Remembering Prof Anshuman Tripathy, Jul 2023
Jul 1992. My first experience of living away from home. At the grand age of 23. I soon realised that my wingies are the new family. So here we were: Sanjay, Anshu, Vishy, Rahul, Uday, Deva, Venkat and Yours Truly,– the only occupants of the newly built 2nd Floor West Wing of New Hostel at IIM Calcutta. The road ended at NH – and we guys lived our own independent lives. No Seniors – as none wanted to leave the comfortable environments of Old Hostel and White House. Sanjay and Anshu were both fresh NIT graduates (Anshu from Trichy and Sanjay from Surat) who had grown up in Ahmedabad, and I was made an honorary denizen of Ahmedabad soon enough.
At campus Anshu was an occasional smoker and drinker. What was interesting was his choice of liquid diet. Growing up in ‘prohibition’ Gujarat, Anshu found solace in Benadryl, the cough syrup which boasted the highest percentage of alcohol. During the 2 day journeys on the Howrah Ahmedabad express a few bottles of Benadryl were always part of his travel kit. Benadryl had side effects of constipation – and that meant, you did not need to use the loo during the long journey.
Anshu’s dad taught operations at IIM Ahmedabad – and in a way was responsible for Anshu not making it to IIM A. Even then, Anshu followed his dad’s footsteps closely. Like his dad, he majored in operations. Before his dad got into academics, His dad had worked with Tata Steel. One of his dad’s friends, Muthuraman, was a mentor to Anshu. Muthuraman went on to become MD of Tata Steel. He advised Anshu to get into the automobile industry. Anshu had a day 1 offer from Madura Coates, but ended up joining a day 5 company – Maruti – the only auto company that came to campus. After 10 years of work at Maruti and Ford, He went on to do his Ph.D from MIT Sloan. Like his dad, he joined IIM Ahmedabad as a professor, but soon shifted to IIM Bangalore, as it was easier for his better half’s career.
I remember meeting the newly married Anshu at Srinagar Colony in Chennai. Those were the days before hotmail and gmail. But In the larger companies, you had some kind of internal email system, which was for strictly official communication. Sudha Sankaran, his partner, who is a CA, was also working with Ford those days. Anshu sent her a marriage proposal on official email. And she remembers replying ‘Let me think about it.’
I met Anshu a few times at his IIM B office – and you could sense his popularity on the campus. He was a mentor par excellence. For a few years, he led a cohort of students to Tel Aviv, where they would interact with the Israel startup ecosystem. When my daughter got admitted to Tel Aviv University, he discouraged her from joining – because the international students did not mix with the locals in their university system. The locals are expected to study in Hebrew, whereas the international students make do with English. My last meeting with him was in Pune, where he was visiting to attend a marriage. We had lunch together – and the daughter joined us. She had by then taken up a BSc Economics program. Anshu’s encouragement got her into the data sciences field. She works with Accenture today and is also pursuing a BS in Data Sciences from an online program of IIT Madras.
Do watch the YT video put out by IIM Bangalore on a talk he delivered to the departing students of the 2023 batch. https://youtu.be/JkYpxWFman8. Anshu seems to have written his own obituary on those two sheets of yellow paper. I cannot do any better. Bodies and brains spend a few decades on the planet, but ideas live on. Anshu’s earthy practical wisdom will continue to live on; as we try to get ourselves out of our comfort zones. As we continue to invest in our own learning. As we attempt to form a few opinions from the deluge of information that surrounds us.
Anshu talks of giving back to society. If he had continued working in the auto sector, there is no doubt in my mind, he would have been CEO of a big auto major by now. And I am also sure, as a prof, he made a much larger and wider impact on society compared to what he would have done working in a corporation. Anshu, you delivered on your message, bro. The irony in the talk is your advice on health. You took good care of not just your own health, but also of people around you. The fact that we lost you just after a gym workout tells us that in the battle between arithmetic and probability, the dice does roll out in unexpected ways.
The best way to pay tributes to a friend is to take his ideas forward. Anshu talks about how the focus in our lives should shift from wealth creation to job creation. After 25 years of being an entrepreneur, I gifted the company to a colleague. I hope she continues running it for the next 25 – and creates a few more jobs in the process. I had thought that I would retire, travel and meet people. But Anshu’s challenge is taken. I will spend the next decade creating a few more jobs in the schools that we run. And in the Electric Vehicle business that I am associated with. Will publish my report card in 2033. Anshu, my friend, I hope that I can get a C+ in the Entrepreneurship 102 course that you have set up for me.