“Never Put A Person Putting Faith In You Down”

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“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!

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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.

Sanjay Gupta with family
Sanjay Gupta with family

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.”

Do not increase my salary

As Gupta was learning the ropes of the semiconductor game in the United States, his father suffered a heart attack. “That night (daytime in India), I woke up in the middle of the night. I don’t know why, but something in me, or something I didn’t know, kept telling me something was wrong back home. I dialled the landline number, and my sister picked up. Usually, she was in college at that time every day. I inquired about everyone in the family, and she told me everything was okay. My heart said she was lying, and I insisted on speaking to our mother and father,” Gupta recalls, suggesting that this was probably his first experience of telepathy, something that yoga might have helped him achieve.

As soon as his family informed him about his father’s illness, he made up his mind to fly back to India, not just for a few days, but to permanently return. He left behind six months of working experience with Fujitsu and six months with AMD (both with Duet Technologies). Most significantly, he was leaving behind a life that many engineers in India still dream of!

“A lot of my friends are settled in the US. I am happily settled in India. What makes me happily settled are both my parents still living with us. My children know what the love of grandparents means. I still get to enjoy a lot of sweets sitting at the same table as my father. I think the day I left the US, my life truly became blessed,” he says, his eyes reflecting deep emotions. And he goes on to explain what truly blessed means!

His father started recovering, and everyone in his family was happy that their son was back home. Pressure began to mount from the family for Gupta to get married. The parents of his wife-to-be visited Gupta’s house and immediately agreed to the match. That’s when Gupta and his future wife began dating on Saturdays. Meanwhile, Duet Technologies was acquired by Motorola, and a big opportunity came knocking on Gupta’s door.

Motorola, as big as Google back then, wanted to focus on automotive semiconductors and was keen on setting up a team in India. Gupta, 31 at that time, learned about the interviews that were being held for the position to lead these operations in the country. After waiting for two weeks, he gathered the courage to express his desire to lead the team to his boss.

“I remember my boss telling me that while I had the technological know-how, I might have lacked the business acumen required to run and manage such a team. He turned me down, and the interviews continued,” he shares.

Gupta was so confident about this new venture that he went to his boss asking to be interviewed for the position three times. The third time proved to be the charm, or maybe what Gupta told his boss charmed the latter.

“I wanted to do it; the third time I told my boss, ‘Let me do it. Don’t increase my salary until you are satisfied with the achievements of the vertical.’” He continues, “That’s when I think my words probably charmed my boss!”

Sanjay Gupta doing Yoga
Sanjay Gupta doing Yoga

Then came the biggest challenge(s)

The opportunity was substantial, but opportunities do not come without their fair share of challenges. Gupta’s interview for leading the new vertical was conducted in the US. He secured the role, and then began a saga of the most significant challenges he had ever faced in his life.

“A lot of my peers in the organisation, who were also very senior to me, did not like that a 31-year-old was given such a prominent role. From corporate politics to various obstacles, I encountered everything once my role was announced. The most significant hurdle was building a new team, a team upon which the success of this new vertical would depend,” he reflects.

As hiring for the vertical took place on a group company basis, Gupta could only get his hands on a handful of resumes. Most of the talented candidates were either hired by other verticals or declined to join a new business unit. “It was like starting a startup within a group. I knew I would have to wear different hats,” he recalls.

Gupta approached this problem with a creative mindset. He asked the HR team of the group to share resumes that had been rejected by other verticals, and from those he built a team of 14.

“These were the candidates that no other leader in the group wanted. I said to myself that hiring them should not be a problem for anyone,” he shares. As the team began making a significant impact, the need for expansion arose. However, Gupta did not want to see himself or the team he had built land in the same situation he faced while initially building the team.

His found solution in off-campus drives. Gupta says, he was able to hire some of the best people he has ever worked with in his professional career. But how did the team create such an impact that it was allowed to expand? The answer—Sad, Mad, Glad!

As a mandatory practice for all his team members in the new vertical, everyone had to write about what they were sad about, mad about, and glad about. These three things were done every quarter. The ‘sad about’ represented things an individual was unhappy about and areas that needed improvement. The ‘mad about’ represented things that were hindering individuals from performing at their best. The ‘glad about’ represented what they loved about the project and the aspects they enjoyed the most.

“Many might follow this approach across the globe, but our approach was different because we ensured that every aspect of this was addressed every single time,” Gupta explains. The Sad, Mad, Glad approach at the group became so fruitful that Gupta was requested to conduct the same exercise for the entire group every quarter.

For the record, Gupta moved from Duet Technologies when Motorola acquired it. Motorola then spun off Freescale Semiconductor to focus on the automotive, embedded, and communications markets in 2004. In 2015, NXP Semiconductor and Freescale signed an agreement to merge. Technically, Gupta never resigned and was still in his first job, one that he started right after college.

Some Facts About Sanjay Gupta
Favourite Food: Kadi chawal
Cars or Bikes: Cars
Favourite Car Brand: BMW
Favourite Actress: Madhuri Dixit
Favourite Actor: Akshay Kumar
Favourite Singer: Kishore Kumar, Arijit Singh
Favourite Holiday Destination: Switzerland
Best Friend: Every friend should be a best friend
Favourite Gadget: Smartphones
Favourite Drink: Shikanji, Masala Buttermilk
Favourite Sport: Cricket
Favourite Cricketer: Virat Kohli, Rahul Dravid
Favourite Book: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

Building a global MNC from India

Since November 2022, probably a month or two after Gupta resigned from his first-ever job, he has been busy building an MNC that aims to represent India’s automotive prowess on the global scale. Assigned the role of President and CEO at Spark Minda, there are various aspects he is working on, which cannot be shared here as they are part of the core strategy of the Minda Group. One thing to note here is that Gupta’s love for automotive remains intact.

“At NXP, we started many projects for startups and women. I thought of these after my daughter won a Google scholarship. These initiatives led me to take an active part in various government ministries as well as associations like IESA. I believe this is where the leadership of the Minda Group identified me as a leader. I never wanted to leave my first job behind, but this was an opportunity to put India on the global map. I just couldn’t say no,” he says.

At the same time, he is proud that engineers from countries like Germany, China, and the United States are reporting to the team he built. “From being used to reporting to managers sitting outside India, to having those managers report to teams in India, is one of the best feelings in the world,” he says. However, that wasn’t enough, and he said to himself, “Why not build a company that can help automotive giants around the world in innovation and technology?” He said yes to Spark Minda!

Gupta credits all his achievements to his wife, parents, and children. He says his fortune turned around when he tied the knot. “She has taken care of the family in my absence. I still reach home late, but her love for me has not changed but only increased. I am blessed to have her in my life,” he says with a lot of love and pride.

And, what’s the most romantic thing he has ever done for his wife? An international vacation is planned every alternate year, if not every year, for the couple! Moreover, he made sure his parents visited the char dham in their prime, so they could enjoy each of them! Gupta’s son is preparing for IIT Jee exams, while his daughter is in her final year of engineering at the same college Gupta studied.

“Only a human can beat him/herself. No one can defeat you unless you say you have lost. Every time you go through a setback, get yourself up, and walk ahead,” he concludes.

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Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh
Mukul Yudhveer Singh is an Editor at EFY. He’s an experienced business journalist who is both an enthusiast and a cynic of technology. Believes in data, as well as hunch-based journalism. He defines journalism as- reporting facts which help the audience take their own decisions, not ones that influence them!

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