance of attending college.
"The herd kept getting culled," he said. "In order to survive in this world, you better be able to fight those battles and win those battles."
The Kenyan society, he said, was segmented - the Africans by tribe, the Indians by their geographical origins in India, and the whites by their color. "At Kenexa," he said, "we only discriminate by talent and performance."
Karsan studied actuarial sciences in Canada. He soon realized he'd rather own a business than work for one. He and a headhunter who had called to recruit him ended up forming a recruiting firm specializing in actuaries.
Karsan said he decided to set up the business in Philadelphia because it was one of a handful of U.S. cities with enough insurance companies to both need actuaries and produce them.
He next looked at school systems, weighing academic performance and house values in several insurance cities. The combination led him to choose Newtown Square over the Boston and Hartford suburbs, because he calculated that he could get the best education for his children while buying an affordable house.
Over the years, the business, founded in 1987, evolved into its current form.
If the deal closes in December, Karsan stands to gain at least $56 million. "I think it's a little more," he said.
"I haven't really thought about it. I have given so much of my wealth away already," he said. His philanthropy centers on education and health care, he said.
"I've made a ton of money," acknowledged Karsan, who has a two-year contract with IBM. "That doesn't enter into it."
It was at this point in a conversation that Karsan launched his theory about how the sale of Kenexa to IBM was world-changing.
Throughout history, he said, most violence has been country vs. country. Now, he said, violence is mostly internal, "based completely on the fundamental issue of the haves and the have-nots."
"If you look at the cause of wars," Karsan said, "it boils down to the number of unemployed men between the ages of 15 and 30." When it hits a tipping point, "they'll either kill their leaders or their leaders will kill them" by sending them off to war.
"What's the cure? Jobs that are meaningful, that have a sense of purpose," he said.
IBM's "smarter-planet" initiative that Kenexa will join, he said, will help boost productivity, not to reduce head count, but to "improve the top line," creating more jobs and more opportunities.
"Then," he said, in his transcendent manner, "there will be societal change."
Contact Jane M. Von Bergen
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