Category Archives: Professional

Farewell to the APAC CEO

office

As I entered the conference room to join the farewell party of one of our youngest staff, Neelima, an energetic and passionate software tester, I was mentally preparing myself for hearing the Farewell Speech. This was standard protocol and I expected this to be a standard meeting. I had to get home quickly, after this meeting, to attend to Toyna, who was running high fever. Everyone one in the team was happy for Neelima as she started a new phase in her life. She was getting married and moving to new regions. We shared the cake, ice cream and some light hearted jokes. With that we immediately came to the point of Farewell speeches. Neelima started the speech thanking the Organization for all that she had learnt. She then looked directly at me and thanked me for being an inspiration in her life. She hoped to do someday strike a balance between home and work, like me. She hoped to be strong and committed, like me. She hoped to be one day leading an organization, from the front, like me. As she continued, I felt a lump forming in my throat. I quickly averted my gaze, not sure where to focus my eyes. I furtively searched for any inanimate object that I could stare at, just so that I didn’t have to look into the eyes of this young girl who held me in such high esteem. If only she knew the demons that I was carrying in my heart. If only she knew, that today was my last day too, in the organization as the Asia Pacific CEO of KINDUZ Business Consulting.

Wasn’t it just six months back that I took on this role with much élan!?! At that time, I was so sure about myself. I had worked hard to get to this role and I was determined to work harder to prove myself. Then what happened? Why was I stepping down? Why did I let go so quickly? While I knew the answers to these questions in my heart, and I had no regrets whatsoever for my decision, for some odd reason, I could still not look at Neelima in the eye. I could not tell her that all it takes for a woman to succeed, professionally, is grit and determination. Even though we might have spent decades in a profession, our first natural instinct still remains that of rearing young ones. Given a choice between welfare of children and a professional career, most women, even in today’s age, will choose welfare of children. We just cannot compromise on the needs of our family, even if it means leaving our dream job in someone else’s hands. It is not only my story but the story of thousands of women, out there, every day, who give up career in the interests of the family. In the last three weeks, just within my small circle of colleagues and friends, I have come across three senior women, having more than twenty years of experience, who took a sabbatical from work for family reasons. They are all extremely intelligent, passionate and in the prime of their career. But they choose to put their dream to rest, for some time, in order to focus on the needs of their family.

I am sure, a lot of women, who are reading this are scowling at me from behind their glowing mobile phone screens. I am sure, right now, I am being branded as the loser who is hiding behind her children as an excuse for not surviving in the corporate jungle. I am sure, feminists, around the globe might want to ban my blog warning women professionals about the negative impact my writing can cause on their careers. I honestly couldn’t care less what the world thinks of my decision. In my heart, I know, I am doing the right thing to focus on the one thing that is most important to me, my children.

So yes, if someday I was to be remembered as an inspiration, I hope I am not looked upon as an inspiration for making high profile careers/businesses. I would rather prefer to be looked upon as an inspiration of someone who had the guts to follow her heart, even if it meant leaving the air conditioned glass office and entering the steaming kitchen. Even if it meant that the only intellectual conversation I have in a day is about water vapor and trigonometry, I still chose to follow my heart.

Right now, my heart calls me to focus on the needs of my children. As my children grow more independent, I am sure my heart will have a different calling. Right now, all I can tell my heart is, “ Thank you for speaking! I am listening!”

P.S. Although I have stepped down from the highest position I have ever held,  I still head the Shared Services team at KINDUZ. I plan to continue in this role for some time to come.

Success, the root cause behind Failure

Home Sweet Home

Since the last few years, I have been harboring a dream. A dream which defines a purpose for my life. As I go to bed each night, I vow to take out time for my dream the next day. I promise to prioritize it above everything else. I promise to make it work, no matter what the odds are. The next morning chaos of breakfast, lunch boxes and exam revisions seamlessly intertwines with the chaos of meetings, phone calls and approvals by the evening. Was there an afternoon in between, I don’t seem to have noticed? As I step down from office at 7 PM, I curse myself for not living my dream for another day. Soon it is time for dinner, bedtime stories, tucking little ones to sleep and repeating yesterday’s promise in my heart again. Next morning comes and goes. Before I know it, I am sitting on the bed waiting for the children to sleep, cursing myself for breaking my promise again.

A few days back, tired of cursing myself every night, I decided to try something different. I decided to analyse what was it that I was doing wrong. What was the reason that stops people, like me, to take out time for the one thing that we are most passionate about; the one thing which defines us? What makes us fail to achieve the most important goal of our lives? I had thought it would take me years to discover the answer to such a question. But to my surprise, the answer hit me instantly like a cold slap on my face. It was as if the answer was all along waiting beside me, just waiting for me to just ask the question.

