Suprakash Mukhopadhyay, who completes three decades in the Tata group this year, reminisces about his “dream run,” with the Tata group, in conversation with Cynthia Rodrigues

From the young man who never stepped out of his hometown and did not know how to go from Kolkata to Jamadoba, Dhanbad, the location of his first Tata Steel posting in Mines and Collieries of Jharia division of Tata Steel, to becoming the company secretary of Tata Sons and the Group Corporate Secretary of Tata Group in September 2017, Suprakash Mukhopadhyay’s career in the Tata group has been full of excitement and challenges.

He reminisces rather nostalgically about his first interview. He recalls the nervousness of travelling to the steel city of Jamshedpur for the interview in 1988, the excitement of being selected by Mr Ishaat Hussain, the then Director of Accounts, Tata Steel and now a retired director of [Tata Sons], and his initial dismay at being posted in Jamadoba (then in Bihar, but now a part of Jharkhand),where Tata Steel’s Jharia coalmines are located. “I spent four years in Jamadoba. Life was very tough there. The roads were bad, and the town was undeveloped. The place was habitable only because of Tata Steel,” he says.

But Jamadoba, Mr Mukhopadhyay is quick to acknowledge, played a crucial role in his career. He believes that the experience of starting his career in a tough place spurred him onward.

And the work itself was very satisfying; since it was a small place, he had exposure to all the aspects of an accounts office. “There was a lot I learned in that stint,” he says. “What helped me was the beauty of Tata Steel’s accounting process. If you are starting your career in accounts, I believe that Tata Steel is the best place to start.”

He was also inspired by the close-knit culture of Tata Steel. “We would discuss problems and advise one another. I made a lot of friends at Tata Steel, especially in Dhanbad. I also enjoyed the sports activities there,” he says. “Even today, I have very fond memories of it.”

Down in the coal mines

Mr Mukhopadhyay’s work in Jamadoba required him to interact with the miners and colliery managers, who would approach him with salary-related issues. Keen on deepening his understanding of them and his workplace, he would go down into the collieries.

“The journey down to the mines helped me understand how the miners risked their lives to excavate coal. It helped in developing a friendship with them. I would listen to them, and we would help each other. The company gave them good living quarters, and took care of their health and safety needs,” he says.

This approach is the hallmark of Mr Mukhopadhyay’s style of working: building a rapport with all stakeholders, working in harmony with colleagues, and helping those he can.

His Jamadoba experience also helped him hone his life’s philosophy: If you make a mistake, be honest and apologise; don’t play around with people’s trust. According to Mr Mukhopadhyay, there cannot be a better strategy for the workplace and for life.

Next stop

In 1993, Mr Mukhopadhyay was transferred to Tata Steel’s marketing division in Kolkata, where he remained till he was recommended to work with Mr Hussain in a position in Tata Steel’s secretarial department at Bombay House in 1996. Mr Hussain’s only concern was whether the young man would be loyal to the group. The fact that Mr Mukhopadhyay had, by then, already declined an offer to head British Airways’ Southeast Asia office spoke for itself.

In Mumbai, Mr Mukhopadhyay worked with Mrs Sandhya Kudtarkar, who recently retired as Senior Vice President, Legal Services, and with Mr Hussain, both of whom were supportive and encouraging. His interactions with them and several other leaders of the Tata group over the years, he says, “have influenced me in honing my leadership style.”

Another landmark learning experience was the Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) IPO in 2004, his biggest project until then and the then biggest IPO in the country. He says, “I spent three years on that project, learning from lawyers and bankers, asking questions and seeking answers.”

He had by then moved to Tata Sons, where he handled treasury and tax. Mr Mukhopadhyay gave the best to all the assignments that he got involved with.

Mr Mukhopadhyay’s work in Jamadoba required him to interact with the miners and colliery managers, who would approach him with salary-related issues. Keen on deepening his understanding of them and his workplace, he would go down into the collieries.

To the top

The success of the TCS IPO boosted his confidence to take on bigger challenges — joining TCS as company secretary in 2008 and taking on the additional responsibility of head of Treasury in 2010. “I am very proud of this stint,” he says. “My style of work is completely aligned with that of TCS. They also believe in letting their work speak for them.”

Working with Natarajan Chandrasekaran, then TCS MD and now Executive Chairman of Tata Sons, taught Mr Mukhopadhyay how to approach problems, plan well and leave nothing to chance. He says, TCS’s maxim, ‘Experience Certainty,’ ingrained in him the need to manage every aspect of his work well and the realisation that the journey was as significant as the destination: “When you are in the support function, you have to support the organisation, and you have to do it in such a way, as if you are totally responsible for it. As if you were the CEO of that job.”

For Mr Mukhopadhyay, who is just a few months short of completing three fulfilling decades in the Tata group, it has been “a dream run” that is far from over.