We lost a mentor, friend, and father-figure last week. He lived an illustrious life and was known to my in-laws from his early professional days when Tarun’s father and he were colleagues.
I had heard about him from my in-laws for years. He was an Imperial College graduate and an alum of Harvard’s Advanced Management program. He spent his entire career with Tata in Jamshedpur, Singapore, and Mumbai, serving on their board and as chairman of multiple Tata companies.
My path did not cross with his until the early 2000s.
In the subsequent years, he included me in his circle as if I had always belonged there. Not only did he take me under his wing, he embraced my family and wrote the foreword to my Dad’s memoir. These stalwarts from a previous era knew and supported each other in untold ways.
He guided us on the business with anecdotes on how to scale, taught us that hiring good people is the essence of success, and encouraged us to think big. Through the years, Tarun worked closely with him on several endeavors and could seek his advice at any time of the day.
Between his corporate responsibilities and representing India on the international stage, he had plenty of reasons to hold court on his achievements, but he never did. Instead, he was one of the quiet forces that enabled the Tatas to transform into a global behemoth. In reference to his legendary success, a writer borrowed from Kipling to say he could “walk with the kings - nor lose the common touch".
With his passing, I am reminiscing about the indelible lessons he blessed us with.
He showed us that we have a responsibility to make connections. If someone needs help and you know someone who can help, make the connection. More importantly, make the investment in nurturing relationships long after the immediate need has passed. When we got tied up with life, he would call to check on us. It humbled us and made us want to do better.
In his retirement, he contributed to a number of areas including education and healthcare. Giving back was not just a mantra, he walked the talk. In subtle and forceful ways he leveraged his experiences and connections to create a remarkable legacy that will benefit communities across the globe.
He demonstrated that ethics must remain in the forefront on a daily basis. With his actions and words, this came through loud and clear. He shied from attention but those who knew him well, trusted him implicitly and for good reason.
The most profound lesson came the day before he passed when his dear friend came to visit him. His friend touched his arm, called him by his name, and asked how he was doing. He knew his friend needed encouragement. He knew his family needed to be lifted. He knew he was nearing the end of an arduous battle. He still found the strength and courage to give a precious gift to his dear ones.
“I am better,” he whispered.
Being able to say that at the point of immense physical struggle is why my admiration for him will remain endless and these words will guide us on our onward journey.
This modest man, Syamal Gupta to the world and Kaka (uncle) to us, was a giant in our lives. He will be dearly missed and he will forever have a firm place in our hearts, our circle, our lives.
In truth, he was not just better, he was the best.
Syamal Gupta, 1934-2022