Ramana Thumu has built and implemented cutting-edge technology platforms, consulted at some of the world’s most innovative companies, and led teams for Silicon Valley’s most famous employers. But his emergence as a leader in the industry looked very different than that of many of his peers. In fact, he didn’t grow up with a computer in his home. He didn’t even have electricity.
Thumu was born in the southern part of India and remembers doing his homework by candlelight after sunset. His parents never had the benefit of an education and couldn’t read or write. His mom cared for the family while his dad worked on a farm.
“All they ever wanted for me was to pursue an education and have opportunities we could never have dreamed of,” Thumu says. “Their values and what they instilled in me shaped who I am today. I’m not sure I would’ve gotten through it all without my parents, siblings, wife, and kids by my side!”
Today, Thumu is the chief technology and product officer at Fanatics, the buzzworthy top global digital sports platform that’s extending its reach beyond e-commerce to ignite fan passion and extend the presence and reach of partners across the broader sports landscape. He’s responsible for leading a very diverse team that builds the ecosystem that powers Fanatics’ end-to-end data- and analytics-rich e-commerce and mobile platform, which counts all major professional leagues, 150 colleges and universities, and many of the biggest European soccer clubs as partners.
The journey from the Bay of Bengal to the Bay of San Francisco was a remarkable one. Thumu was a curious child who always excelled in mathematics, science, and problem-solving. After noticing his gifts and talents, his teachers put him in special programs designed to help top students.
“My career is bigger and greater than I might have imagined because I had mentors and managers who helped me maximize my potential. Other people believed in me from an early age, and that has been an important theme in my life and career. Now, I’m working hard to mentor and coach other tech leaders,” he says.
Even with strong support, Thumu faced real challenges that threatened to derail his progress. His education beyond the tenth grade would cost 5,000 rupees. The sum—less than $100—was an insurmountable obstacle for his family at the time. Thumu was discouraged, but his family refused to give up and found a way to get money for his tuition.
Thumu continued his education at Sri Venkateswara College of Engineering and the Indian Institute of Technology. He says he was fortunate to be hired in Tata Unisys as a programmer and worked on critical projects in his early years. After eighteen months of working in India, he travelled to San Jose on a work visa.
It was 2000, and the Silicon Valley region was just starting to boom. Thumu quickly landed a new job writing code for a start-up internet communications platform. They scaled the business from eight to one hundred employees, and the early success unlocked new opportunities. Soon, he was walking the halls of Cisco, PayPal, and eBay, where he was part of building e-commerce and advertising platforms from scratch and ultimately served as eBay’s senior director of product and technology.
By 2014, Thumu was looking for something new, and his services were in high demand. Although he had the opportunity to join well-established companies including Facebook, Google, and Apple, he chose to join Fanatics, which at the time was a predominantly North American sports e-commerce company.
However, Fanatics Founder Michael Rubin and Fanatics Commerce CEO Doug Mack had a vision for building a new breed of consumer brand which the sports world had never seen before. That vision put technology, data, and analytics at the center of the company’s growth and innovation, and that is what prompted Thumu to join Fanatics at the time.
When Thumu joined, Fanatics had a valuation of $3.1 billion and had just cracked Internet Retailer.com’s Top 50 list. Today, the global company operates in eleven countries, runs six global technology centers, and is currently valued at $18 billion. Fanatics has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for the past several years.
“Fanatics had a special vision of tech- and data-driven innovation to transform the company and deliver the growth,” Thumu says. “I came to Fanatics to take all the experience I accumulated in my life to date and unleash them by pulling together a world-class tech team to execute a clear and exciting vision.”
That’s what Thumu and his tech team have been doing ever since. Fanatics has heavily relied on the open-source, cloud-based, mobile-first tech stack developed in-house by Thumu and his team to power business growth and go beyond sportswear and merchandise. The company has amassed a database of more than eighty million sports fans and is rolling out new business lines to keep those fans engaged.
What they’ve built together is truly special, and in some ways, they’re just getting started.
The new Fanatics global sports digital platform includes Fanatics Commerce, Fanatics Collectibles, Fanatics Betting and Gaming, and Candy Digital by Fanatics (NFTs). “I harbored a love for sports and competition as early as childhood. Fanatics has given me the ideal vehicle to channel my dual passions for sports and technology,” Thumu says.
When it comes to leadership, it is all about doing the right thing under all circumstances. Thumu has special emphasis on the culture within Fanatics, which he says has been instilled in him since day one by Mack. He recognizes the skill and talent of those around him, empowers decision-making at all levels, encourages risk-taking, and works to remove any bureaucratic obstacles that stand in the way of innovation.
Although it’s been more than twenty years since Thumu left India, he still stays in close touch with his family. “My parents told me to get an education and follow my dreams,” he says. “And that’s exactly what I’ve done.”
AWS congratulates Ramana on the well-deserved recognition he is receiving as a mentor and leader in technology, business, and sports. AWS is proud of its relationship with Fanatics and looks forward to continuing to help Ramana and Fanatics deliver the best experience for sports fans across the globe.