Hailing from a cultured, erstwhile zamindari family in Kolkata, Sourav’s childhood was filled with tradition and heritage but it was his passion for mathematics and his mentor of a father that pushed him towards the future.
“With my father, it was the strength and support and everything that you could ask for and obviously, till the time he was there, all the important decisions in my life and what I wanted to be, he definitely guided me,” Sourav Das, CIO at Aditya Birla Group reminisces on his father’s role in his life.
His initial brush with technology came when he was in the 9th grade, starting off from the GW-Basic programming when he was introduced to computers in school.
“Those days, I was doing basic programming, and I had an instant liking towards programming because I always saw the logic part in it and that attracted me,”
One other subject that quite had a hold on him at that time was Vedic Mathematics, so much so that he tried hard, by researching and practicing, to master the art of quick calculations.
While not the topper, Das believed his strength to come from his problem-solving abilities, especially in subjects like Mathematics and Physics, that helped him reach the top ten list during his school and college years. His focus during this time had always been the competitive exams and with his eyes on the prize, he managed to get the 75th rank in the state JEE and overall 2nd rank in the state polytechnic and eventually got admission at IIT Kharagpur in the chemical engineering branch.
“It was a very tough decision, whether I should go for the state entrance because in that I was getting the best of college and computer science which I was not getting at IIT but somehow, the IIT brand appealed to me and I was got into one of the core top 5 engineering branches, so that’s the decision we took and I went for that,” Das recalls.
During his time at IIT, he was also part of the technology dramatic society, helping them with many drama productions. Das was also the entertainment secretary and journal secretary for the Chemical Engineering Association.
After graduating in 1997, he joined the petrochemical sector with Reliance through on-campus selection, working as a chemical engineer at the Hazira complex and stayed at his initial job for two years and later shifted to Haldia Petrochemicals Ltd. for a year.
Giving up a job at Reliance
Although not entirely satisfied in the petrochem sector, it was the fascination with computers and logic that urged him to make a move to either technology or management. Trying out his luck at both the sectors, Das managed to get responses from both and picked PricewaterhouseCoopers, working in the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) department.
One year later, he cleared his CAT examinations and got into IIM Lucknow, majoring in Systems as he wanted to pursue his passion of technology along with Finance, for his love of Math.
He still remembers when he got a call from just one of the top four IIM institutes, i.e. Lucknow, to come and interview for a seat there and he did not perform quite well at the group interview stage. When the time came for the personal interview, the interviewer asked, “You fared so badly in the group discussion, do you feel you have any chance of entering IIM Lucknow?”
“That was a real pressure cooker situation, I had all the odds against me but I held onto my nerves, kept my cool, and said, ‘Sir, allow me to enter this room and I could have a chance of entering IIM Lucknow as well,’”. No surprise there, he got in and this is something he considers being one of his greatest achievements.
For his summer internship in the final year, Das was part of a project, for the Tata Administrative Services, that focused on the future of the Internet dial-up connection in the country. Speaking on the project, he says, “It was an excellent experience, I worked with two-three of the leading consulting organizations, and it was greatly acclaimed.”
Before even finishing his finals, he had a job offer from British Oxygen, which is now known as Linde, and decided to join them as it gave him a chance to go back to Kolkata, as he had just recently lost his father and wanted to be close to his family.
“At Linde, I worked for two years into strategic marketing, it was again very difficult. I was reporting to the MD, and advising him on the strategic marketing, it was a very challenging assignment,” Das remembers his time at BOC, where he was responsible for initiating the effort of developing the marketing team, which was new to the firm and was met with some resistance but with the MD’s support, they managed to overturn the expectations.
He still recalls the MD at The Linde Group, who became his mentor, remembering his exceptional analytical skills, true leadership, and attention to detail. “What I learned in two years at B-school, working next to him helped me realize that,” Das says.
It was at this point that his passion for technology resurfaced and he got the opportunity to join IBM, which had acquired his previous firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, with his old colleagues. Das’ stint here lasted for 3 years until 2008, after which he joined Atos.
In 2010, he got the opportunity to join ITC in a much bigger role, and he took it. Joining them in a consulting position, he climbed the ladder to project management and program management but it was in 2011 that the bigger transition happened when he transferred from the IT software to the end-user IT space with the Essar Group.
“For the first time, I was on the other side of the table and I fully leveraged my understanding of technology and how things work on this side and that is how I worked for about 4 years for the Essar Group,” he recalls.
After his stint at Essar, Das joined his current firm, Aditya Birla Group, and has stayed with them for more than 6 years, climbing the ladder and is now the CIO of the Essel Mining & Industries Ltd. at the Aditya Birla Group.
Here, he works under his third mentor, Tuhin Mukherjee, MD, who helped him understand the way to look at the bigger picture and how technology can be a driving force for business efficiency.
A Family Guy
When he’s not handling complex IT situations, he likes to spend time with his family. Even today, Math is still part of his life as he and his son like to bond over solving mathematical problems and a nice game of chess.
He is a big fan of driving and while the last year has not permitted much of it, he wishes to resume it soon enough. Talking about the world right now, he adds, “It’s a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous) world, it very aptly defines, in today’s world, it’s extremely competitive, change is the only constant, nothing is fixed and there is a lot of uncertainties that you have to deal with.”