Grand old man of test: SK Dutta

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SK Dutta Chowdhary, MD, DVS-India

Sincerity, hardwork and honesty are the three guiding principles of my life. They helped me overcome hurdles in my career and shaped my personality. I was born in a big family in Kolkata, with four brothers and three sisters, but lost my mother at a tender age of three. I was, therefore, raised by my siblings who doted on me like their own child. My family gave me a happy and sweet childhood and let me develop into my own individual being.

Since childhood, I was greatly influenced by the ideas of Swami Vivekanand, whose philosophy of ‘work is religion’ inspired me to do my work with utmost sincerity and honesty. I often thought of myself as his reincarnation as his real name matched mine in the janampatri prepared by our family priest.

I completed my schooling from Kolkata in science stream, and graduation in electrical engineering from Jadhavpur University. As a student, I was certainly not the smartest one but had a knack for learning things fast. Mathematics and English literature were my favourite subjects, and I had always topped in both the subjects throughout my schooling.

Initial blues and the turning point

After acquiring my electrical engineering degree, I began my apprenticeship with Jessop & Company, Kolkata. My manager in the electric coach works was an English man named Maldon. His ideas and work ethics left an indelible impression on my mind. Regular exchange of ideas with him helped me fix my life’s priorities. Gradually, it became clear to me that a job was not my priority at that stage of life, rather I wanted to continue my education and develop more skills. I was determined to go to the UK for further studies. Although my family was not affluent, I did not let money dictate the course of my life or affect my career goals. It was also a very bold decision on my part as I had to leave the comforts of home and live and adjust to the ways of a foreign land.

During those days, a person with certain qualifications and work experience could apply for a visa through a job voucher. So, with only 22 pounds in my pocket, I landed in the UK. With no relatives or friends in that land, the only consolation I received was the government’s aid to meet my personal expenses till I landed up with a job.

I had my share of problems but I believed that if you are at the right place at the right time and have used your intuitions in an effective way, then there are good chances of success. I grabbed all the opportunities that came my way and exploited them to the fullest to achieve my goals. I realised that since I didn’t have enough money, I had to work and save money for my education. But getting a well paid job with my level of education and experience was not a cakewalk. After initial struggle, the first job I got was of cable testing. As an engineer I wasn’t happy with the job but I took it up as an opportunity that could buy me some time to continue with job hunting. I kept on applying for jobs without bothering for rejections.

However, there was a day when I received nine rejection letters. It disheartened me and I shared my thoughts about going back to India with one of my seniors who was like my brother.

He made me understand that my concern should not be about those nine rejection letters but that one appointment letter which could change my life. This suggestion gave me a new outlook towards success and failure in my life and made me determined and consistent in my efforts. The rejections continued pouring in and I had a patch of bad luck that lasted for about four more months until I met an acquaintance from Jadhavpur University.

A miracle indeed!

My university friend worked with Plessey, a known British electronics, defence and telecommunications company. Besides, he was also pursuing an electronics course. In those days electronics as a subject was not popular and the electronics industry was not as vast as it is today.

We developed companionship and I started visiting him in the evenings after my work. I also developed interest in the subjects he was studying. Subsequently, one of our seniors, who was working in the field related to the subjects my friend was studying, also joined us. I joined their companionship and learnt a lot.

One day, when I walked into my friend’s apartment, I found both of them ready to leave for a walk-in job interview and test being conducted in a nearby hotel. The interview was for three openings for electronics engineers in calibration and test in a leading electronics company named Cossur. When they asked me to come along I happily accepted the offer and accompanied them to the test venue.

Of the 40 questions asked in the written test, I could answer only 10, while my friends who were experts in the field answered all the questions. I was not very excited about the test as I was expecting only two of my answers to be correct, whereas both of my friends were confident about their selection as they claimed all their answers to be correct.

But I was astonished when I received a call from the company that evening, confirming my job and asking to join the next day. I rechecked my name and phone number with them but there was no confusion. I was offered the job with good renumeration along with two other experienced engineers. It was really a miracle!

It was a contractual job, hence I was required to do over time. As the distance from my residence and workplace was quite a lot, my colleagues and I hired a door mobile van to commute to office and back. It was fun working but the enjoyment was short-lived as I was not an expert in calibration and began facing difficulty in doing complex calibration tasks.

My supervisor was not very happy with my performance and gave me a warning that if I didn’t perform well he would report it to the manger and I might lose my job. The fear of losing the job gave me sleepless nights. One day I met an Irish man, Dereck, who came to my workplace and introduced himself as a ‘troubleshooter’.

I told him about my background and convinced him that given proper guidance I can learn the complicated calibration tasks very fast. He promised me to offer his help daily for one hour in the evening. Motivated to excel and make a name for myself, I began working hard and within a month I was the best calibration engineer in my department. Another miracle indeed! This incident made me believe that god helps only those who help themselves.

At the end of the contract, the general manager of the factory approached me and appreciated my work. I was offered a full-time employment in the company on the basis of my performance and good rapport. But as the contractual job was offering more money than the regular one, I continued in the same capacity for many more years and got the opportunity to work with several big companies.

