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Birth of a leader: The inspiring story of Wipro's Senior VP

Last updated on: December 23, 2013 12:21 IST

Birth of a leader: The inspiring story of Wipro's Senior VP

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Varsha Adusumilli, Yourstory.in

Senior VP and head of Wipro’s global IT business strategic unit Sangita Singh, shares inspiring moments from her 21-year-old professional journey and offers lessons in leadership for young professionals.

Sangita Singh is the senior vice president and head of Wipro’s global IT business strategic business unit -- which is focused on delivering business value through strategic solutions to healthcare and life sciences industry.

Sangita has spent 21 years of her career at Wipro Technologies in Bangalore.

Throughout her journey at Wipro, she sought out newer challenges and constantly scaled herself to become the leader that she is today.

As part of this role, she manages 10 percent of the multinational's global business.

She has won several accolades for her work and extraordinary leadership.

She was recognized as the Young Global Leader 2010 by the World Economic Forum. She was christened as the 'Outsourcing Wunderkid' by the Time magazine and is a recipient of Stevie Award for 'Best Asian Woman Executive' and 'Excellence in Information Technology' award by FLO, the women's wing of FICC.

Now without further ado, we delve deep into the mindset of this leader, and find out what makes her story tick!

Growing up in West Bengal

I was born and brought up in West Bengal. I completed my engineering from REC Durgapur. Post which, I have been at Wipro in Bangalore since the last 21 years.

When I was growing up in West Bengal, education was priority number one, which I am sure is the case in most middle class Indian families.

In Bengal, however, the goal for women was not just to be educated, but also to participate meaningfully in the society. However, I really came into being after my marriage.

Even though I was growing up in West Bengal, there was a lot of Bihar in me.

My parents are from Bihar. So I had to get married early and I had to be a good wife, I was growing up with that mindset.

Despite all that, there was always the confidence and courage to be oneself, which was inculcated in me by my parents.

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Image: Sangita Singh, Senior Vice President, Wipro Technologies
Photographs: Courtesy Yourstory.in

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'I urge all young people to seek a canvas for themselves'

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My husband: The person behind my career ambition

I was lucky. I give all the credit for my career growth to my husband.

I was married to be a devout wife and be happy raising children as a part of that. Ours was a very hard-core arranged marriage.

Within four to five days of our wedding, my husband said, "What do you want to do with your life?".

I thought it was a strange question! And he said, "Listen I don't want a working woman, I want a career woman. We both need to do really well and work hard to excel in our careers".

Those seeds were sown by my husband.

The pride of having professional success was inculcated in me by my husband. The courage to stand on my own and be myself was inculcated by my parents, but my husband gave me the direction and wings to fly in my career.

My husband is an entrepreneur. He started a products company 13 years ago after a 12-year stint at Texas Instruments.

He started his company with a bunch of his friends from IIT Kanpur, his alma mater. I feel very lucky to be his partner.

My rise at Wipro

My 21 years at Wipro have been full of ups and downs. The ups kind of gave me the momentum to carry through the lows as well.

I would say there has been an equal mix of ups and lows in my career.

Right from the early days, I wanted to be the best in whatever I do.

The much fabled story about my rise at Wipro has been when I took the role of the chief marketing officer at Wipro.

I walked up to the CEO and said I want to do that role. I was just nine years into the company, and was really a nobody.

Our CEO and the management took a vote of confidence and gave me the role. That was when I really came into being at Wipro.

I had a large canvas where I could paint for others to see the impact.

Many people are very very talented, but perhaps they do not get a canvas to paint.

I was able to seek a canvas for myself and then paint. I urge all young people to seek a canvas for themselves.

I really loved marketing.

Being the CMO was a joyous time for me. It was a big high point in my career.

Later, the management thought that I should take on larger responsibilities and move on to business from marketing.

Today, I run the healthcare and life sciences division at Wipro, and before that I was running the enterprise applications division.

The transition from marketing to business was very very tough.

There were a lot of naysayers who would say, "How can she run a business, she knows fonts and colours and she runs marketing, how can she run a business!"

Little did I realise that it took something else to run a business. I had to learn about business along the way, I had to learn about people management, I had to learn about how to manage large deals and so on and so forth.

I would call this phase my crucible of learning. It was a very humbling experience as well.

Was I scared? When I was into the job, I was not scared. I was determined to make it happen. But I am sure my boss would have been a little scared.

Now, business seems like second nature (laughs).

Even when I took over life sciences and healthcare, there were many quizzical looks "as in this is a very domain intensive unit, how will she run it". But I think it has been a very fruitful journey so far.

I learned that if you rely on basic common sense, and you rely on excellent execution capability and a very good team, everything works out -- so it all worked out for me in the end.


Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Reuters

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'It took some time for me to realise, everybody is different and need to be encouraged differently'

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What could I have done differently

I would say the ability to think really big. I think in my early days, I could have aspired a lot more with what I could have done with a role.

When I moved from marketing to business initially, it was really hard. Marketing was my love. For me the sky was the limit, I could think big.

In business, I was being told several times, "maybe you don't get it let me tell you again how to do this".

