The Literary Catalyst
Sumeet Shetty’s passion for reading and collecting books has fueled his curiosity, opened his mind to new opportunities, and helped him find his role as a catalyst and change agent.
Sumeet Shetty’s tryst with books began during a summer vacation in his childhood, when his parents gifted him membership to a local library in Bangalore. A trip to Sunny’s Circulating Library soon became an integral part of his daily routine. The first book he borrowed from the library was Five on a Treasure Island from the Famous Five series by Enid Blyton. It was the beginning of a lifelong affair with books.
It is not surprising then that Sumeet runs Literati, the book club at SAP Labs India and India’s largest corporate book club. This manager of a software development team in Bangalore has been able to attract some of the world’s top authors to speak at SAP’s spacious green campus on the outskirts of Bangalore, India’s third largest city.
Authors who Sumeet has interviewed at Literati include Alice Albinia, Amit Chaudhuri, Anita Nair, Ashok Ferrey, Chetan Bhagat, Pankaj Mishra, Peter James, Kiran Nagarkar, Musharraf Ali Farooqi, Shereen El Feki, Shobhaa Dé, Shehan Karunatilaka, Vikram Chandra, William Dalrymple et al.
How does a book club square up at a software company, where employees are better known for crafting code and developing products? Instead of a contradiction, Sumeet sees parallels between literature and coding. “Software code can be as elegant as prose. Both writers and programmers value elegance, but in different ways,” he says. “Authors value brevity in expressing their ideas through prose, and programmers try to write powerful code in the most concise way.”
Besides that, argues Sumeet, reading contributes to a culture of curiosity – a value that SAP promotes highly among its diverse worldwide employee base of over 77,000 people. “We strive to be creative, to think in unconventional ways and to delight our customers. Inspiration comes from being open to new ideas,” he explains. Some colleagues have told him that the sessions of the book club have had a transformational effect on them.
Sumeet credits his parents for his interest in reading. He remembers having to negotiate with them for new toys or clothes, but never having to negotiate for the books that he wanted. His appetite for reading grew and so his collection of books.
Over the last five years, Sumeet has been collecting rare, fine and first editions of books. Signed books hold a special place in his heart and he has often gone to great lengths to pursue authors to sign his books. His ever-growing collection includes books signed by Alexander McCall Smith, Harold Bloom, VS Naipaul, Salman Rushdie, Margaret Atwood, Jeffrey Archer, Amitav Ghosh, Pico Iyer, Yann Martel, Dan Brown, Eleanor Catton, Toni Morrison, Howard Jacobson, Peter James, Cornelia Funke, Paulo Coelho, Stephen Fry et al.
Sumeet joined SAP in 2005 as a software developer, and has since worked his way up to the role of a Development Manager in a multicultural development organization spanning three continents.
Staying over 10 years with the same technology company is unusual in Bangalore, where the next offer is just down the street. Why has he stayed so long with SAP?
“What I enjoy most is the wealth of opportunities at SAP. If you are in development and want to do something else, you can. You could move into consulting, pre-sales, sales, operations or general management,” explains Sumeet. “If you have the energy and drive, SAP supports you in whatever you want to do.”
Sumeet enjoys working closely with people of different cultures – another quality that he attributes to the world that books opened up for him at an early age. “Moderating sessions at the book club and reading voraciously have both enriched myweltanschauung (worldview) and prepared me well to work with people of different cultures.”
Sumeet does not know what the next chapter of his life at SAP will bring, but as a manager and the moderator of the book club, he feels comfortable in the role of a catalyst for transformation. “SAP gives me a unique opportunity to successfully straddle the worlds of software and literature. I see my role as a catalyst and motivator, bringing talented people together to help them achieve great outcomes.”
Just last week, during Bill McDermott’s visit to SAP Labs India, Sumeet was able to add another signed book to his collection. “Bill generously signed and inscribed a copy of his book Winners Dream for me,” explains Sumeet. “It was a great gesture, and the book is one of the jewels in my collection!” Sumeet hopes that he will have the opportunity to interview SAP’s CEO at the Literati book club on his next trip to India.
//job title: Development Manager
//team: Development Services and Tools
//years at SAP: 11
//SAP Lab: India
//passions: Literature, collecting books, leading India’s largest corporate book club, leadership, management
Video: Natalie Hauck and Alex Januschke, SAP Development University; Text: Paul Baur, SAP Global Corporate Affairs.