The first meeting
I first met Subroto Bagchi while we were in Santa Clara on our Wipro Assignment at Intel in August 1990. I was a 28 year old computer engineer, immersed in the world of UNIX. It was our first experience in US, and Subroto had just been transferred from Wipro GE to take over as Wipro R&D’s Country Manager in the US. It was his first business visit, and during the dinner he hosted for us at some Indian restaurant in El Camino Real, we asked him for support on reimbursing training expenses for getting Driving Licence. He asked what is HCL’s policy on this. Immediately, an emotion surged up within me – why should we care what HCL does? And before it could find expression, Subroto continued, as if in anticipation: “I need to know that – it will help me convince others to do this.” Immediately made sense to me. His openness in explaining his purpose was probably the beginning of a lifelong journey of learning how he thinks.
The personal connect
Seven years later Subroto Bagchi was leading Wipro’s Six Sigma initiative spanning all businesses, and I was part of a privileged team listening to Motorola University’s “findings” on Wipro. Motorola University was hired as Wipro’s Six Sigma Coach and they did a survey of Wipro’s strengths and weaknesses, spending months interviewing and listening to Wipro personnel across businesses and locations. They presented nine strengths and 21 weaknesses. While the presentation was impressive, and I enjoyed the day, I chose to be critical when it came to filling up the feedback form. I wrote, “what have they revealed that we did not know ourselves?”
If leaders are open about their logic, they create not just harmonious teams but also faster learners.
Few days later, I got a call from the great man himself. He said, I have this feedback which seems like yours. Can you come and meet me? He sat at a different office, not too far – and I went over. He explained, “if I or anyone else present this, it will be difficult to convince. When Motorola University tells this, people will listen.” He revealed how his mind works and the design behind his methods just like the HCL query. Here was the do-er, yet so good a teacher that we often confuse him as a teacher.
Gandhi was a do-er, but not so successful a teacher, going by how quickly Independent India forgot his practices despite our overt obeisance to him. Tagore was a great teacher (and we are still inspired by him) but he was not a do-er.
Around 15 years later, Korn Ferry did an assessment of MindTree leaders and Subroto Bagchi himself was surprised when he was slotted as a Ninja. I guessed he expected to be a Coach – but even the greatest tools are tested with regular professionals who fit the slots. One of a kind leaders cannot be anticipated by the tool designers. The best leaders are experienced by those around them – and cannot be boxed into a category, which is what the best tools try to do.
Feeling and Empathy
Sometime in the middle of my career at Wipro, I was “Project Manager” responsible for working with Tandem, Austin on their Non Stop UNIX software. Tandem were world leaders in fault tolerance and Non Stop computing, and terms like 24by7 originated there. I was extremely dissatisfied with what was happening or not happening with my “Account” and I sent a long mail expressing my views. This led to a long and difficult meeting – and when I came out and reflected, it seemed to me I was complaining all along about Ashish Basu (my colleague in Austin, Texas) whenever Subrotoda asked me searching questions. I was extremely unhappy with my responses during the meeting as those was not my intent nor my plan. Along with an un-happening performance in business with Tandem, I did not want to spoil a good relationship with a colleague I considered a close friend.
I need not have worried.
I don’t know what Subroto Bagchi did after our meeting. But my professional dialogue with Ashish improved and matters at Tandem also moved faster and to our satisfaction. We became closer friends as well.
Ashish Basu was an admirer of Subrotoda. He once proposed a theory that Subroto Bagchi creates his own roles – and people who follow him find it difficult to replicate the magic. I started observing this hypothesis from this point onwards. He initiated Mission Quality and the Six Sigma Initiative in all of Wipro’s businesses, later he was Gardener at Mindtree, now he leads Skill Odisha. In all cases, you cannot separate the role and the man. And the act is difficult to replicate.
While at Univel (a joint venture of Novell and Unix System Labs), I was perturbed, rather hurt, by a customer comment. I called up Subroto Bagchi at Santa Clara (California) and expressed my feelings. He listened, did not tell much. I was lightened after sharing. The next morning, he calls me. He said “I could not sleep last night thinking about this”. I will talk to them. I said please don’t do that. By afternoon, the manager at Univel came over to me and apologised. It was a genuine apology. I was touched. And we became good friends after that.
One year later, I had returned to India for a vacation and then had an interview at the visa office. I did not like how they spoke, and gave my replies my way. When I don’t care for the outcome, I have the freedom to express!
I wrote down our conversation and presented it to Subroto Bagchi at Wipro’s Bangalore office. He said – we will take it up with them. Are you ok if you don’t go to US again?
I responded I have my belongings at the apartment at Austin. He said we will arrange, and I was fine.
Later, he gave up that idea – probably he decided that was not the practical course to take. I recall this story because I understood he had feelings like I do. And such understanding brings in a connect.
The beginning of a new chapter
One day in March, 1999, Subroto Bagchi gave me a call. He was then working in Lucent. Can I come over to his house in Diamond District? “Of course I can”.
