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Amajit Gupta, Managing Director, Juniper Networks

December 01, 2015
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As someone who used to admire Juniper Networks from afar as a dynamic, modern, progressive, super-specialist company, Amajit Gupta says he used to think that he would love to work for the company one day if the opportunity ever came his way.

Now that this has happened and he became managing director (MD) in June, he says the first few months in the job have been everything he expected from the company, with the first 100 days totally validating his expectations. Most people find the first few weeks in a new job stressful and unnerving because it means adapting to a new work culture, but Gupta says it has been a smooth process for him.

“I thrive in the kind of open, modern environment that we have at Juniper. I feel good at the speed with which I’ve been inducted. Having worked in many American companies that have an open culture, I have gelled here quickly,” he says.

Gupta enjoys working with young people and Juniper, as a company focused on people, innovation, technology and growth, has plenty of them – young people excited about technology and wanting to change the world. For Gupta, the really exciting aspect of the job is the immense potential for growth that lies ahead in India for Juniper’s networking products.

“India is going through the largest ever transformation in history and the reality of this industry is that it presents all sorts of growth opportunities for networking systems. There is no better time to be in the industry, in this market, than now. Networks have such a long way to go before they catch up with the West – we need so much more networking, broadband and high speed connectivity,” Gupta says.

Naturally, responding to these opportunities requires nimbleness, fast responses and being close to the customer, and Juniper has proved quite adept at this. “We are neither a gorilla nor a startup. We are a mid-sized company and what we offer matches the needs of the Indian circumstances I have just described,” he says.

Gupta is an industry veteran with a career spanning more than 27 years in the IT and telecom sectors in different organisations and in different capacities. He was nominated by the Hindustan Times and the Haryana government as one of India’s top 10 IT and telecom technologists in 2013 and 2014.

Despite coming from a family of civil servants who were posted all over the country (which is why he was sent to a boarding school in Shillong to be taught by Irish fathers), Gupta loved physics as a schoolboy and was more interested in technology than in administration. He opted to study for an engineering degree in electronics and communications from the Regional Engineering College Nagpur, now the Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology. He was clear as a young man that he wanted to work with the latest technologies because such work meant learning afresh all the time. “That’s why technology is a magnet for young people,” he says.

Gupta started his career with Tata Burroghs in 1988, where he sold mainframe systems. In 1994, he joined Motorola and got first-hand experience of GSM and CDMA network deployment in the country. As project manager at Motorola, he was responsible for the activation of India’s second “live” GSM wireless network. Five years later, as product marketing manager, he led Motorola’s sales engagement for the first-ever GPRS wireless data system in India.

These were the early days of the telecom revolution when the first cell phone came to India. This was a pivotal moment in his career and one that he still remembers vividly as being hugely satisfying because of the pioneering nature of the work.

“It’s a piece of technology that has changed people’s lives, but I wasn’t aware at the time of the significance of the change. People said the mobile phone was a rich man’s toy, that it was absurd in a poor country like India, that it was an American gadget, that it was too expensive, that the technology would die. Now, when almost a billion Indians have cellular connections, I find it very gratifying to think that I was there at the very beginning of this journey and was a part of this movement,” he says.

In 1999, he joined Telstra and focused on network integration and system integration work for operators and equipment vendors. Later, he joined Microsoft where he understood the broadband ecosystem in great detail for eight years. This experience helped him gain an in-depth understanding of all three pillars of broadband – network, device and content.

For a brief period, Gupta worked for a start-up focused on green energy and looked after marketing for the entire South Asia region. In 2010, he joined Alcatel-Lucent and was responsible for carrier sales in India and Nepal. He single-handedly built the equipment business for Alcatel-Lucent and opened new accounts in Idea Cellular, Tata Communications, Tata Teleservices, Vodafone and Reliance Jio.

As Juniper MD for India and the SAARC region, Gupta travels about three weeks every month. His responsibilities include honing the company’s long-term strategy and vision for the region, managing P&L operations, sales execution and building world-class teams with an emphasis on diversity.

He describes the internet - quoting an article written by a good friend of his – in India as “emerging from adolescence” and maturing into the kind of market seen in western countries. That’s what excites him – the thought that only 5-6 million homes have high-speed internet, that 90 per cent of the internet traffic flows through Juniper Networks and that 60 per cent of mobile traffic rides on Juniper Networks, and that potentially another 65 million homes will want to have broadband. “That’s a great market to be looking at,” he says. “It’s a great growth opportunity.”

Gupta is encouraged by the new political leadership at the helm of affairs in India and the policies that have been put in place to enable growth. The poor state of the country’s physical infrastructure, of course, is an area of concern as it is a prerequisite for Juniper’s product. But he feels that, at the very least, there is more clarity and direction in the government about the need to improve this infrastructure.

“There is intent, there is purpose, there is CEO-level commitment. What it comes down to now is executing these intentions, block by block, city by city. I see evidence of this beginning to happen. We are heading in the right direction,” he says.

Referring to the BJP’s recent debacle in the Bihar election just two days before the interview, he says he hopes that the result does not derail the reforms India needs. He thinks not, if only because there is broad agreement at the highest levels of decision-making that industrialisation is essential.

If Gupta can cope with stress, one reason might be his early school days with the Irish fathers. He learnt mental discipline and those habits have stayed with him. “Over a period of time, it becomes a part of your DNA. That’s why I recommend boarding school to everyone,” he says.

This mental discipline has taught him not to “cope” with stress but to embrace it. “That’s what I tell the young people in the technology industry, that over time, you learn to enjoy the stress rather than get worn out,” he says. “I tell them to enjoy the pressure and the roller coaster ride. If they don’t enjoy it, it may not be the right industry for them.”

Every technology has a potential downside. When it comes to the intrusiveness of the smart phone, the temptation to constantly check it, constantly respond to emails, texts, posts and WhatsApp, Gupta has learnt over the years how to perfect the art of controlling it so that it doesn’t control you.

“The whole world is on your phone. You cannot keep responding to everything you receive. You have to be disciplined in how you handle it so that it doesn’t take over. That’s why I don’t have WhatsApp. It’s too intrusive because if somebody messages me, I feel I have to respond and that becomes impossible to manage. So you have to filter yourself out and separate what’s important from what isn’t,” he comments.

For relaxation, Gupta reads any business book he can lay his hands on. He has just read Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel’s Economic Miracle by Dan Senor and The Making of India by Akhilesh Tilotia. He plays golf as often as he can and at weekends spends as much time as possible with his family and teenage son at their New Delhi home.

As to the future, his sights are set on seeing India transform. “I am in India because I am working with technology that will have a transformative impact,” he says. “The journey has just started. There is a long way to go.”

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