Lead with your Heart, Gut, and Brain with Rohit Tandon – Episode 11
“The best idea in the world will die without the storytelling that brings it to life.”
My guest for this conversation is Rohit Tandon. Rohit is the Senior Vice President and Business Leader of GENPACT Analytics and Research Business where he drives change and influences results by helping clients harness the value of big data and analytical insights. With over 25 years of leadership experience in companies like GE, IBM, and Hewlett Packard, Rohit is able to help companies build clarity of purpose and structure in order to deliver the performance and financial results they seek.
Essential Learning Points:
- How do you encourage curiosity in the formative years? “Early in life, I became curious to see beyond what I see, to learn to appreciate different points of view, and to find new and better solutions.”
- Why should you make non-linear carrier moves to develop end-to-end capabilities? What Rohit learned in the few months in advertising is that, “the best idea in the world will die without the storytelling that brings it to life.”
- What did you learn in the early development of Accenture India? Needing to become a Generalist and address strategy and execution issues is the best preparation for a General Manager role.
- What is the best learning experience? “At GE I was surrounded by leaders I looked up to and wanted to emulate. This was the best development experience ever.
- “I only hire to my team people who know more than I do in at least one domain and aspect of our business.”
- Change is an opportunity. A lot of energy is spent on trying to resist change. That energy is better spent in trying to understand the rationale for the change and then identifying the opportunities in the change.
- Take more risks. Take more leaps of faith, don’t over analyze. Enjoy what you are doing. It’s your responsibility to create the role. Lead with your heart, gut, and brain.
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- Read Full Transcript
Rohit Tandon: You've just got to be able to understand how people operate, you got to be able to connect with them, and you've got to be able to bring them together as a team.
Welcome to Create New Futures, thought-provoking conversations with leaders, experts, and interesting minds. Join us as we explore ideas and reflect on practices that you can use and apply to create and shape the future with your host, author and strategy consultant, Aviv Shahar.
Aviv Shahar: Welcome to Create New Futures, where we develop conversations with successful professionals and thought leaders to explore ideas and practices you can apply to create new futures for yourself and for your business.
This is Aviv, and today, I'm speaking with Rohit Tandon. Rohit is the Senior Vice President and Business Leader of Genpact Analytics and Research Business. In this capacity, he drives the growth of the analytics business and the development of solutions to help clients harness the value of big data and analytical insights. Rohit has 25 years of leadership experience across industries with roles at Accenture, GE, IBM, and Hewlett Packard. His unique skill is taking on a complex space that's undergoing transformation and leading his organization to build clarity of purpose and structure, and deliver performance and financial results.
I had initially met Rohit when he was the Vice President of Strategy and worldwide head of HP Global Analytics. In this conversation with Rohit, we explore his professional growth and capture insights from his experience in leadership roles at Accenture, GE, IBM, and HP. Here, then, is my conversation with Rohit.
Rohit, it's great to have you here. Welcome.
Rohit: Thanks, Aviv. It's a pleasure to be here with you.
Aviv: What have I missed in terms of your early background and experience in this introduction?
Rohit: I think you hit it just perfectly on the spot for this recording. This is just fine.
Aviv: I know you are just back from a travel. Where have you been and what are you working on these days?
Rohit: Aviv, it's a tough job traveling around the globe these days, and it gets even tougher when you end up, once in a while, traveling with a family, because if you make the mistake of pointing out that the furniture in one of the business lounges at the airport has changed, the wife certainly turns back and tells you, "How come you never notice those changes when I do that at home?" It's getting trickier and trickier to travel out there.
But, part of the job, I've been in Florida and Miami for a conference about anti-money laundering, I was in India for another set of meetings, and New York, I've been trying to avoid going there, but I've already made a few trips. So, with all the snow and all the cold out there, trying to make sure I still have enough warm clothes when I go there from sunny California.
Aviv: For location and for people that are not familiar with Genpact, can you give us some understanding of what Genpact is and what the company brings to market?
Rohit: Sure. Genpact originally started off as a GE shared services unit, and it got so terribly successful that GE's customers started knocking on their doors saying, "Let us in." Because of that, in 2005, GE spun off Genpact as an independent unit. It's listed on the stock exchange on the New York Stock Exchange with the letter "G", which we were lucky to get at the time.
Over the course of the last 10, 12 years, Genpact has become a company that helps its clients transform themselves from the traditional space that they work in to accommodate and accept changes, to bring in digital tech capabilities to help drive much more efficient processing of their operations, running them with the right level of analytics, digital and process capability.
That's what we do. We help our businesses go from where they are today to where they need to be to be competitive in the future.
Aviv: The value proposition is helping your clients operate at a higher level of insight and efficiency as a result?
Rohit: Absolutely. On the operation side, a lot of efficiency, a lot of transforming yourself so that you are able to compete with the new companies, like the new FinTech's that are coming out who are built on a digital firsthand foundation, who don't have the legacy of old systems and old data things slowing them down. So, we give our clients the process, the new capabilities, and the insights not only to run their operations, but also to make effective and better business decisions as they go out into the marketplace.
Aviv: As my introduction indicated, you have held roles in a number of admired companies, and since the focus of my fascination with the leadership journey is always about what enables people to thrive and get to grow to the new responsibilities that they find themselves in later, I wonder if you can share some of the earlier experience and the setting in your upbringing that helped you and guided you in the direction that you later took in your leadership roles.
