“Sad, Mad, Glad!” Most of us probably know about these three words, or a phrase if I may call it, as something teams use to identify opportunities to improve morale and job satisfaction. However, this My Story is about a leader from India who deployed the ‘Sad, Mad, Glad’ framework to establish one of the largest automotive semiconductor design teams in India. Today, many individuals who were/are a part of this team are not reporting to managers sitting outside India. Instead, engineers working from countries like Germany and the United States on SoC and allied domains are reporting to these individuals. Today, he is busy building an automotive technology company in India, which he envisions to be the first global MNC to represent India on the global automotive platform. This is Sanjay Gupta’s My Story, as told to EFY’s Mukul Yudhveer Singh!
Born into a middle-class family in Delhi, Sanjay Gupta grew up in a joint family setup. Besides his three sisters, he had many cousins to play with and a wealth of elders to seek advice from. Gupta remembers being the naughtiest child in the family, always the last to stop celebrating a festival. His parents ‘literally’ had to scold him to make sure he stopped bursting crackers on Diwali or playing with colours on Holi.
“I would be the first child in the family to start bursting crackers and the last one to stop. I don’t know why, but I continue to love Indian festivals and the unity they bring out,” he says. Another vivid memory from his school days is his mother being called up by teachers to inform her that her son was always featured in the list of the top five naughtiest kids!
Simultaneously, Gupta was also among the top five performing students in academics. He completed his schooling in two different government schools in Delhi. “My grandfather passed away when my father was young. I have heard a lot of stories about how my father built everything from scratch for the family. He’s my role model,” Gupta says with eyes full of pride.
IIT kya hota hai? (What’s IIT?)
Education was always important, but Gupta’s focus on academics increased significantly when he entered the sixth grade. After that, the kid who used to be in the top five students list regularly topped his classes. Even though he scored above 90% in the tenth Boards exam, he had no idea what he wanted to do in life!
“One day, one of my father’s close friends visited us for breakfast. His son had just joined IIT Delhi. Over tea, he was talking to me and inquiring about my future plans when he mentioned the word IIT. I asked my father and him, ‘IIT Kya Hota Hai’ (What is IIT?). I had no idea what IIT stood for,” he laughs.
Within the next 15 minutes, Gupta, Gupta’s father, and that friend were sitting in the latter’s newly bought Maruti 800, on their way to one of the prominent IIT coaching and preparation centres in Delhi. After ten minutes of discussions at the centre, Gupta was asked to take a mock entrance exam. The results were out the same day, and the centre was ready to coach him for IIT preparation. But there was one catch! The monthly fee for the centre was ₹2,500, an amount equivalent to what his father’s government job was paying him every month!
“My Papa did not even think about what would happen and said yes, please admit him. That sacrifice he made that day is something I always have in my mind before starting work every day,” his eyes fill up with tears.
It was the start of a bigger challenge for him as he had a limited command on English language. The majority of his peers at the centre came from wealthy families, and this was also the first time he would be coming out of his comfort zone. His peers would arrive at the centre in swanky cars, indulging in burgers and all kinds of fast food for lunch, while Gupta would have to travel by bus and eat homemade food. Did this disturb him?
“Of course it did! What the world expects from you at that age is not important, but what you expect from the world is! I couldn’t make any friends there. Sometimes the bus didn’t show up, and I faced a lot of other challenges,” he explains.
|Sanjay Gupta’s Professional Innings|
|1996-1997: Design Engineer at Duet Technologies
June 2003-August 2005: Design Manager, India Design Centre, Freescale Semiconductor
August 2005 to April 2016: Senior Director of Engineering, Automotive & Industrial MCU, India Design Centre, Freescale Semiconductor
April 2016 to November 2022: VP & India Country Manager, NXP Semiconductors
November 2022-Present: President & CEO, Spark Minda, Minda Corporation
Back in school, Gupta was becoming a champion in yoga. His school sent him to inter-school yoga championships, and he was also asked to conduct yoga classes in the school. He believes that yoga helped him remain calm and seek solutions during his IIT preparation days. As luck would have it, he cleared the engineering entrance exam on the first attempt, but the rank he secured couldn’t get him a seat in electronics engineering! His father sensed Gupta was not happy and gave him the courage to take a year off and prepare better.
The following year, in the Delhi Engineering Entrance Exams, he secured a rank among the top 150 students, ensuring him entrance to electronics and communications engineering at the prestigious Delhi College Of Engineering. “That wasn’t what I initially wanted, but my father said it’s all for the better, and I accepted it,” he explains. And thus began his journey into the world of semiconductors, a word that most of India loves today!
₹750 to $70,000
Suji Ka Halwa was what the Guptas made to celebrate Sanjay’s first day at DCE. The entire Gupta family was fond of Indian sweets. Sanjay Gupta remembers walking behind his father on his journey from the bus to the college’s auditorium on that first day. Despite having visited the college a week before the academic session began, he confesses that he still had butterflies in his stomach on the first day.
“Me and one of my friends decided to visit our college a week prior to starting the academic session. The moment we entered, seniors living in the hostel caught hold of us and took us to the hostel. We were made to give introductions, clean utensils, and rooms of seniors. We were probably the first ones to undergo ragging even before joining the college,” he shares one of the many incidents from his college life.
By this time, Gupta was accustomed to speaking good English, making new friends irrespective of their background, and had a lot of self-confidence. He credits his days of IIT preparation for these skills. The friends he made at college encouraged him to participate in a singing competition. He still sings, but he admits that his performance during the competition at DCE was a result of his friends praising him to the skies.
“I do not think anyone was impressed by my singing that day,” he laughs, as if he is present in the college auditorium, listening to the famous speech by Chatur Ramalingam from ‘3 Idiots.’ However, one of these friends and seniors laid the foundation for what he is today. This senior recommended him a book titled ‘Advanced Microelectronics.’ To Gupta, this book remains the Bible for learning anything and everything about SoC design and semiconductors.
At that time (1993-1994), this book was not readily available in India. Most of the students who had it had it delivered from countries like the United States. Its cost was over ₹750, and to Gupta it seemed like a luxury. He wasn’t sure if the book would fit in the Gupta family’s budget with their overall expenses. “I went to my father and said I want this book because I want to master the field of semiconductors. My father said nothing at that moment,” he remembers.
When his father returned home the next day, he placed the book in Gupta’s hands and said, “Ja master ban ja semiconductors ka” (Go and become the master of semiconductors). He searched all over Delhi, contacted everyone he knew to make sure his son didn’t have to wait for that book. He assured him not to worry about the finances and to concentrate on his studies.
And how critical was that book for Gupta?
He answers, “The first interview I cracked was because of that book.” An Indian startup headed by Prabhu Goyal was visiting the college during the on-campus recruitment drive, and Gupta was selected to work for this startup’s office in the United States. Named Duet Technologies, this startup was later acquired by Motorola.
“From that ₹750 that my father went out of his way to spend, I landed a job in the United States that was paying me close to $60,000 then. On my first day at the office, I was given a Honda Accord to drive. Though I didn’t know how to drive back then, I learned it from a Chinese instructor in America,” he adds. He took the written test for a driver’s license in California after just one day of preparation.
He laughs and says, “We Indians probably have a knack for clearing written entrance exams.”