Santrupt Misra was one of Kumar Mangalam Birla's earliest hires. At 30, he felt compelled to work for Birla , because he saw an opportunity to define the contours of a large business empire that was about to be built. As he puts it, it was "a wide-open canvas".
"I started as the group head for human resources in an office in Dalamal Towers, beside a stinking toilet, with one assistant and one secretary," Misra says. He recalls that he had a temperamental computer which required "a not-so-gentle tap to come alive".
He sought the advice of the HR head of one of the group companies, on where to start. He says: "The gentleman told me: 'You last six months first. Then we will talk.'" That was 1996. Misra says: "This year, he retired, and I took him out for lunch. In fact, every six months, I remind him of his first comment."
Misra has been with Birla through the group's growth phase. "I have hired most of the people you will meet for your story," he says. "Debu Bhattacharya, Ajay Srinivasan, Ajit Ranade…" He points out that he has seen everything - divestments, acquisitions, integrations, crisis, celebrations - in the group. "I am the unofficial archivist of the group," he says.
Misra, who has two PhDs, also wears two hats at the Aditya Birla Group. Besides the HR function, he also heads the carbon black business. "We have always experimented with people and taken bets on them," he says.
Misra had been offered the role earlier, but had refused. He had also been offered another business to run, which he did not take up. But then finally he relented. And after the acquisition of Columbian Chemicals, the AV Birla Group is now the world's largest producer of carbon black.