The reason behind my failure to achieve my coveted goal was none other than my success with the current life that I possessed. It was this feeling of being accomplished that gave me a false sense of happiness and security. I was not ecstatic about my job but I was happy enough not to risk giving it up, in order to follow my own dream. I was loved, respected, financially secure and independent in my job. Deep down, I knew my dream could not assure me even one of those in the starting years. Why should I bother risking everything I already had in order to pursue a dream that was not even real, till now. If only, I hated my work, I would have had a strong reason to build my individual dream. If only, I had a loathly husband, I would have been hell bent to craft an independent career for myself.

If only I was not so successful at my short term tasks, I would have been more focused on my long term goal.

If only….

Ladies in Charge

office

I happened to answer the office LAN Line number and was greeted by an overconfident female Sales Representative of an Insurance Company. She introduced herself quickly and immediately requested for her to be connected to “Sir“. I was confused.

I checked, “May I know who you need to speak to?”

She responded, “The Manager in Charge please.”

I responded, “Well! I am a Lady and I am the Manager in Charge”

Silence for 2 seconds.

She fumbled a little thereafter but managed to explain the requirement and I connected her to our Admin department.

I couldn’t help but muse that even in today’s world, the underlying assumption is that it is ultimately men who are in charge of management at large establishments. It pained me more because the assumption was made by a Lady Professional herself.

I guess Women in India need to lead many more successful organizations before this mindset will start to change.

Failure is the Biggest Teacher

Number 8

I learnt today –

Failure is a far more powerful teacher than success!!

Perhaps for the first time in my life, I am feeling immensely proud of having failed. I would have never learnt so much if I had succeeded.

Death of the Farmer buried in the Farming Vision

house on river

I sat through a high energy leadership session at a leading IT company, hearing future leaders talk about their dream; the one thing that wakes them up every morning; the one thing that doesn’t let them sleep at night. I was juggling between other office notes and chat messages on the side, expecting this to be just another vision mapping exercise. I thought I knew what most of them wanted – settle in USA, buy a Ferrari, and a home in Hollywood. Isn’t this what this generation is really working for? Isn’t this why they slog at their desks 24 * 7, have zero family life and have children who would rather play with a dumb electronic gadget than a real loving friend?

As these leaders starting narrating their dreams, I was forced to give up on my phone and turn my full attention to the conversation. Someone was talking about increasing crop yield and building water canals. I was confused. How did this align with buying a Ferrari? Another leader spoke about his 20 acre, ancestral, barren land that he wanted to transform into a fertile farmland. He wanted to set up an IT back office and do consulting right from his farm. They talked about their love for the land, love for farming and giving back to the community. The entire room was charged up with ideas, plans and passion towards agriculture as the source of livelihood. Yes, there were few others who wanted to take up spirituality, writing and health as their vision, but I didn’t hear a single leader talk about Ferrari, USA or Hollywood. Hmmm, I was outdated about my approach about this generation. These intelligent, passionate people were really not here for the money. They all had a bigger dream, which went bigger than money, power, cars and luxury holidays. Money, in their eyes, was just an enabler to their final dream. It was not the end goal in itself.

Fair enough! I was out of touch with the dreams of this generation. I could handle that. But how could this generation which had spent the maximum time, energy and finances in educating themselves, go back to farming? What happened to all the Technology Revolution, the IT infrastructure? Farming as a vision?? How could that be?

After a few hours of brooding about this dream, I realized the passion was real. They really wanted to give back to the mother earth. They wanted to go back to their roots and make a difference to the world which feeds each one of us. At this point, my wonder turned to anger. If, at least, 30% of the educated, intelligent, upper middle-class generation of this country is passionate about farming, then how come so many farmers of our country are committing suicide, each day? How is this passion in the heart not converting into action at the ground level? It sounds beautiful to talk about big vision statements which will materialize 15 years from now, but unless they start working on their vision in a small way, each waking day, how will this vision turn into a reality at the end of 15 years?

