Business Today

Jill of All Trades

Ipsita Dasgupta has been the engine behind GE's growth in South Asia.
twitter-logo Sarika Malhotra        Print Edition: September 27, 2015
Ipsita Dasgupta: In love with manufacturing
Ipsita Dasgupta: In love with manufacturing (Photo: Rachit Goswami)

She can start her day with a conversation about deep-sea drilling and end it with a talk about infant mortality; and in the middle of the day there can be a discussion or two about locomotive engines. "Being in manufacturing is the most amazing experience in the world. It's unique, it's exciting, and you learn every single moment," says Ipsita Dasgupta, Chief Commercial Officer, GE, South Asia.

Dasgupta should know, for she is responsible for GE's commercial strategy in the South Asia region. The role entails marketing and strategy, new products and solutions as well as business development. It's a key job considering that South Asia is one of the fastest-growing regions for GE. The company's India operations, with 10 manufacturing facilities, account for 13,000 people.

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As per data with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, the total income of 10 India subsidiaries and joint ventures of GE, such as Wipro GE Healthcare and GE India Industrial Pvt Ltd, was Rs 7,667 crore in 2013/14, about 8 per cent more than in the previous year. However, their total loss was Rs 35.8 crore. In 2014/15 the US conglomerate clocked in revenues of $148.6 billion and got orders worth $50 billion in growth markets.

"India is our biggest market in the region. It's very important for us," says Dasgupta, who is focusing on two areas - one is 'In India for India', that is, localising products and services to suit the Indian market, while the second is 'India for the World', making products and solutions that can be sold across the globe. Dasgupta says GE wants to localise in every manner. "We have built a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind manufacturing facility in Pune where we manufacture for both India and the world. The strategy is to build a big enough market to justify the plant's existence in India."

GE has also opened in Bangalore its first and largest global lab outside the US. The idea, Dasgupta says, is to go for disruptive innovation and find solutions through talent developed in India. In 2014/15, she worked on building the China strategic marketing team and pivoted strategy for two of GE's biggest businesses - oil and gas and renewables. She also built a go-to-market strategy for Bangladesh that focused on partnership with the ready-made garment sector. She also built a methodology and execution plan for GE's largest accounts that was adopted globally for all regions and businesses.

So, what does a usual day entail for her? "My day-to-day life involves matching customers' needs with the technologies that GE has to offer. We start with the market and work backwards," she says. Banmali Agrawala, the President and CEO of GE South Asia, says she is one of the savviest persons in the team whose capabilities are well-respected in all of GE. "For her, investing time with customers in emerging markets makes more sense than harvesting her career with corporate staff roles at global headquarters." He says Dasgupta has a strong mind and is always challenging status quo. "I am often at the receiving end of this. In China, for example, she could conclusively establish how we were missing out on a large market opportunity in a business, despite the fact that we were growing well."

Nitin Nohria, Dean, Harvard Business School, who first met Dasgupta as a student, says, "She worked with me on a study to explore venture capital (VC) and private equity (PE) opportunities in India. At one point, I suggested that she and her team spend some time with Indian entrepreneurs who were studying in our OPM programme. This was an eye-opening experience for Dasgupta and gave her a completely different view of what it was like to do business in India. It perhaps also sparked the arc of her career." Nohria says Dasgupta's success comes from the energy, passion and curiosity that she brings to everything she does. "I fell in love with the idea of business leadership at Harvard Business School. It showed me that the business world was still a path to making a difference and a sustainable impact, especially in emerging markets," says Dasgupta.

"My day-to-day life
involves matching customers' needs with the technologies that GE offers. We start with the market and work backwards"

So, what will be the drivers for GE in South Asia? "Railways, oil and gas, renewables, and other infrastructure are all key drivers of growth. These are important sectors for us." Dasgupta says in health care, for example, India has access to best technologies in the world but not across the entire socio-economic spectrum. A part of our strategy is to increase affordability and accessibility, she says.

Dasgupta says manufacturing under 'Make In India' shall be a key driver of success. But she says that low cost is no longer a differentiator and so India's focus on manufacturing must incorporate its capabilities in IT. This, combined with the entrepreneurial DNA, puts India ahead of other emerging markets in its potential to deliver in a world of advanced and flexible manufacturing. This can be a key driver and so is a big part of our strategy, she says.

Where does she get her ideas from? "It's my meditation? Some of my best thoughts come when I am swimming." An avid reader, Dasgupta used to read 45-50 books a year. But after motherhood, things have changed. Dasgupta says it is the three women (or girls) in her life that drive her - her mother and daughters. "My daughters inspire me. Even knowing their importance, there are days I'm a better business leader than a mother and the conflict is real. But I keep my resolve because I have daughters - they should believe they can be anyone they want to and that the privilege of motherhood should not hinder that in any way."

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