“Networking And Connecting Are Two Arts That Every Leader Should Master”
Belonging to a middle-class family, Sanjeev Keskar learnt to be content in whatever was on the plate. However, his passion for knowledge always kept him on top of his game. Missing out on an engineering seat and working with a small firm has been the greatest lessons of his life. He has led not one but many American companies in India.
Helping startups in their journey with an early retirement from an active career, he helped the likes of National Semiconductor, Freescale Semiconductor, and AMD root their origins in India, the man who became the Chair of IESA and MD of Arrow Electronics. This is Sanjeev Keskar’s story!
Keskar, whose father worked with the Bank of Maharashtra, had to move with family whenever his father got transferred to a new city. As a matter of fact, transfers in that era usually took place every three or four years. Keskar completed his primary schooling from a school located in a small village called Mul in the district of Chandrapur (Maharashtra). He completed the 5th and 6th standard from a school in Pune, sixth to ninth standard from Nagpur, and tenth to twelfth from Aurangabad.
Asked if he was happy with the frequent transfers, Keskar replies that the best of his life lessons have come through these transfers and frequent changes in cities and schools. “Changing cities every three years really helped me in building new friends. Actually, these frequent transfers helped me cultivate a habit of networking and building relationships in the shortest possible time,” recalls Keskar.
It is evident from the experience Keskar gained in the industry that he is one of the best communicators present in the vertical of the electronics industry today. Keskar refers to himself as an average student when it comes to scoring grades but is proud of the fact that he was, and continues to be, a contributor to social causes, and also to all his employers he worked for. He has represented his school and college in badminton and dramas during various social activities.
Keskar was looking forward to joining an engineering college after passing out from the school in 1982. But as fate would have it, he missed securing an engineering seat by a couple of marks, and there were not many private engineering colleges offering seats at that time. “All my friends made it to engineering colleges. I was very nervous at that time as I was very confident that I would make it to an engineering college. I was clueless as to what to do next,” recalls Keskar.
Priceless 700-rupee salary
Fate played a big role in helping Keskar on how he would be known in the electronics industry one day. He joined a diploma course in electronics at Maratha Mandal Polytechnic in Belgaum. “It was a three-year diploma and I completed it sincerely. But then came a time when I had to decide what to do next. I had the diploma in my hands, and I was not sure what to do next,” notes Keskar.
His father was once again transferred to Pune and Keskar decided to move to Pune in 1985 with the family. Left with two choices – either to join second year in a full-time engineering college or to start a career, Keskar chose the latter. He saw an advertisement from a company named SAJ Froude. This company was hiring for the post of trainee engineers for their plant located in Pune.
Keskar applied for the same and began his career in the automotive testing equipment domain. He was offered 700 rupees as monthly take-home salary by the company. The best part working with that company, as Keskar explains, was that it was a very small setup. SAJ Froude at that time had a team strength of less than 100 individuals. “They rotated me into new departments every year. I got experience of working in production, testing, sales, marketing, and R&D departments. I spent more than six years with that company,” shares Keskar.
It was a time when the amount of money he was earning didn’t matter much to him. As Keskar explains, the experience and joy he found in that job was ‘priceless.’ “Frankly, I was enjoying work so much that I never thought of money as an objective. I was very happy,” says Keskar with a big smile.
The teenage love and questions
While Keskar was enjoying his first job, there was a critical development taking place in his personal life. He got engaged to his teenage love Sangita, who was doing her MBBS at Aurangabad Medical College. He started looking for ways to pursue his engineering degree once again.
Keskar came to know about an evening part-time college that was offering engineering degrees to diploma holders. “It was a three-year engineering course spread over four years part-time for diploma holders. I joined the Cusrow Wadia Institute of Technology in 1987 while working at SAJ Froude,” he says.
“Frankly, the intent was to get the engineering degree so that I could marry a doctor,” recalls Keskar. He says the sole purpose of getting that degree was to be able to marry the love of his life. In the process not only he managed to get the degree and marry Sangita, he also found how helpful the knowledge was, which helped him to get jobs with MNCs later.