Yes, they have a truck load full of excuses that they do not have time right now. Their job is the utmost priority and they cannot be distracted from it. But in my angry mind, I just think they do not have what it takes to put action behind their vision. What if they fail? What if they lose money? These questions stop them from starting on their vision even before they can fail. If uneducated, poor farmers can sustain themselves and their families livelihood just on farming, imagine what WE could achieve given technology, connectivity and finances. In spite of all this, if this generation is still unsure of giving up your comfortable jobs and take up “Farming” as a full time career, they can at least think of how they can help the Farming Community in the world, today, through their education, technology and connectivity. They can build mobile apps for seed collection, weather forecasting, farming best practices, knowledge sharing, etc. They can volunteer for Government Projects in research and development. They can join NGOs trying to promote organic farming. If this is also not possible, they can at least buy food only from Farmers Markets in place of fancy supermarkets. They can take Farming vacations in place of comfortable, luxury vacations.

Essentially, they can do so much right now, while still continuing in their high pressure jobs to work towards their dream of “Farming”. In order to make this small contribution, they need to change thinking about their vision as a dream of one individual. They need to think of it as a need of the larger community. We can do so much more, right now, by leveraging our passion and our experience. We do not need to wait 15 years. We can organize funds, get the stakeholder buy-in, make a difference even today, provided we can answer this one question positively, “Is Farming really a part of our long-term vision?”

 

Read more on best practices in Agriculture:

 

My story of becoming the India CEO of KINDUZ

The Journey

It was 10:30 in the night. My manager and I had just completed our individual set of meetings over the phone. We still had a few hours of work ahead of us before we could call it a night. Thankfully, the children had slept on time today, allowing me the luxury of focusing on work uninterrupted. We sat down on the living room couch to catch our breath and talk about something that had been playing on our minds for some days. The lego blocks were scattered on the carpet ahead of us and the room bore the tired look of having hosted children throughout the day. But that was obviously the last thing on our minds. Business was growing extremely well, expanding into international countries. We needed more hands on the ground. We were excited about the senior leaders joining us but sad at the same time for loosing those who were not able to continue with us.

We felt we had to make some structural changes in order to meet the growing demands of the business. We brainstormed a few ideas and finally narrowed down to bringing in regional focus to the business. We discussed the existing leaders and the regions which needed focus. Slowly a plan started forming in the mind. We quickly got in to a call with two senior most leaders – Ujwal and Rana. Ujwal lives just next door so he came in quickly and squatted down on the lego-filled carpet for the impromptu discussion. Rana listened in over the phone. As the meeting progressed, Ujwals mind raced to define the strategy and his hands subconsciously reached out to the lego blocks for concentration. We discussed the plan, double checked everyone’s acceptance to it and quickly concluded the meeting. It had all taken a quick 15 minutes and at the end of it, I was the new India CEO. Rana Pratap Singh the Middle East CEO and Ujwal Tripurari our new Latin America CEO. That was it! The mood was somber. This was a big structural change and we needed to plan the communication and execution for it. There were now even more action items to close before we could call it a night. We all returned to our desks. The lego blocks had just won a night out from their bag. They decided to happily sleep right there on the carpet.

Next morning, as the announcement went out, we started receiving notes on Congratulations. For the first few hours, I was in denial.  I remarked to everyone, it’s just a new title. My role is still the same. I was doing pretty much most of it even before the title. So, in effect, nothing has changed.  Slowly I realized that I had been honored with the new title because of the fact that I was already doubling into this role for some time now. Without asking for permission or waiting for approvals, I had already exceeded the boundaries of my past role and started stepping into the new role. It had meant stretching myself and sometimes being pushed around for lack of authority, but I had continued on. I could not have afforded to sit within the boundaries of my existing role. I had to keep my eyes just beyond the horizon.

I now realize that when the time came for the decision to be made, my name would have been the obvious choice. There was no need of promotion recommendations. There was no need of playing politics. My work from the last few months had already positioned me in the new role, even before the new role had been created. That night, sitting amidst the lego blocks, it was not only my life that had changed. Life of Rana, Ujwal and Pavan (my manager and my husband) had also changed. In spite of the enormity of the decision, none of us congratulated each other. None of us asked for celebrations. We all had been playing the new roles for some time already. Having a title affixed to the work, did not matter much to any of us.

I write this blog today to record my story of becoming the India CEO of KINDUZ. There is nothing exceptional about the story. It was a pure simple business decision. I hope this blog serves as a gentle reminder to me and to all those reporting to me that there is no room for favoritism, politics or boot licking in our organization. Anyone can move forward to the next big role by looking beyond the horizon. As I ready to move full time into my new role, I leave behind a void for the role that I was playing previously. If there are any takers for the role, please feel free to just step in.

P.S – This story would never be complete without thanking all those who have supported me in this journey.

