Dear alumni – from this issue we are introducing a new series called Chai Aur Samose Pe Charcha. This series is our tribute to your heartwarming memories at IIT Bombay. 

Amidst the bustling corridors and the hushed tones of academia, one ritual remains etched in the hearts of every IIT Bombay alumnus – the timeless bond formed over steaming cups of chai and the tantalizing aroma of freshly prepared samosas. As we launch our newest series, Chai Aur Samose Pe Charcha, we invite you to embark on a nostalgic journey, where cherished memories of midnight cravings, last-minute preparations, and heartfelt conversations come alive through the voices of our beloved alumni. Join us as we delve into the stories interwoven during numerous chai-samosa gatherings, celebrating the laughter, the camaraderie, and the enduring spirit that unites us all. 

Charting Success: IIT Bombay Alumnus, Vinod Menon’s Inspiring Path to Excellence

IIT Bombay alumnus, Mr. Vinod Menon, embodies multi-faceted excellence. His sojourn at IIT Bombay began in 1975 and his career post-IIT Bombay has been marked by resounding success both personally and professionally. His tale is a testament to the transformative power of education, personal growth, and the unwavering commitment to giving back. Over the years, Vinod has continued to stay connected to his alma mater since he credits the Institute as being instrumental in the evolution of his illustrious career.

Apart from being a super successful alumnus, Vinod Menon has a radiant personality that makes him a lively and animated conversationalist. He goes from being funny to serious, to philosophical, to weird – all within a span of a few minutes.

The Dean ACR newsletter is delighted to not only speak to Vinod to kickstart the new Chai aur Samose Pe Charcha series but also let him tell us his story in his own inimitable way.

Over to Mr. Vinod Menon.

“I am very excited and honoured to kickstart the Chai Aur Samose Pe Charcha series for the Dean ACR newsletter. Just thinking about chai and samosa fills me with nostalgic memories of my time at IITB. I still remember my pre-end semester exam all-night study sessions fuelled by cups of hot masala chai and wire-mesh-covered trays of spicy samosas served by the hostel canteen staff.

Those were the days!

So, back when I joined IIT Bombay, I remember being academically well-prepared. I had stood third during my JEE. This accomplishment meant that I could choose which IIT I went to and pick any field of study that I wanted. Oddly enough though, I did not have a clue what domain I wanted to pick because my parents were medical doctors, whereas I had opted for a career in engineering. Since it was very fashionable then, I chose to study electronics and picked IIT Bombay because it was considered to be a very prestigious school. It still is.

During the initial years, I was very much an introvert and highly focused on my studies. But the Institute brought me out of my shell to where now I am more of an ambivert. At IITB, I learnt the very valuable lesson that to be successful in life, I needed to expand my sphere of influence and connect and collaborate with people. In a way, I groomed myself to take on roles of increasing responsibility at the Institute. My first foray was to become elected as a Mess Secretary, a challenging, unforgiving, thankless role of dealing with daily complaints from hostel-mates who were dissatisfied with their daily four meals, and the vagaries of the cooks’ moods and culinary skills. The following year, my fifth and final year at IIT Bombay, I campaigned for and was elected to the larger role of the hostel’s general secretary (“G-Sec”). This decision in hindsight, was a somewhat personally irresponsible choice because it was the busiest year of my five-year B.Tech. E.E degree program.

However, I grew so much during that phase in my life. IIT Bombay was a melting pot. I was surrounded by people who came from different Indian states, different countries, different cultures, different backgrounds, and vastly varied upbringings. I learnt to navigate between and across so many different types of people. While I was the G-Sec of my hostel, there was a general strike on campus and the hostels were going to be shut down. My campaigning against the strike contributed to our hostel residents going against popular opinion, making us the only hostel among the then ten hostels, that voted against the strike. I was viewed as a rebel strike-breaker and my personal safety was at risk. That moment at IIT Bombay taught me so much about being a leader, sticking to my core beliefs, influencing others to see my point of view, and taking personal responsibility for my actions. It taught me how to handle large groups of dissenting people and thrive in what was then a hostile environment.

That experience among others and the education at IITB laid the foundation of my subsequent rapid professional career growth. I parlayed my B. Tech. in EE and my subsequent MS in ECE from UC Santa Barbara to launch my semiconductor electronics industry career. From starting as a design engineer in Silicon Valley, California, I rose up through the ranks to become a project leader, an engineering manager, an engineering director, a business unit director, a vice president, and an executive vice president, leading international organizations to accomplish innovative, high-value, quick time-to-market products and achieve rapid global deployment. My career successes were enabled in large measure by my IITB education and experiences. IITB had served both as a fertile training ground and a launch pad for instilling the confidence from knowing that I could still hold my own among so many highly accomplished toppers.

I continue to leverage that IIT Bombay experience to date. Over this past decade, on weekends, I have been helping and guiding people from all walks of life from all over the world, as and when they have needed my support. They are typically experiencing some sort of personal transition in their personal or professional lives including being in between jobs. From discovering that they suppressed their innate talents because of a death in the family or financial constraints or because they got married early – I try to dig deep into their psyche and have non-judgemental conversations to encourage them and enable their latent talents to emerge. I have mentees who now write poetry, who are holding art exhibitions, achieved personal and professional successes that they only dreamed of, and so much more.

It started small but it has now taken on a life of its own. I have around 1,800 mentees worldwide, including from remote places like Bolivia, Luxembourg, Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine, Vietnam, Xinjiang, and Zimbabwe. I call this my Aladdin project. I firmly believe that everyone has the potential to do great things. All they need is an Aladdin who shines their inner lamp to enable the trapped genie of their latent innate talents to manifest.

