As a boy, one summer, Gopichand Katragadda learnt to make soap from his English teacher, and sold them to his friends. The act of making and selling soaps made him believe that what he created had value. Since then, the new chief technology officer of Tata Sons has proved his worth several times over - he has more than 30 publications and five patents to his credit and is a consultant, professor and author. But, as he confesses, he is still the boy who looks for constant validation.
No surprises then, his appointment as CTO of Tata Sons must have come to him as a big confirmation of his eminence in the technology world. This is the first time that the salt-to- automobile conglomerate has created the post of a group chief technology officer. As the head of the group's technology, Katragadda will be responsible for all its business at the group level and share his expertise in managing R&D operations. He would also act as an evangelist for innovation across group companies.
In the new role, the outcome of Chairman Cyrus Mistry's emphasis on R&D and innovation, Katragadda's responsibilities look huge. He will be in charge of over 100 companies with a total turnover of about $100 billion. But Tata Sons is confident it has tapped the right talent to steer the group's technological charge. "He became a natural choice given his width of experience," says a Tata Sons executive familiar with the appointment.
At GE, Katragadda had earned the reputation of a champion innovator. He was picked up to head the company's largest R&D centre outside the US which has 5,500 engineers and scientists. He also served as general manager of GE Energy Infrastructure's India engineering operations, where he led a team of 2,000 employees across cities.
In his 12 years with GE's research centre in Bangalore, Katragadda built new technology teams, facilitated funding of cross-business innovation, championed the commissioning of new research labs and helped create what is today GE's largest integrated multidisciplinary R&D centre.
When not innovating, Katragadda is usually trying his hand at something new.
A self-confessed adrenaline junkie, he loves challenges.
"Be it going down unknown roads of a new city or peeling the onion of a known fact to discover a new fascinating layer, what drives me is the unknown," he says.
These days, he is busy with the promotion of his Telugu directorial debut, Tokachukka. The thriller on treasure hunters has been made by a crew of techies with no background in film-making, and was shot only during weekends. In the past, he has taken up even bigger challenges like trying to decipher the complex Indus script-not exactly a job for the faint-hearted.