I thank all my past managers for their faith in me – Jayalakshmi Chati, Balachandran Iyer, Jim Mondi, Paul Janis, Charlie Li, Murat Aksu, Govindrajan Muthukrishnan and last but not the least Pavan Kishore K Subramanya.

I thank my loving family for their love and advice in good times and bad – Pamila Roy (in the role of Matrix), Aartee Roy (Didi), Heeral, Savithri Kota (Amma), Radha Krishna Murthy Kota (Nanna) (also the financial pillar behind KINDUZ), Padmavathi (Ammama) and of course my darling husband.

Last but not the least, I thank my unreliable and fussy maids, who choose to serve me for some months at a time. Without their meager monthly contributions, I would never have reached this far.

Cairo, I love you!

Cairo 1

What is the first thing that comes to mind when we think of Egypt? It is not the Pyramids. It is not the Nile. It is the political instability. As I prepared to join my husband on my first business trip to Cairo, I had the same sentiments in my mind. I didn’t really care so much about visiting the Pyramids. I cared more about returning home safely. Friends and family requested me not to go. Once they realized that I am not going to change my mind, they showered me with safe travel checklists and advice – carry a spare phone, dress conservatively, don’t venture out alone, etc., etc. I took my time to plan for this trip. Of course, I wanted to be back home with my kids safe and sound. I landed in Egypt 5 days ago and honestly speaking, none of the planning really helped me prepare for what was actually in store for me.

The airport was absolutely clean. The staff very courteous, helpful and professional. As I stepped out after immigration, I could hear the request for Taxi services from all direction. “Wow, this is so much like India” was my instant reaction. But nah! I didn’t need a taxi today. My love was waiting for me just on the other side of the glass doors. The chauffeur for our car spoke English pretty well and he whisked us into the city.

This is when my heart literally sank. The city was BEAUTIFUL! Wide clean roads, rows of beautiful apartments dotting the entire landscape and clean blue sky. There was no sign of any pollution on the roads, in the air, and most importantly in the minds of the beautiful people of this country. While I admired the city, in the back of my mind, I kept searching for some marks which would indicate the bitter political upheaval that the country has just been through. Where are the broken buildings, shattered window panes, or the army for security? How can this city look so safe and mesmerizing so soon?

For the first two days, as we traveled to business meetings and plant sites, I kept searching for signs of trouble. There was nothing I could find. I came across extremely professional, loving people who have very close ties to their families. They love India and everything about Indian including our dresses, our food and our Bollywood. I met an eleven year old Egyptian girl who dreams of one day marrying Shahrukh Khan. I was smiling throughout.

I consider myself fortunate to have been able to see some of the most beautiful countries in the world. While each country possesses its own charming characteristics, there are very few countries/cities which just grow on you so easily. In my love list, Venice tops the charts. And surprisingly Cairo silently sneaked into the second place even before I knew it. The amazingly strong Pyramids and the beautiful Nile are just some of the things that make you fall in love with this city. More than that, it is the rich culture, the strong family ties, and the love with which they receive you. It is the balance between the history and the modernity witnessed in the Pyramids on the one hand and the swanky shopping malls and hotels on the other. It is the sense of peace and the focus on developing strong, reliant infrastructure. It is self regulated traffic, it is the hygiene, it is the love for life that you can sense around you.

Today is my last day at Egypt. Had it not been for my children waiting for me back home, I would have extended my trip to visit a few more places and soak in a little more of the culture. I have fallen in love yet again and I am absolutely not complaining about it.

P.S. Cairo is the dream holiday destination for anyone. I found it better than other Middle East holiday destination as it is not just another city with modern infrastructure.

See more:

Nile Maxim Dinner and Cruise

Pyramids of Giza

Stay at Al Rehab city (see apartments at Air BnB)

Cairo2

There is no shame in being a Working Parent

Play TimeIn the past, I have often felt guilty when my children screamed for attention in the middle of late evening office conference calls. No matter how hard you try and avoid such calls; lets face it, we all end up getting into those just to connect with folks who are unreachable during the day. I have apologized profusely for the interruptions and begged to be ignored for a while. For a long time, I have even considered myself incapable of being a good professional as long as I had children by my side.

10 years of juggling children and work, and yet rising in my career, has taught me one thing – Children don’t hold you back in your career. When your manager promotes you in spite of the many interrupted conference calls, it shows that you are much more valuable to him than the interruptions. Of late, I have encouraged my team not to feel guilty about their home situation during office meetings. Just the fact that they have been able to get on to the call, leaving the family at a stand by, shows the commitment they have towards their work. So what, if the little one wants a toy RIGHT NOW or has an urgent need to go relieve himself, in between the call. It is perfectly all right! You can just put the phone on mute and let the water run in the background.