Average engineer, good cook
The person who has headed India Electronics and Semiconductors Association as chairman and has been country manager for America based organisations like National Semiconductor, AMD, and Freescale Semiconductor does not shy away from admitting that he is a better sales, marketing, strategy, and communications guy than he is as an engineer.
“Frankly, I realised that I am not a good engineer. I am good at communication, establishing relationships, and doing sales. This is when I promised myself that I will make my career in sales rather than production or R&D,” says a proud Keskar.
As an aftermath of the realisation, Keskar started looking for a job in the sales domain in the electronics industry. The first job that he managed to land in the sales vertical was with Continental Device India Limited. An India based semiconductors company, Continental Device appointed Keskar as a sales executive for Pune area. Keskar refers to this job as his entry into the semiconductors and components space in 1991.
“There was no looking back. Till now I am still serving in the domain of semiconductors and electronic components,” says Keskar. What helped him perform well and rise in his career was something that he learned in his childhood, something that he had been practising without being aware of it—the art of communicating! Keskar recalls that he had always been a big fan of how his father communicated with relatives, friends, and the colleagues he met.
“The stories he used to tell were filled with humour. I do not remember a single instance where my father was saying something and there was no humour packed in the conversation. All his conversations were to the point. I have never seen as confident a man as my father,” Keskar recalls.
Keskar loves sharing how he picked up the art of communication and networking from his father at an early age. So much so, it took him no time to make friends at new schools. While the communication skills were learnt from father, patience is one trait that Keskar inherited from his mother who was a homemaker.
“The best part about my mother is I have never seen her sad or disappointed. I realised with time that the secret to her happiness was patience and no expectations from anything or anyone,” says an emotional Keskar. Keskar remembers requesting his mother to cook Sabudana Khichdi whenever he got a chance.
In fact, cooking is something that he has learnt from both his father and mother. Referring to chicken curry as his signature dish, Keskar shares that he loves cooking on weekends for family.
Why mention cooking here? Because Keskar relates his professional innings to cooking a lot. He says, “Cooking requires patience like sales and building a career. It is not like you can read a recipe from the Internet or a book and prepare a dish. Making a good curry or a good career are the same. Both require you to put your heart and soul into them.”
He is also sure that listening to a lot of music from the ghazals genre helped him stay calm throughout his life. Keskar’s father was an aficionado of ghazals and, in spite of playing many sports, Keskar loved putting on the records his father owned and enjoying all type of music.
Unconditional support and decision making
The one thing that Keskar says he will always be thankful to his parents for is the unconditional support they showered upon him in every stage of his life. Whether it was returning home late at night, marrying Sangita, or choosing to go for a diploma course, Keskar admits his parents never questioned him, but instead helped him in evaluating risks and taking the right decisions at the right time.
“There were no restrictions whatsoever from my parents even in my childhood days. I would come back from school, put aside my school bag, and run away with friends to play and return only after around 7.30 PM in the evening, and yet my parents never scolded me,” says Keskar.
He thinks his parents’ support has helped him make the right decisions. “What differentiates one from others in life is not the grades one gets or the university and college one goes to, but it is the ability to make right decisions,” says Keskar.
Keskar explains, “The point is and always will be your decision-making ability. That defines how one grows and moves forward in career. The degree and percentage may help you in getting your first job. But from the second job onwards it is always what value you are bringing to your employer that counts.”
He gives hundred percent credit to his parents for the kind of decision-making ability he has been able to develop over time. “When you make a decision, you have the responsibility to make sure that it is correct. This was taught to me from my childhood. Even if you make a wrong decision, you have to make sure it is not repeated again,” says Keskar.
The best decision that he has taken so far is joining the semiconductor industry and moving to Bangalore for the same. He says that many Maharasthrians do not want to move out of the home state to pursue careers, but he took this decision and has always been thankful for the same.
The big decision: Moving to Bangalore
The biggest decision that Keskar thinks that changed his life for good is the one where he decided to move to Bangalore in 1996. Already into the semiconductors and electronics components arena for more than five years, Keskar was working with Max India as regional manager for sales and was handling distribution sales for Motorola and AMD in the western region of India. It was then that Kekar was interviewed for the post of distribution manager at an America based organisation named National Semiconductor.
