By Jamie Beckett, August 2007
HP Labs' new director, Prith Banerjee, brings a unique background to the job.
As dean of the college of engineering at the University of Illinois at Chicago, he is the first academic to hold the director's position at HP Labs. Born in Khartoum, Sudan (his father worked for the Indian embassy there), and raised in India, he is the first director from outside the U.S. He is also the first to have founded two startup companies.
Banerjee, senior vice president for research, HP, says his experiences will play a large part in his approach to managing the company's central research organization.
"I'm a big believer in collaborations," Banerjee says. As an academic, he initiated many partnerships with industrial research groups. At HP Labs, he plans to establish more research collaborations with both universities and HP business groups.
"With such a large, collaborative effort, we could work together and solve some really big problems," he says.
Banerjee hopes to secure additional funding for these major research projects from such agencies as the National Science Foundation and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Banerjee came to the U.S. in 1981 to pursue his master's and PhD degrees, and lived in the Midwest until joining HP. (To read Banerjee's biography, go here)
But he hasn't forgotten his Indian origins -- he retains strong ties to India and visits regularly -- and he expects this to factor into his approach at HP Labs.
"In a global economy, it helps to have a different perspective," he says. "I think my background would only help in reaching out to other parts of the world."
Although a highly accomplished academic – Banerjee has published hundreds of papers, holds several patents and has been repeatedly honored – he's learned much outside the classroom as well.
With others, he developed software that accelerates production of digital-signal processing systems, and turned the idea into AccelChip. The company was sold to Xilinx in 2006.
Banerjee also founded BINACHIP, which produces software to enable embedded systems developers to design and implement high-performance applications.
It's not enough, he says, just to have great technology.
"Some have this idea that if you build it, they will buy it," he says. "That's not true. You have to adapt your technology to the market."