Pankaj Kashyap, SDM ’11: Systems Thinking for Social Impact

Pankaj Kashyap By Eric Smalley
May 6, 2011

Pankaj Kashyap, SDM ’11, felt something was missing from an otherwise satisfying engineering career that had him leading the hardware design team for General Electric’s smart electricity meter product line. "I was too much into design, and I felt that I lacked the holistic perspective," he said.

Kashyap said his time working on GE’s international smart meter products was, for the most part, amazing. He helped to establish a manufacturing facility in China for one of the products he helped design. He learned a lot about controlling costs and focusing on reliability. "We made meters in millions," he said.

But Kashyap decided that the time had come to prepare for a leadership role where he could help guide a technology organization’s strategy. He was also eager to develop business skills. These would have come in handy at the engineering design firm he cofounded in Hyderabad India before joining GE.

"I was feeling incomplete because my entrepreneurial venture didn’t go that well," he said. "We had absolutely no idea of how to do business. We were so focused on technology that we just neglected the finance piece."

The SDM program appealed to Kashyap because it takes a holistic approach to technology leadership. "The key thing that the SDM program has is its emphasis on systems thinking, and this is evident in every course," he said.

"Being at MIT is important because a large portion of what you learn in this type of graduate program comes from your peers and colleagues," Kashyap said. "The admissions selection process is very tough, which would imply that I would have peers who are the best in their respective fields," he said.

The SDM program is also a good place to come up with an answer to a question that has nagged Kashyap for years: Why are some countries developed and others not? Culture is a crucial element in an organization’s success, Kashyap said. "I intend to work for a few years in one of the developed markets to understand the culture," he said.

Ultimately, Kashyap intends to return to India and bring a systems thinking perspective and an understanding of the culture of successful organizations. He is looking to apply this knowledge and experience to an enterprise that is both financially successful and socially empowering. This is likely to be in the energy sector. "The majority of India still doesn’t have good quality access to electricity," he said.

Social impact has always been important to Kashyap. At GE, he led a division comprised of a team of employees who volunteer in the community. Its 30 active members taught disabled children, he said.

Once he gets more established at MIT, Kashyap plans to volunteer here as well, he said. He’s also looking forward to indulging another of his passions: theater. Kashyap was part of a couple of English-language theater groups in Hyderabad. Theater has been helpful in his career because it boosted his confidence and helped him talk to people.

The play he enjoyed most? An adaptation of Fiddler on the Roof.

Pankaj Kashyap
Photo by Kathy Tarantola Photography