In 1977, I took up a permanent job as by then I got married and the contractual job with its overtime and fluctuating schedule was proving a hindrance in enrolling myself for higher studies. After nine long years of working finally I enrolled myself in a master’s degree programme at Brunell University.

Back to the roots

After spending 15 years in London, I decided to come back to India. To avoid the possibility of going back to the UK, I sold off my property there and made Delhi my home. In 1982, I took up a job in Delhi with the same company I was working for in the UK. They started a new venture in Delhi and asked me to join them as the in-charge of their India operations. Electronics testing was a very new concept in India at that time, and for almost two years I was busy pitching people, doing seminars and developing business for my company.

Entering the SMT business

In 1988, I met the then deputy general manager of HCL Swaroop Chawla. After knowing about my expertise, he suggested me to meet Arjun Malhotra, the co-founder of HCL.  Shiv Nadar and Malhotra formed a killing combination—one as a dreamer, the other as an executioner. Nadar, who was fascinated by automation, launched office automation as an experiment in HCL in 1978.

Later, in 1987 he launched factory automation where SMT machines were used. I was appointed as the senior manager of the automation unit. That’s how I entered the SMT domain in India. The technology was new and the job was challenging. I had to learn all the technicalities before explaining them to the customers.

In 1989, HCL signed an agreement with Fuji Machine Manufacturing Co Ltd and launched its SMT machines in HCL factory. This historical agreement was signed by me on behalf of HCL. In 1992, HCL collaborated with HP and the new management decided to close down the SMT division. With that I had to part ways with HCL.

Establishing DVS-India

I knew some of the directors of DVS-Singapore, who asked me to set up DVS-India. It was decided that DVS-Singapore would sell the product while DVS-India would provide after sales support. Under this agreement, I started DVS-India in 1994 along with a group of competent engineers. DVS India is today one of the leading distribution companies in the Indian market. It offers sales and support of highly sophisticated electronic equipment required for assembling and testing the latest state-of-the-art printed circuit boards, integrated circuit devices and wafer and hybrid products for the Indian market.

The company is regarded as a complete solution provider across the industry. It offers the finest quality of equipment in the Indian subcontinent, which includes SMT/BGA rework stations and automated optical inspection systems, besides general SMT equipment.

For the last 15 years, I have been associated with the company and helped it grow into one of the largest SMT company in India. Today, SMT technology has become common and there are many players in the market. The focus has now shifted from technology to providing competitive price to the customers. It is a challenge for me and I accept it. I am here to stay for at least another 10-15 years.

Due to economic downturn last two years had been very tough for DVS-India but we are hopeful that business will gain momentum in the next few years. We are planning to diversify our business and adopt new technology to have an edge over our competitors.

Family life

I got married in 1973 in a typical Bengali traditional ceremony. My wife has done Masters in narcotics and worked in the UK till our son was born in 1979. Since then she devotes all her time to the family but she loves teaching and gives private tuitions at home.

I am blessed with two children. My son recently got married and is doing his MBA from Chicago Business School after completing his engineering from DCE and Masters from Texas, USA. My daughter did her B.Com (Hons) from LSR and Masters in economics from London. Presently, she is working with American Express.

I always believed in giving space and freedom to my wife. While living in London, we developed the habit of helping each other in household work, which I still follow.

As a father, I believe that I have given my children enough love and care. At the same time, I have also tried to instill the important Indian values in them so that they can hold their head high and earn respect in society.

I believe that anything you do with honesty and sincerity will take you to the pinnacle of success. I want my children to inculcate these values in themselves.

I love to spend time with my family and like watching sports and music reality shows with them. I also write short stories and poems in my free time. Recently, I have written a book of short stories narrating incidents from my own life. I socialise a lot and have been associated with various groups and organisations.

Journey so far and future plans

Until now, it has been a rewarding journey with luck always on my side. I am not a super intelligent or a very smart person but I believe in myself, follow my intuitions and respect my values, to ascend the ladder of success. When I interview a candidate for a job in DVS-India, I look for two qualities—honesty and sincerity. I expect my service engineers to give me an honest answer if they fail to fix up a problem.

I share my experiences with my colleagues to boost their confidence. I often tell my service engineers that they should treat sick machines like their patients—a lesson that one of my bosses passed on to me when I was a service engineer myself.

Money is not very important for me. People should direct their energies in doing good work, money will follow. You can make money by selling a product once but to become a successful businessman you need to be sincere and dedicated towards your work.

I have reached a point in my life when I do not need to work for money. Work is my passion and I would go on working till my mind, soul and body permit. I have been fortunate enough to be recognised and respected by people. I maintain good rapport with my customers and they remember me for the quality of work that I have delivered to them.

My work in testing methods has given me the most satisfaction in my life. I feel proud when people refer to me as the ‘grand old man of test.

These are a few of my favourite things…

  • Favourite personality: Swami Vivekananda
  • Favourite music: Rabindra Sangeet
  • Favourite western music: Neil Diamond, Santana
  • Favourite book: short stories by Guy De Maupassant
  • Favourite hobby: sports and music
  • Favourite food: Bengali food at Oh! Calcutta (an eating joint)
  • Health booster: Yoga and walking
  • Value most: Honesty and sincerity

——As told to Himanshu Yadav

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