“All my friends and family questioned my decision as I was living in my own home in Maharashtra. They were of the view that moving to Bangalore was not a good decision at all. I was sure of shifting as Bangalore was the upcoming IT city of India, and I could not think of a better organisation to work with than National Semiconductor at that moment,” explains Keskar.
Money was also a big motivation factor to join National Semiconductor for Keskar along with an opportunity to work for a global MNC.
Then came another big decision and opportunity knocking at the door of Keskar. He was selected by AMD to lead sales operations in India. Keskar feels he got the opportunity because of the work experience he had gained from working at previous organisations.
“I feel lucky that every five years opportunities came knocking at my door and all I had to do was make a decision. AMD was a small team of three people in India when I joined them to lead India operations as first country manager.
“I started AMD when their market share was only 2% as per IDC report then. Joining AMD was a huge challenge, but I am very happy with the way my association turned out with AMD. I was travelling 25 days every month while working with AMD. When I left AMD after four years, the company had 20% market share in India region as per MAIT report and teams sitting across seventeen cities in India, and out of top ten OEMs, eight were offering products with AMD processors,” says Keskar proudly.
It is interesting to note here that Keskar comes from a period where people were afraid to change jobs. Individuals would spend their whole life with just one company. “The reason I kept changing jobs every four-five year was influenced by the opportunity to experience new domains and never getting too comfortable,” says Keskar.
Asked if he was afraid to change jobs he answers, “I never changed jobs for money. The reason I changed jobs every four or five years is because of the learnings attached with these jobs and for taking up new challenges.”
He explains, “I refused taking jobs with companies that were already established because I was sure that I would not be able to do any real value-add to such organisations. It would not be wrong to say that I was attracted to working for startups at that time.”
The IESA chairman
Circling back to his prowess in communication and networking skills, Keskar admits that these were the abilities that helped him become the chairman of IESA. As a matter of fact, Keskar was already on the council of IESA and had become vice-chairman before becoming the chair of IESA.
“I was MD of PMC Sierra’s sales operations when I contested for the post of IESA chairman and became the same,” says Keskar. However, what really helped Keskar in the journey was his association with IESA since his AMD and Freescale Semiconductor days. He was an active contributor to IESA reports, and also an active member at meetings chaired by IESA.
Keskar is proud of the friends that he has made all along the journey. He is prouder that he has zero enemies, both in his personal as well as professional life.
The strong support of wife
“My biggest support of my life is my wife Sangita. We met in 1982 and married in 1990. Ours was a long-distance relationship and we met only once or twice every year. During that period there were no mobile phones then, the only medium for communication was letters,” says an emotional Keskar.
His wife did her MD in Pathology after marriage and is currently serving as the head of Pathology at Chinmaya Mission Hospital in Bangalore. She is also an NABL assessor. He adds, “I was amazed to see how she balanced her professional and personal life. She is an amazing cook and has always supported our sons in their studies.” And what’s the most romantic thing Keskar had done for Sangita, he answers, ”I always listen to her every advice.”
The couple’s two sons, Ajinkya and Aditya, are on their way to completing their PhD from the United States. Ajinkya is pursuing PhD in Economics from Rice University, Houston, Texas. Aditya, the younger one, is pursuing PhD in Renewable Energy at Raleigh State University, North Carolina. The elder son Ajinkya is married to Shreya, who has done her Master’s degree from the University Of Santa Barbara in Environmental Sciences and is also working in the USA.
After 35 years of corporate career and at the peak of his career as MD of Arrow Electronics India, Keskar decided to leave corporate world in 2020 and started his own consultancy firm to support Make in India projects and startups to develop high-value-added local eco system for electronics and semiconductor components. He started a consulting firm named after his father, Arvind.
“I could have worked with Arrow for another four years but I think it is the right time now to help startups in India,” he says. Keskar is also the chief mentor at STPI IOT Open Lab that is run and managed by Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) and Arrow Electronics.