Satyajit Bhattacharya

BE - Mechanical Engineering, 1984
Interviewed By: 
Amitavha Mukherjee

Satyajit Bhattacharya, fondly known as ‘Sat’, is our JUECA alum whom I had an opportunity to talk to, the other day. Many of us know him as a singer-musician-entertainer in our local New Jersey gatherings, while others know him as a seasoned professional in the Wall Street. Let’s explore more...

Music, Sports & More
Satyajit starts off proudly by saying “ami Kolkata-r chele!”, and spends some time talking about his childhood days. His days revolved around all kinds of sports. He was an ardent Mohunbagan football fan, and a passionate follower of the West Indies cricket team. And he also used to play chess.
When asked about the most significant childhood thing, Satyajit spontaneously talks about music. “I was introduced to music at a very young age. Initially I was more of a percussionist, than of a singer”. He received training in playing tabla quite early, and used to accompany folks in various concerts at various places. Apart from music, Satyajit also was into recitation and acting.
He says that his involvement in sports and various cultural activities since childhood helped him become a socially outgoing person, and had a lasting effect on his personality.

Jadavpur University Days
After Higher Secondary from St. Xavier’s, Satyajit did well in the Joint Entrance exams, and had many doors open, including those of the IITs. “During those days I did not have a clear picture of which line I would like to study or how my future would look like. I just followed advice from my elders, and as they suggested, selected the Mechanical Engineering in Jadavpur University.”
It might seem a bit odd to today’s folks, but during those days, “opinions of elders used to weigh much more than one’s personal choices”, observes Satyajit. And he loved his Jadavpur days. Being very active within the music and drama communities, he performed quite a number of times in the city. Always among friends, one could see him hanging out with his buddies every alternate night in the New Block Hostel, in spite being a day-scholar. Total ‘adda-baji’, he recalls.

An all-rounder: So here we have a smart, handsome guy, fully into sports, and going places to perform music and drama. He must have been a very famous kid, to begin with, right? “I was not famous, but whatever little I used to do, I could get the skill quickly.” He surely sounds humble, but I leave it to the imagination of the readers about how popular Satyajit was, among his friends (and sweethearts)!
One wonders, how some people become so good at multiple things, while many others can’t? “I used to love and enjoy doing things. I just loved it” – that’s where the secret is - take something of your interest and do it all from your heart. Not for others, just for yourself.
And Satyajit is a kind of person who is never complacent with just one thing. He acquires a skill, explores it deeply, expands its horizon, and then moves on to the next one. Currently he spends most of his time mastering and experimenting things on his keyboard, and singing contemporary Hindi and Bengali songs. He is also in regular touch with many eminent singers and musicians from Kolkata and Mumbai, and often accompanies them in their Durga Puja performances when they visit New Jersey.
One can check his music site here.

Professional world
After graduating from Jadavpur, “the expectation vs. the reality got changed”. Being a graduate mechanical engineer, Satyajit was expecting a job where he could directly apply his technical knowledge. In his first job at GEC, he ended up spending his days in the factory, handling labor problems and their union related issues. . “It kind of demoralized me, the first year.” There was very little opportunity to apply his skills or learn new things at job.

Pave your own path: But being the kind of person that he is, Satyajit started to look out for opportunities where he can learn things and ascend at work. “One day I was in the forging shop, and noticed that the company had bought a new CNC machine (a type of numerical control machine), which was just lying.” Something came to his mind, and he walked into the manager’s office, and offered, “I want to start working on that new CNC machine. Give me a chance, I will learn CAD/CAM on my own, and will take care of its operations.” Determination and self-confidence pays. He got the green signal, started working in getting is hands on this new thing. Out of sheer hard work, he soon moved away from doing mundane shop-floor things to sophisticated automation programming.

The Software world: After a few years, Satyajit joined the Indian IT giant CMC. There he was part of the Indian Railways project, an enormous initiative, where he spent the next three and half years developing, testing and implementing India’s first computerized railway reservation system. “And that transformed me to a hardcore software professional”, he says.