That Sunday, he was ready with a 14-slide presentation. The content of that presentation is not important. What I gathered is he is starting a new company with a few others and can I join him? Of course!
He said I should take care of Knowledge Management. I did not know what was Knowledge Management and that did not matter. All that mattered was the opportunity to work with him. One more time.
Who else is with him? He said he will tell me later.
Did I have any more questions or concerns? I had. I have not been able to save any money so far, and I needed money every month. In a startup, one has to manage without a salary for a long time, as I understood. He assured me I will receive a salary every month. Whatever I am getting now, I will continue to receive.
That was it !
My Mindtree journey had begun.
55 Replies to “Beyond Platform, Beyond Purpose”
Excellent writeup KKB. Looking forward to your writeup on our SLC stay soon.
Thank you for your comment. However, I don’t know what I can write. The year at Salt Lake City was probably my happiest year. You and I did not overlap much. However, Rama and Peter all the time, and later Neetibodh and Abhijit made a big difference to me – and my family.
History and historical events begin like this…
a man who has the best of his knowledge of the subject and a dedicated energetic team to assist him in achieving the goals
Lovely writing Kalyan . Opens a small but insightful window into the early days of the IT Revolution and the people and minds and who brought about it .
I have been reading about Mindtree since my college days, almost every articles in the internet I have covered. Even today I read the article wide eyed with eagerness and curiosity. I find them very inspirational. And you write beautifully which makes it much more interesting to read.
Insightful journey of an extraordinary learner :- sustain it
The narrative style is fascinating and captivating. It is really nice to learn about the persona of a visionary leader through this article which comes straight from the heart. Looking forward to more such blogs that uplift our spirits through glimpses of the intimate moments you have shared with fellow travelers in the journey of life.
Really Sir, such a adorable journey. But now a days youngsters are dependent on job rather as an entrepreneur.
So nicely presented….. Waiting for next..
Jai Hind Sir …
First of all “ek salute tho bantha hai dil se”
The blog was very interesting and inspiring and I got goosebumps while reading …
I feel very proud, and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with you sir.
People like you are needed on this earth that will definately create many peoples life.
Jai Hind sir
Thank you for sharing your journey. The friendship is very important in the all time. It’s a vision for me.
The story has begun on a great note. The beauty of the article is its quiet emotional appeal.
Mesmerized,the write-up wonderfully reflecting your zest and ability.
Mr Bagchi,I presume possesses tha ability to recognise the diamond from among the heap.
Keep reflecting Kalyan
Excellent write up… very well written and overall your presentation was awesome. Hope to read more such in the days to come.
1. Great teachers do not intend to teach -ofhers learn from them
2. Self mastery is rare -‘Subroto Bagchi creates his own roles’.
3. Expressing self and being self at all times is best
The line between the role and the man is so beautifully shown.
Wonderful- relished reading it, not just by reconnecting with your stories from early career as I had heard from you, but also i terms of the familiar spots in Santa Clara, from where it all began.
When one is really ready to take the leap forward, the right mentor steps in. Such mentors don’t just teach – they coach by their wisdom gained from experience.
Enjoyed reading through your success path!
Very inspiring and lot to learn from this blog. Thank you for sharing this.
Beautifully expressed, Kalyan da. Straight from the heart, as always. Loved it.
I hope you share your stories too!
Thank you Sir for creating this medium to share your journey and life lessons with us.
Enjoyed reading every bit of this post.
Mr Bagchi had been a role model for many including me. It’s really exciting when you come across such person especially when he happens to be your mentor. I am sure, there has been a lot of takeaways…..
Thanks & Regards
Life has been generous with me.
A lucid account. Anyone who have had an opportunity to work with Subroto, will have stories to tell. He makes almost everything memorable. Thanks for sharing, Kalyanda.
I hope you and others write your stories soon 🙂
If you wait as long as I did, you run the risk of forgetting!
It is being written so well and true lesson on human relations and learning.I had the opportunity in meeting and interacting with Kalyan Sir when he was with Centurion University, Bhubaneswar. Enjoyed reading it . Regards
Yes, I remember our meeting 🙂 Thank you,
Please accept my pranam respected Kalyan sir and please convey my pranam to respected Ashok and Subroto sir. I went through the post one or two times to understand what you have tried to portray. Thought myself if I can learn and try to apply few qualities to make me a better professional during my professional career whatever time I am left with. I feel myself blessed to have seen and listened you and Mr. Subroto sir in Mindtree in many occasions.
My best regards,
Such a wonderful recount. It almost felt like a trip down memory lane. I’ve grown up living some of these stories and listening to some – it has always been inspirational leaving me awe struck. And yes, Subroto uncle makes almost every encounter memorable! Thanks Kalyan uncle, lovely article!
Very happy to see your response out here 🙂
Great blog, Kalyan.
You are right I used to admire Subroto-da, I still do. He was a boss, role model, and much more. Working with him was an incredible experience.
Most organizations are like labs, instead of chemical compounds, reagents, enzymes you work with people’s motivation, commitment, emotions and aspirations. If you get that alchemy right organizations tend to do well, some transcend. Subroto-da could understand that people perspective better than anyone. I shall always be grateful to Subroto-da for the time he spent with us. Subroto-da is one of a kind.