These life experiences are what I want to highlight to the youngsters at IIT Bombay. What college does not teach you, life does and surely will! My personal mantra is that the very tapestry of our life is contained within these three letters: F, B, and C, letter grades that you dreaded during your days at IITB! This credo is not from any religious book or from some life coach – the immense value of these three letters is based on the learning from my personal life experiences and the insights that I have gained. So what do these three letters stand for?

F stands for Faith. I believe that we are all here in this Universe for a certain purpose. We may go through our entire life not knowing what our purpose is. But you need to have faith that there is a reason why your mother carried you for nine months in her womb and gave birth to you. There is a reason why you were given this opportunity to be born. I don’t believe that anything in our lives is random. There is a reason and a purpose behind every experience of ours. I don’t even believe there is anything random about this conversation I am having with you, Roopa! So do have faith that you are here for a purpose.

B stands for belief. You need to believe that the Universe will create opportunities that will allow you to find your purpose and achieve your goals. Often, we despair that for every step that we take forward, we are walking 10 steps back. Instead of feeling anguished and desolate, believe that with every setback, the Universe is trying to direct you toward a certain path that will eventually enable you to accomplish your purpose. Surrender yourself to this larger picture and allow yourself to go with the flow. Don’t fight it! Do believe that there is some larger design here that you’re not aware of just yet, but that you will eventually discover what it is.

The third letter C stands for Confidence. You need to have the confidence to look for what you want, to go find it, and to commit to evaluating the opportunities that come your way. It is this confidence that will set you apart from the others. Confidence will make you look at every setback as an opportunity to learn and grow and enable you to achieve your final goal or purpose in life.

So, have faith, believe, and be confident!

I have always been purpose-driven and philosophical in my life. That reminds me of this seemingly ordinary place on the IITB campus, but one that has left a profound impression on my life. So, there is an entrance to the IITB campus which is not the main gate. It is the other gate referred to as the Y-Point. On one side of the Y-Point gate is Kendriya Vidyalaya (KV) School. On the other side, there is IIT Bombay, and then there is the third side which is the great outdoors. The Y-Point was very symbolic to me. It was like a fork in the road. While I did not study at KV – to me, that school represented one’s past. IITB was the present. And the great outdoors was the future. Back then, standing at the Y-Point, it almost felt like I was standing at the ‘Why?’ point of my life. I knew I had a choice. I could either look back in time, stay in the present, or look forward to the future. I chose the great outdoors to find what life held for me and life hasn’t let me down.

Basically, my five years at IIT Bombay continue to be integral to my life.

I knew, even then, that I would always give back to my alma mater. See, when I joined IITB – because of my very high rank I was eligible for multiple scholarships. Essentially, my entire education for those five years was fully paid for by the Government of India, including my tuition fees, my hostel rent, my mess fees, and more. With the kind of support, I had got – how can I not give back? I opted to pay it forward by way of funding scholarships since there are so many talented and brilliant youngsters who clear the IITB entrance exam but are unable to afford the expenses associated with their education and campus life. I owed it to them to give back what the Institute had given me.

I also wanted to give back in my mother’s name. She was truly an exceptional lady – a child prodigy – who became a doctor at a time when there were hardly any women doctors in India. She went to England to pursue her MRCP degree, choosing to treat all humankind versus limiting herself to the traditional lady doctor role of being an obstetrician and gynaecologist who treats only women patients. Tragically, my mother passed away the day after I got my JEE results. I still feel her loss in my life. So giving back in her name was important. I wanted to ensure that women have the same opportunities as men and are empowered.

Another key driving force behind supporting scholarships at IITB is that 100% of the donation goes to the students.

I genuinely hope that other alumni also give back to their alma mater. Even if they don’t give by way of money, they can always serve as mentors to the younger generation.

Finally, what is my biggest piece of advice to the younger generation of students at IIT Bombay today? Well, understand that IITB is more than just academics. There is a whole range of activities you can and should participate in while you are here. Don’t limit yourself by just being a “muggu” or “padhaku” while setting in your sights on medalling in your degree. Studying is extremely important. However, do make time for the other activities that can expand your horizons – play tennis, go swimming, hiking, or mountaineering. Paint, play a musical instrument, debate, and learn new languages. By the way, do you know that I can speak 11 languages? I am fascinated by how my expansive command of languages has enabled me to connect intimately with people across the globe.

So, yes. To my fellow alumni – give back to your alma mater that gave you the biggest jumpstart in your life. And to the youngsters – study hard, but don’t forget to partake of the opportunities that come your way and enjoy the varied pleasures of life!

I want to thank the Dean ACR NL team for speaking to me. I had so much fun!”

So did we, Mr. Menon! So did we!

Mr. Menon’s journey, from the halls and hostels of IIT Bombay where he enjoyed samosa and chai, to the pinnacle of professional success, serves as a shining example of the impact that alumni can have on their alma mater and the world at large. His dedication to empowering others through scholarships and mentorship is a noble gesture that ensures future generations of students have the same opportunities to excel. It is because of alumni like Mr. Menon that IIT Bombay stands as a beacon of excellence, not just in academics but also in nurturing well-rounded individuals who will become future leaders, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.

As we reflect on his incredible story (and to use his own words) we are reminded that it is through faith, belief, and confidence that one can forge one’s own path to greatness.

We thank Mr. Menon for narrating his story in his own words and wish him the very best moving forward!