The career options we have chosen, doesn’t have to necessarily translate into a less active family life. My son and daughter are both known to work on my laptop, once in a while, and send gibberish messages to the office chat groups. Well, if my manager expects me to carry work home, he better be prepared for the gibberish messages as well. I refuse to apologize for them anymore. In fact, the office teams have a good laugh at the messages, trying to interpret the coded words.

Being a parent is a blessing! Being able to adopt a full time career along with being a parent is a double blessing. Why should I ever feel guilty about it? As long as I am adding more positive value than the nuisance value that my children bring to the table, I know, my organization will continue to promote me.

Dear Team,

If you are reading this, please have your children be more active during office meetings/activities and office. I sincerely believe children have a lot to learn from, once in a while, office experience. If we can bring work home, we have every right to take our home to work too!

P.S. We have a nice little children area in our Hyderabad office. We can look at creating something in our other offices too.

Network with the Second Level Supplier

Washer ManI have learnt that in order to find the right resource for your project you should create a relationship with the suppliers who provide resources to the resource you need.

For example: When searching for a cook for my household, we approached agents, bakeries, and sweet shops but did not get any response. After all these people consume the resource in demand (in this case a cook) themselves. So why would they pass on their own valuable resource to me.

Then one evening, when I was buying vegetables with our neighborhood Green Grocer, I broached the subject for a cook with her. She thought for a while and said she will let me know. We exchanged numbers and parted ways. She referred two cooks to me. I didn’t like them, but I found the connection working. I dropped my number with three more vegetable sellers in my neighborhood and my phone has been ringing non stop since then.

This experience taught me that these second level suppliers are much more willing to share their client details upstream. By doing so, they are actually doing a favor to their client and hence creating loyalty for their own brand. So the next time, I am looking for a good resource, I will need to identify the supply chain for that resource and make a relationship with the second level supplier directly.

See, I always told you, there is a lot to learn on Project Management from simply running a household.

Vendors are like your own Children

Negotiations

Handling unprofessional vendors is very similar to handling your kids. On a typical day, this is how the conversation between me and my kids go:

Child: Mama, I want to have a Yogurt now.

Mom: No, but it is almost lunch time. How about you have it after you have finished your complete lunch nicely.

Child: Nooo! But I want it right now.

Mom: But you know the rules; we don’t eat snacks before lunch. It will spoil our appetite for lunch.

Child: Nooooooo!!!!! You never listen to me!! You don’t even love me!!!!!

Mom (hands crossed, trying to hold back the rising frustration, taking deep breaths and waiting for the outbreak to subside)

Child (after two minutes of screaming and wailing): Please Mom!

Mom: Finish your lunch quickly! I am keeping your Yogurt out on the table, just for you. See you have your favorite curry in lunch.

———————

On a typical day, this is how my conversation goes with some of my vendors:

Vendor: Please release my payment urgently. I am in need of funds.

Director, KINDUZ: I understand your situation, but you are yet to complete your deliverable. As per the agreement, we cannot release the payment till you deliver it and KINDUZ has reviewed it and signed off on it.

Vendor: Noooo you cannot do this! The agreement is not above the trust that we have with each other. I have been working with you for so long. I have supported you in good times and bad times. How can you hold my payment!!

Director, KINDUZ: I am not holding your payment. We will process it as soon as we have received the deliverable.

Vendor: Noooooooooo! You are cheating me! You promised me you will release my payments on time.

Director, KINDUZ (Exasperated, Feeling like switching off my phone, and email and ears and eyes to this world; waiting for this wave to pass by)

Vendor (after couple of irrational mails, phone calls and messages): Ok, I agree to complete my deliverable quickly. Please release my payment thereafter.

Director, KINDUZ: Absolutely! You have my word on it! As soon as we have it signed off! Look forward to the deliverable!

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I feel blessed to have children who are assertive! Children are supposed to be like that. However, for some unknown reason, I don’t feel as blessed when working with vendors who behave like children. I don’t think vendors are supposed to be like that!

As a mom, I can still break the rules, once in a while. Take a break; skip the lunch; eat yogurt for lunch, dinner and breakfast. But I am not a Mom for my vendors. When leading an organization, I cannot break the contractual rules. I can lend money as a friend, but I cannot advance payments for deliverables that have not been delivered.

I hope they understand! It is nothing personal! It is all a part of business!!