A recent event – Sam’s recognition for his mentoring within the engineering profession was recognized by APEGA and touted by his employer WSP Group – something deserving of Sam’s beaming pride was the trigger for this interview but our conversation explored a great deal more.
I met him a few years ago – we kept crossing paths in the Toastmasters world where we are both very active, but I never spent much time getting acquainted. I sat with Sam recently over end-of-day beverages … and learned some surprising and instructive things about Sam’s history, about sons and fathers, about mobility vs. not …
Why engineering? “I liked machines and equipment, I wanted to work with my hands.”
Sam explained that professional employment was a requirement in his immediate and extended family – so no other options would be considered. Born in Gauripur, India (in Assam province, NE .. foothills of Himalayas) Sam was the eldest of two boys (his brother lives in Calcutta). His father's family were somewhat aristocrats and quite wealthy. His father was an entrepreneur in forest products – harvesting and marketing lumber. Sam’s dad passed away at fifty-eight while Sam was in university. His early education was local – high school St. Edmunds College, Shillong, B.Sc. in Mechanical Engineering from Jadavpur University in Calcutta, and an MBA from Birla Institute of Technology in Jharkand. Sam describes himself as a ‘good student’ who was once selected ‘all round best graduate’ .. his non-academic interests which continue today were photography, skeet shooting (in University he was State Champion), singing and playing cultural instruments – all of which he does actively still in his spare time …
Sam met his wife Sumana in university days – they were married in 1985 and have two children, one of each, who are now twenty-one and twenty-six.
His career as an engineer began with a job offer while still in university – and could have easily continued in India – but he followed family advice to seek advancement and transfers whenever he could which lead him to Thailand, Dubai etc. where he was country manager for his company – fast-forward, Calgary is the thirteenth place the Barua’s have lived in five countries.
Why Calgary? “My work in India, Thailand and middle-east was primarily oil & gas focused. We chose Calgary because we felt this was the best place for our children to get a great education and opportunities.” Sam’s experience and academic credentials made it somewhat easy to get his P.Eng accreditation here – and jobs have come: Jacobs, SNC-Lavalin, AMEC and WSP where he has worked most recently on SAGD facilities. His current focus is on several new projects for TransCanada and Union Gas.
And, since it is one thing we share in common, why Toastmasters? “In part to improve my spoken English, but mostly because I used to suffer ‘brain freeze’ when put on the spot.”
What has contributed most to your success? “It has been a long process. Dependable, trustworthy – I do what I say. My family who have my interest at heart – and I theirs. I love to interact with people. I don’t like leaving people, even when tough issues are involved, with any bitterness.”
What has held you back? “If it hadn’t been for my father’s death when I was still in university necessitating sale of the family business, I expect I would be head of a company in long term employ in India. But, rather than rising to the top somewhere, I’ve worked and lived in five countries – so it is hard to measure that against something that never happened.”
Who is Sam Barua? Someone I know far better now, like far better now – not just because his animated story telling took me to India and through his family history, but because I got a better sense of his joys, his struggles and reconciliation of putting his family’s future ahead of his own ambition. Seems like an OK guy to have as a mentor. And as a friend ...
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… in my work so much of our procurement is by tendering – so I would say I rely upon a proven process – and look carefully at how genuinely suppliers present themselves. In terms of personal matters, I tend to do a lot of research before I buy – to get the best value-for-money.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Sam Barua, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
... I’m always prepared.
How would you describe your management style?
… approachable, don’t get tense in a crisis. I don’t mince my words. I don’t lose my cool .. though sometimes I lose it privately!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my wife. Pride in my kids. My mother was a strong influence – in terms of work ethic and education. My grandmother who’s travel adventures and ‘museum’ within our home taught me so much about the world …
… magazines (Harvard Business Review, Forbes), Calgary Herald, business publications relating to my work and profession. I’m not much of a book reader – though I was in school days, because I had to and from influence of my mother and grandmother!
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