Maybe due to that, I lowered the bar of what I could have done in my first role in business. But when I came to healthcare and life sciences, I was very clear that I am not going to be concerned about what I don't know, but really push the team to think, think and think beyond boundaries.

Second is, I got a lot more experience in people management.

I was a very task oriented and execution oriented person, not that I was very harsh on anybody, but I just didn't understand the soft skills aspect of it.

I thought everyone would be like me, that if they were given a new lease of life, they would go lap it up.

It took some time for me to realise that everybody is different. They need to be encouraged differently, they need to be motivated differently, the roadmap that everyone needs is different. So I learned that part the hard way.

It could have been a gender issue, or maybe it was not a gender issue. But you know, this gender issue is a really subtle issue, it is never obvious, and no one ever has an honest conversation on that subject.

If you talk about it often, you run the risk of being tagged as a feminist, and it is just not healthy.

So what I did was, once that feedback started coming in that I was a little rough on the edges, I was not shy about asking anybody "what were their three tenets when it came to people management," and I kept learning constantly.

I sought help within Wipro and even outside of Wipro whom I consider are role models, I used to network to get those insights and then practice.

I would call people and talk to them for feedback, it is never the other way, when you need help, ask!

Just take the initiative. I don't think feedback is just with people who are senior to you, I really think there are many people on my team who I think are great people managers because they are inherently very good with people.

Of course, I could not execute on all of the tenants because we are all built very differently.

I think that is where my parents' upbringing and making me extremely confident in my skin helped a lot.


Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Yuriko Nakao/Reuters
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'Build trust with people, and inculcate hope for them'

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Leadership mantras

First is to build trust with people, and second is to inculcate hope for them.

Being able to say, "what is your road map, where do you see yourself going, and really have those kind of conversations as often as possible".

I would say those would be the two things that would establish the level of trust.

My drive is really to be the best in whatever I am doing, aspire big, and really have a large canvas.

Women need to help other women

I think women leaders help getting more women leaders.

In my team there is this lady whom I am extremely proud of, she is a VP here and heads delivery.

In our days, when we had very few women, the comfort that men had in communicating with women was equally less.

Usually you found two kinds of women, who are extremely aggressive like me and most people would say she is sharp on the edges, and then there are the mild ones who they say you can push out easily as they do not have leadership traits.

So many women do their work, and they do not get recognised. This lady was like that and I could understand what was going on.

There was a manager early on in my career, by the name V Ramakumar, and I really give him a lot of credit for helping me. He left his job here, he is an entrepreneur now and heads this company called Tarang Labs.

After all the men would have spoken, he would look at me and say, "Sangeeta what did you say", because most people would have cut me off by then. To give that kind of encouragement to women and ensure that they are not being cut off is very important.

Today in my direct reports, I have 24 per cent women.

What I need to make sure is that they get into business, most of them are in functions, they run quality, delivery, HR, marketing etc. And these women will not drop out.

For example this lady that I am talking about, her son works at Google, they have nothing else to worry about, and this is like second innings for them -- I tell them this often.

I talk to the women on my team regularly to ensure they are groomed and develop a comfort level.

Big audacious goals

I am very transparent and very fair. And I train myself and my team to dream big.

Let us say you want to scale the Mt. Everest, it doesn’t happen on Day 1, you train yourself every day to dream big. So set a goal that seems audacious enough and inspiring enough, and every single day you are at it.

Sometimes we do not know what that goal is, so we have to discover what that goal is. It is a continuous process, so we always keep saying that the bar has to be higher.

For me today, "if Economist carried an article saying that Wipro has done something innovative and created something that has changed the face of modern healthcare, I would be very happy". I feel I am in the phase of my career where I have more to give than take, if I can touch many people’s lives and if they can remember me for what they have learned from me, I would be very happy.

On balance

There is no balance, my husband and I just work.


Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Adnan Abidi/Reuters

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'I look for people who have the aptitude to learn'

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Encouraging young talents

I look for people with a lot of entrepreneurial skills, I look for people who have the aptitude to learn and generally a positive frame of mind.

I like to promote the younger talent if they show that they have it in them, and if they are dying to prove themselves, I would definitely take the risk. Because I got that in my career early on, I would like to pass it on.

On Wipro's plans

At Wipro, we would love to partner with companies.

If we could go to market jointly with innovative companies, then absolutely.

We co-invested in a company called Opera Networks, a high end analytics company based out of New Jersey largely focussed on the healthcare and financial services market.

We also could look at co-creating something, it would be very hard for us to attract the kind of talent that a start-up would attract, and it would be difficult for us to have the kind of Governance that a startup could have, so yes we would look at partnering at startups and younger companies.

Recommended reading

I recommend a regular read of Economist or Businessweek to stay updated and occasional reading of HBR.

Lots of fiction so that you can stay creative. Khalid Hosseini is my favourite author, I am hooked onto Jhumpa Lahiri's new book. 

The time for women is now!

The younger generation can really be the change that we all like to see in the world.

We sometimes look at our grandmothers and feel, "Oh my god they just wasted their intelligence, they were good in their home-keeping and they made the best embroidery etc -- but could they have done a business too", so I think the time is now for the women out there. And I am sure we will soon have women comprising 50 per cent of workplaces.


Image: For representational purposes only
Photographs: Reuters

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