I remember the incident you refer to in Austin, he did speak to me about that. I had one of your emails pasted in the notice board as an example of critical but good communication.
Amazing Kalyan. Nice to see this write up from you. We had the same experience working with you that you had with Subroto.
Thank you for sharing your experiences, Sir. You have wonderfully narrated your journey. Even though I have not had an opportunity to work with great minds like you, your experiences will truly be life lessons. Looking forward for more.
Pranam to you amd Mam. The blog was very inspiring. Thanks for sharing
You have honestly expressed your real-life experiences into a beautiful and engrossing write-up, Kalyan! Beyond Platform, Beyond Purpose is certainly an inspirational column as we all ‘Live and Learn’.
The experience so aptly shared with lot of takeaways. Reading this at a time when you need to know and reiterate that right intent and transparency are such important traits of a leader.
It was an absolute pleasure to read this Kalyan, none of your personal emotions in different situations came as a surprise. You still write English as lucidly as you did in first year in IIT, I thought I would gloss over the piece but was glued hanging on to every word till the very end. Keep writing my friend.
Excellent blog sir. It aptly describes the journey from US to setting up an admired organisation MindTree. A lot of things are in the blog to learn which indeed reflects during my every interaction with you. I look forward to learn more from you through my personal informal/formal meeting with you as well as through this blog. Wishing you good health and happiness always. Regards
Dimentico sempre che una volta eri un PM.
E tu lo eri nel 1990 xD
Questo è… piuttosto in anticipo sulla curva 🤷🏻♀️
Kalyan really enjoyed reading your reminiscences from Wipro and MndTree. Loved the picture with Debjani and your sons and other colleagues. I feel fortunate to continue in my journey with you as my mentor.
Beautifully and lucidly scripted article Kalyan. Even for those reading this blog for the first time. My association with Kalyan starts from fourth grade of a Jesuit school in the mining town of Dhanbad which was the workplace of our respective dads. Kalyan and I got separated after the eleventh standard when he chose the IIT/ IIM path, and I decided to slog for MBBS. An extremely brilliant and an absolutely original thinker, Kalyan was always destined not to travel on the trodden path and he has lived upto this thought process of mine. We had been out of connect for several decades till social media brought us together and I feel blessed, once again. Will follow this blog closely.
Sir Pranam. The article is scripted and presented so nicely. It has many gifts of insights. Really great know about the journey. Keep safe Sir.
‘Subroto Bagchi creates his own roles – and people who follow him find it difficult to replicate the magic.’, < this perhaps is a very potent character of leadership, to break the age old belief that nobody is indispensable. The only way to lead is to become indispensable by example.
I had the privilege of listening to Subrato Bagchi during one of our convocations.
Mr. Bagchi is a highly learned, wise & sober person. I was lucky to meet him at a Puri hotel; found him to be very genuine & down to earth. He is surely a role model for many. The story written by you is very inspirational.
This is such an excellent read, Kalyan. You will not remember me, because we spoke only once, although that was for over 30 minutes when you conducted the first interview of my life nearly two decades ago. It felt like a conversation and I was privileged to be the only one MindTree selected from my engineering batch at REC Trichy. I chose T-Biz solely because you were part of it, and regret that I didn’t get a chance to work with you, but I am indebted to you for helping my start my career in 2003!
Excellent blog Kalyan. I still remember working closely during those days in MindTree it was real learning for me. I have learnt a lot from you. Will be looking forward to much more such blogs from you.
This blog speaks a lot , it is more than a blog. I really liked it and got few ideas to do more.
An excellent recall of my Mindtree days.
Hi Kalyan, this is a nostalgic read for me 🙂 I may have heard many of these stories you say during several connects internally and with our external leadership courses, but will never be enough as how we all learned so much from Subroto, you and other MindTree leadership team
Thanks to you and subroto sir, people like me could graduate from the MindTree School back in 2006. A lot of my thinking on leadership, success and entrepreneurship were driven from my learnings at my first job at MindTree where I spend 2 yrs. Still remember the excitement I had when I received the performer of year from Subroto sir and attending the leadership session with him at Chikmagalur. Go kiss the world is what he said, one of the books that really changed the direction of my life.
Absolutely zapped ….first that one gets to read you….its been long long…haven’t been connected ..and must say truly miss all the learning’s which flow from maveric souls like yourself and surely from the likes of Subroto Bagchi …..truly truly blessed ….to have interfaced with you and Subroto Bagchi too…
You are best teacher and Subrata sir is the best analytics
Sir, this is beautifully expressed. Felt as if I’m seeing it unfold in front of me. Narration style is amazing. Looking at the replies, it has touched the chords of everyone connected with this incident, near or far, alike.
Yeh dil maange more!
Edifying blog KB, thank you so much
Quite fascinating Kalyan Sir, it was an adorable moments. Thanks for sharing the unknown journey in such a beautiful format.
Thanks a lot want more of such journey hope to hear back from you soon.