Purnendu Dasgupta

For his extraordinary leadership and his technical contributions to the improvement of steelmaking and casting processes, the Schools of Engineering are proud to present the Distinguished Engineering Alumnus Award to Purnendu Dasgupta.

Vice President, Technology and Environmental
Health and Safety, Inland Steel Company
MSMetE '69

On coming to Purdue

I received my bachelor's degree in metallurgical engineering from India's Bihar Institute of Technology in 1960. After working in steel plants in India, England, and Canada in the early '60s, I helped to start up a new steel plant in India. Although I was in manufacturing, I thought myself to be technically sound. In working with a colleague who had a recent degree from Drexel, however, I realized that there was a big gap between us. Technology had advanced quite a bit, and I was still in the 1950s. I was very dissatisfied at not being current on scientific developments in my area, so I applied to a few colleges. I was admitted to several universities, including Purdue. I approached the head of our chemical department, who was a Purdue degree holder, and said, "I haven't the foggiest of ideas how good these engineering schools are." He asked about my plans for the future and told me that Purdue seemed closest to my future aims.

I was in quite a disadvantageous position at Purdue, you know. I was seven years out of college, and engineering had changed rapidly in the '60s. I had basically been trained as a metallurgical engineer, but at Purdue during the '60s "metallurgical engineering" was getting transformed into "materials science." When I went to my classes, I thought, "I'll never make it." I had to study most of the undergraduate books before I could go to the graduate-school books, and I stayed up until 1 and 2 a.m. every night.

I felt really good after the first semester, though, because I got straight A's. I'd doubted myself at times, wondering, "Why this? I have a good job as a melter at the steel plant." That first semester gave me a lot of self-confidence.

On influential people in his life

My grandfather taught me never to accept anything that wasn't better than the best, whether academically or professionally. Right from my high school days, he felt so passionately about wanting me to be successful that he took an early retirement; he felt that we should spend more time together. He helped to shape my future.

At Purdue one of my favorite professors was Robert Vest. He gave me encouragement and was very forward-looking and really encouraged me to be an independent thinker. Of course, there were other outstanding professors too, such as Richard Grace and Dick Phelps.

At Inland Steel one of the people I've most respected was Larry Kraay, who was manager of steelmaking and guided and counseled me during my initial four years at Inland. Kraay taught me the fundamentals of leadership and how to get the best out of people. He wrote a set of 100 guidelines on how to be a leader, and he practiced what he wrote. When we were starting an electric steelmaking shop, I told him, "I think I can do that job." He said, "Beni, you do it." It was a success, and I owe Larry Kraay for giving me the opportunity.

On his career and the challenges of the steel industry

My value system hasn't changed fundamentally since my student days at Purdue-that doesn't change with the times. The thing that has changed is my sense of accountability. As a student I thought, "I am responsible for myself." Now, however, I am in a position that affects many of our employees. How I manage that wide area of responsibility is very important; it's just not I who will be affected by my decisions, but so many other people. That is sometimes a little frightening.

The most fulfilling aspect of my work now is training and developing people. That goes not only for our engineers but for employees in hourly ranks as well. I've counseled many people and developed a close attachment with them. I'm invited to social events, baseball games, and church services, where we share successes and failures together.

Inland Steel is more than 100 years old, and we face many challenges: competition from alternative materials, from small mini-mills, from operations that are less labor-intensive. How can we take this company into the 21st century? The challenges are to design and develop new materials which delight our customers. If we do nothing, the technological gap will kill us. We've got to beat our competition. We need an infusion of young blood, with new thinking and a new technical base.

Vice President, Technology and Environmental Health and Safety, Inland Steel. Oversees company's entire technical operation, which includes R&D, operating technology, and engineering.
Vice President, Technology. Initiated a joint study with Hitachi Zosen (Japan) on strip casting.
Assistant to Vice President, Integrated Steelmaking and Hot-Roll.
General Manager, Research. Led a breakthrough study to assess viability of thin slab casting technology and predicted product capability and quality through this process. Organized and implemented the Operating Technology Division in each manufacturing area.
Manager, #2 Basic Oxygen Furnace/Continuous Casting.
Manager, Raw Materials and Primary R&D.
Superintendent, #1 Electric Furnace/Billet Caster.
Superintendent, #2 Basic Oxygen Furnace.
Assistant Superintendent, #4 Basic Oxygen Furnace/Slab Caster.
Foreman over various operations. Introduced electric furnace steelmaking to Inland Steel and assisted in starting up electric furnace and billet caster plant and training electric furnace operators.
Metallurgist, Quality Control, Inland Steel.
Helped start steel plant in Durgapur, India. Two patents.

BSME '60, Bihar Institute of Technology, India; MSMetE '69, Purdue.