What killed SAP CEO Ranjan Das and lessons for corporate India

SAP India CEO Ranjan Das Dies After Gym Workout

Ranjan Das, CEO and MD of SAP Indian subcontinent  died after a massive cardiac arrest in Mumbai on Wednesday. One of the youngest CEOs, he was 42.

What killed Ranjan Das and Lessons for Corporate India

A month ago, many of us heard about the sad demise of Ranjan Das from  Bandra, Mumbai. Ranjan, just 42 years of age, was the CEO of SAP-Indian    Subcontinent, the youngest CEO of an MNC in India. He was very active in  sports, was a fitness freak and a marathon runner. It was common to see    him run on Bandra’s Carter Road. Just after Diwali, on 21st Oct, he    returned home from his gym after a workout, collapsed with a massive heart attack and died. He is survived by his wife and two very young kids.

It was certainly a wake-up call for corporate India. However, it was even  more disastrous for runners amongst us. Since Ranjan was an avid    marathoner ( in Feb 09, he ran Chennai Marathon at the same time some of  us were running Pondicherry Marathon 180 km away ), the question came as  to why an exceptionally active, athletic person succumb to heart attack at 42 years of age.

Was it the stress?
A couple of you called me asking about the reasons. While Ranjan had   mentioned that he faced a lot of stress, that is a common element in most  of our lives. We used to think that by being fit, one can conquer the bad  effects of stress. So I doubted if the cause was stress.

The Real Reason
However, everyone missed out a small line in the reports that Ranjan used  to make do with 4-5 hours of sleep. This is an earlier interview of Ranjan on NDTV in the program ‘Boss’ Day Out’: Boss’ Day Out: Ranjan Das of SAP  India.

Here he himself admits that he would love to get more sleep (and that he  was not proud of his ability to manage without sleep, contrary to what    others extolled).

The Evidence
Last week, I was working with a well-known cardiologist on the subject of  ‘Heart Disease caused by Lack of Sleep’. While I cannot share the video    nor the slides because of confidentiality reasons, I have distilled the    key points below in the hope it will save some of our lives.

Some Excerpts:
· Short sleep duration ( <5 or 5-6 hours ) increased risk for high BP by  350% to 500% compared to those who slept longer than 6 hours per night.    Paper published in 2009. As you know, high BP kills.

· Young people ( 25-49 years of age ) are twice as likely to get high BP  if they sleep less. Paper published in 2006.

· Individuals who slept less than 5 hours a night had a 3-fold increased  risk of heart attacks. Paper published in 1999.

· Complete and partial lack of sleep increased the blood concentrations of High sensitivity C-Reactive Protein (hs-cRP), the strongest predictor of  heart attacks. Even after getting adequate sleep later, the levels stayed  high!!

· Just one night of sleep loss increases very toxic substances in body    such as Interleukin-6 (IL-6), Tumour Necrosis Factor-Alpha (TNF-alpha) and C-reactive protein (cRP). They increase risks of many medical conditions,  including cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Paper published in 2004.

· Sleeping for <=5 hours per night leads to 39% increase in heart disease. Sleeping for <=6 hours per night leads to 8% increase in heart disease.  Paper published in 2006.

Ideal Sleep
For lack of space, I cannot explain here the ideal sleep architecture. But in brief, sleep is composed of two stages: REM ( Rapid Eye Movement ) and  non-REM. The former helps in mental consolidation while the latter helps  in physical repair and rebuilding. During the night, you alternate between REM and non-REM stages 4-5 times.

The earlier part of sleep is mostly non-REM. During that period, your   pituitary gland releases growth hormones that repair your body. The latter part of sleep is more and more REM type.

For you to be mentally alert during the day, the latter part of sleep is  more important. No wonder when you wake up with an alarm clock after 5-6  hours of sleep, you are mentally irritable throughout the day (lack of REM sleep). And if you have slept for less than 5 hours, your body is in a    complete physical mess ( lack of non-REM sleep ), you are tired throughout the day, moving like a zombie and your immunity is way down ( I’ve been    there, done that ).

Finally, as long-distance runners, you need an hour of extra sleep to   repair the running related damage..

In conclusion:
Barring stress control, Ranjan Das did everything right: eating proper    food, exercising ( marathoning! ),  aintaining proper weight. But he      missed getting proper and adequate sleep, minimum 7 hours. In my opinion,  that killed him.

If you are not getting enough sleep ( 7 hours ), you are playing with   fire, even if you have low stress.

I always took pride in my ability to work 50 hours at a stretch whenever  the situation warranted. But I was so pooked after seeing the scientific  evidence last week that since Saturday night, I ensure I do not even set  the alarm clock under 7 hours. Now, that is a nice excuse to get some more sleep.

Unfortunately, Ranjan Das is not alone when it comes to missing sleep.    Many of us are doing exactly the same, perhaps out of ignorance. Please    forward this mail/article to as many of your colleagues/friends as   possible, specially those who might be short-changing their sleep. If we  can save even one young life because of this email, I would be the  happiest person on earth.

Gilbert Goh, father of a 15-year old daughter, is one of the founders of the website transitioning.org which is also dedicated to helping those who are retrenched or unemployed.


3 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Benjamin on January 9, 2010 at 8:01 am

    Pls sent this page to my mail id


    • thanks for ur suggestion becoz i too sleeping only 5 hours per day due to my working hours are 12 hours per day(night shift) from last one month.i cont able to manage to sleep atleast 7 hours becoz of daytime sleeping. I aware that minimum 8 hours workingday rule is their for every company but in my company they planning to continue like this only.


  2. i feel very sad to miss a such talented & hightly acieved persons.


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