Damyanti Gupta, Ford’s first female engineer, talks about challenges and work-life balance
Damyanti Gupta, the first female engineer at Ford Motor Company, talks about the challenges she faced at work and how she balanced raising two sons.
Amanda Inscore, Fort Myers News-Press
Damyanti Hingorani Gupta had an uncommon career and has helped raise two boys to uncommon success and fame.
This Mother’s Day, the first female engineer in the history of Fort Motor Company will be drawing closer to finally seeing her two sons now that all the adults in the Gupta family have been vaccinated against coronavirus.
Damyanti and her husband, Subhash Gupta, retired in 2011 to Fort Myers. She said it was because she had a dear friend here. But she also liked the idea of following one of her heroes, Henry Ford, who lived off McGregor Boulevard.
The elder son, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, followed his mother in his own way, becoming something of a Renaissance Man. The neurosurgeon, 51, became the face of CNN’s COVID-19 coverage, participating in weekly town halls with TV colleague Anderson Cooper. Gupta also is following Cooper as a two-week guest host of the TV game show Jeopardy. Gupta has taped the 10, 30-minute segments that are slated to be broadcast June 28-July 9. His newest book, “Keep Sharp,” was released in January and gives advice for keeping the brain sharp while aging.
The younger son, Suneel Gupta, also put his mother’s tenacity to use in adulthood. The former U.S. Congressional candidate, 42, has started various businesses relating to health care. He teaches a class about innovation at Harvard University. His new book, “Backable: The Surprising Truth About What Makes People Take a Chance On You,” was released in February.
Unlike their mother, the Gupta boys did not have to uproot themselves from their birth home. They were raised near Dearborn, Michigan.
But Damyanti Gupta was born in 1942 in Tharushah, a village in India. Her parents were well-to-do landowners who lost everything overnight when rioting and looting broke out, forcing them to leave. Damyanti was 5.
“My parents had to flee from the small village to a coastal town,” said Damyanti, who celebrated her 79th birthday Saturday. Her tale has been long told to a national audience before, as Time Magazine featured her in a 2018 issue about female innovators.
Damyanti said she doesn’t grow tired of telling the tale, hoping to inspire others, whether they be women following her into the business world or her two sons, who still consult with her, especially on topics related to parenting.
“She is a very determined person,” Sanjay Gupta said during a phone interview from Atlanta. “She really was the kind of person who set her mind to achieving impossible things. From the other side of the world. Wanting to become the first female engineer for Ford Motor Company.
The way I’ve always thought about it is, it’s pretty hard to say, ‘I can’t do that’ when you have a mom like mine. She wasn’t very accepting us as kids of us saying ‘I can’t’ when we were younger. She was a very solutions-oriented person. Let’s figure out the solution here. Let’s get to it.”
Suneel Gupta, who lives near Detroit, Michigan, said “the word impossible was not allowed in our house.”
“Sanjay was just somebody who wanted to make sure he was having the impact on the world he wanted to have,” Suneel Gupta said. “In some ways, it was surprising when a practicing physician from suburban Michigan becomes a national correspondent for CNN. It very much embodies the same journey my parents took.”
Sanjay Gupta and his wife are the parents of three girls. Suneel and his wife are the parents of two girls.
Both sons said they try to instill the same drive and work ethic that they received from their parents.
“Every morning, we do this little routine,” Suneel Gupta said. “We’ve been doing this since COVID. There are two questions I ask them. I ask them, ‘What is the meaning of life?’ They say, ‘To find their gift.’
“What is the purpose of life? They say: ‘To give it away.’ We are here because we want to find these things we’re gifted at. These things we love to do and find a way to share them with the world. My role as a parent, it’s a lot of the energy that my parents gave me. I’m doing my best to pass it along to my kids. Part of that energy is that ‘anything is possible’ spirit.”
Before age 20, Damyanti Gupta had made her way from India to Germany to Stillwater, Oklahoma, of all places, where she studied engineering before landing that coveted Ford job in 1967. Her new colleagues said they wanted her to take on a different name, because they were too lazy to say “Damyanti.” She chose “Rani,” which means “Queen” in Hindu. She likes the fact that her all-male colleagues literally were calling her “Queen.”
Damyanti and Subhash Gupta plan to see their adult children and their five granddaughters sometime this summer.
Before then, they can watch Sanjay Gupta for a week on Jeopardy.
“The funny thing is, when I was younger, we used to watch Jeopardy together, quite a bit,” Sanjay Gupta said. “It was one of those shows that we could all watch together. It would have topics on scientists and mathematics and foreign countries. As immigrants, they knew a lot of answers. And I knew a lot of the answers.”
For Mother’s Day 2021, let mom do the wining
Suneel Gupta’s book about entrepreneurship has roots from his mom – and Sanjay Gupta’s non-stop work ethic has roots from her, too. Uncommon fame and success.
“She really is one of those moms who gave us her all,” Sanjay Gupta said. “She was a pioneer in terms of the work she did at Ford. Just the culture at that time, there were no women around. She cooked for us every day. She never bemoans the fact that she was doing all of this. As we get older, hopefully we appreciate our parents even more. As time goes on, she gets even more amazing.”