Coming to the US
Satyajit always aspired to get a Masters from an American university, but not out of his parents’ pockets. So when in 1989, a friend passed on his reference to Chase Manhattan Bank and he was selected, he didn’t think twice. What better opportunity could it be? Work in a US firm for few years, get your Masters, and head back. “I had no idea to settle down here, that time.” Soon Satyajit completed his MS in Computer Science from NYU.
Meanwhile Satyajit was excelling at work. He navigated his way up, moving from Chase to Lehman Brothers, to Bankers Trust, to Deutsche Bank, and to Credit Suisse. In parallel, he got his green card too. And in a few years’ time, he also finished his MBA from NYU’s Stern Business School. No going back, now.
At Credit Suisse, he was handling the IT operations of their trading floor, working on Prime Brokerage, Securities Lending and Trading applications. Being a Director there since 2003, Satyajit was the Global Head of Securities Lending, and held a significant role in the firm, for the next ten years.

Time to move on: Late last year, Satyajit got a call from his ex-CIO, who happened to have recently founded a hedge fund services company, and invited Satyajit to join him. Working for large organizations for so many years, it was natural for a person like Satyajit to explore other paths. He wanted to learn more about the hedge fund business, and gladly accepted the offer to become a partner in this startup, Rebar Systems. He is now the Prime Brokerage and Hedge Fund Technology Service Head in this company.

Personal world
Satyajit’s wife is a Computer Science graduate from UMBC, and works in the IT systems for the US Department of State. They have a daughter and a son.
His daughter is in twelfth grade, and is a talented Bharatnatyam dancer. She was the runner up in the Sony TV’s Boogie Woogie show last year. She’s also part of the dance troop of Sukalyan Bhattacharya, noted choreographer, and has performed in numerous stage shows.
His son is in the first grade, and sounds like an interesting little one - “he is a piece of work”, laughs Satyajit.
When asked about other things, Satyajit talks about his love for food. He loves cooking, and also enjoying all kind of delicacies. “I am a food connoisseur”, he smiles. A Bengali at heart, he has a natural weakness towards ‘misti’. Unfortunately nowadays he can’t consume sweets the way he used to before, due to health constraints, regrets Satyajit.

Satyajit is also actively involved with a few NGOs back in India, focused on child adoption initiatives. He helps them financially, extends his contacts, and also supports their fundraising activities.

Likes and Dislikes
It’s his passion for cracking complex problems that keeps Satyajit excited. Whether it is something around the house, or working a difficult musical note, he loves challenges.
And about his dislikes: “Backstabbing, sabotaging, running a hidden agenda, double-crossing.” – Quite obvious for a person with such upfront and honest personality.

Advice to younger alums
Looking back, when asked about the significant things that made him who he is today, Satyajit talks about his openness to go out of the comfort zone, take the challenge, and learn something new. “You need to have the right skills. The competition is getting so tough; a less competent ones cannot make progress.” And he highlights the importance of managing up and being a good communicator – “You have to communicate about your work, your achievements, so that others know who you are.”

Networking: Besides having the right skills and meeting deliverables, it is very important to have the right skills of networking, in order to be successful in today’s corporate world. “After my first job, every opportunity that I got, I did not have to go through the traditional interview process. People with whom I worked with, they liked me, I kept in touch with them, and later they referred me to further jobs. Every job that I got!” Wow!
And one will never get the right opportunities at the right time without mastering the art of networking, says Satyajit. “Those good things would never come and land in front of you without someone influencing it to your favor”. Also networking means nothing unless you’re ready to help others - a point Satyajit emphasizes. “Even if you can’t give them a job, provide counseling, help them with references … help them in any possible ways”. One must be grateful, and be ready to help others in order to expect something in return. It never works one-way.

So, what’s in store for future?
“I want to have my own company, one day. But in order to do that, I have to learn how to run a business.” Hence right now he wants to build the necessary contacts, understand the market and its players, as he learns the tricks of the trade. His immediate focus is to do his best and build this startup, and in turn, grow along with the company.

Final Words
“Move out of your comfort zone, have an overall strategy in your mind (on where you’d like to go), but always listen to your heart … “, says Satyajit, as we come to a close.
“What does your heart say?”- was his parting question to us.