Rohit: Sure. Interesting question. It takes me back a few years. Growing up in New Delhi in India, which it doesn't look anything like it used to in those days, we used to live in a place where there were maybe five houses in a 25-acre space of land, and now I think you'll find five families living in each house, probably. That's how crowded it's gotten. In the early years, I grew up in a family where my father was a commercial pilot. So, he used to fly around the globe, and I was lucky to get the exposure with him, and get exposed to various cultures, various capabilities that a normal child would not be able to get sitting just out of India in those days.
As I picked up those capabilities and the diverse set of experiences, what it did was it made me an extremely curious person. I knew that I could not be just looking at what existed in front of me and presume that that was the best. I figured out that if you look beyond, you would be able to find something better, or if you look beyond and you put two and two together, you'd be able to find a better solution to whatever you were looking at, and that solution could range in those young days from the tennis racket that you could buy in the local market versus what you could get from somewhere else, to the kind of shoes that you wore, or the technology that you were exposed to.
It made me a curious person who was always looking beyond my immediate realm for ideas, for solutions. It also made me a person who could appreciate different points of view, and that helped me a lot as I was growing up because I was always open to ideas, I was always open to opinions, I was always open to differing set of opinions, and I use that on a day-to-day basis in my career today. I think it's close to what you refer in your book as conversations, how do you have those conversations, and I found that conversing with people and trying to understand where they were coming from rather than always trying to show what you knew, that just added so much more value and so much more learning to me that I've been able to amass that. Actually, I'd say I'm standing on a sum total of all the experiences that I've had that I've gained from interacting with people from across the globe as I was growing up.
Aviv: Fascinating context, because the unique experience of your father being a commercial pilot exposed you earlier on to the world, and in essence, made you a citizen of the world, which is an experience that you were later able to bring to the kind of roles you take in global companies. That, and the open mind, and the curiosity that it engendered in you, and how that experience enables you to see diverse points of view, and assimilate and internalize opportunities and possibilities that, perhaps, others would not be opening to seeing. So, can you trace when you're finishing high school and you are thinking about the higher education and the next steps that you want to take, and what are the ideas you have in mind at that time?
Rohit: Funny you take me back to that age. A couple of things I can share. One, first thing to answer your question directly, this is what I tell my kids: when I was growing up, most of the things that I work on today didn't even exist as a career. So, I was absolutely clueless about what I was going to do when I grew up. We grew up in an environment where unless you could clearly state that you were going to be a doctor, an architect, a musician, and then it's starts getting clearer, an engineer, you were considered to be clueless about what you wanted to do.
I fell into the last category, and I ended up taking up computer sciences because it fascinated me, it was a new space, it was a new area when we started up with those huge machines that could fill up a full floor, and did my Bachelor's and Master's in computer sciences. But, I don't think, even at the end of that Master's, I was clear what I wanted to do. Because, just as I finished my Master's, I left all of computer sciences, I walked out of the startup that I had created along with a few buddies, and I went into, of all things, advertising, and that to the creative side of advertising. So, I used to write ads, and I used to write copy for ads with the J.W. Thompson, which is one of the largest advertising firms that's ever known.
Aviv: What was the startup that you initially embarked on?
Rohit: It was core systems software. We used to do a lot of development in terms of security, computer security, information security. At the other end of the spectrum, we also worked with the Indian government to help them crack open a lot of systems where the suspected data has been stored for illegitimate purposes, for fraudulent business transactions, as well as, at that point of time, monitoring some of the potential adverse events which they wanted to track out a system.
So, hardcore systems in, really, the dark depths of data are trying to figure out and understand that data is what we used to do, and we also started a whole division doing application software for the hospital industry and the shoe industry, which is big in India at that time, and also expanded it, just as a hobby, to assembling computer systems. That was more as a hobby, but it will pay for some of the excitement we used to create by having motorbikes and things we would spend our money on.
Aviv: So, you then simply sell your startup and head into the advertising space for a new adventure?
Rohit: Now that I'm sitting in Palo Alto and in the hub of the Silicon Valley in investment banking, I wish I had sold it and not just said, "Guys, I'm walking out. Thanks so much."
Aviv: So, then you find yourself in the advertising space, which is very different to computer sciences. What are some of the important learnings you were able to distill and internalize at that time?
Rohit: Very importantly, I learned the true meaning of the Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel song, which was "Writing songs that lips never share". I realized how important it was for anything you develop, any product that you made, to be able to advertise it and bring it out in the eyes of the people so that they would buy it. Otherwise, the best idea will die a death inside a briefcase or inside your room.
Also, it kind of accentuated my belief that, in this world, to succeed, you need to be a good storyteller. So, you've got to be able to take an idea, you've got to be able to take a product, but then you've got to be able to tell a story around that. Otherwise, it's just another dead product line on, let's say, a shelf. It's the story that makes the difference.
Aviv: To connect with emotions, to connect with imagination, we have to tell a story.
Aviv: So, what happens then? How long did you stay in the advertising space, and where does it lead you next?
Rohit: I was there for just under a year, and I had actually made the mistake of applying to a few places - and I say that in jest - a few large companies, and some of them traced me down and tracked me down, and Accenture Consulting was the most exciting out of them where they called me for a conversation and said, "Rohit, what are you doing in advertising? Why are you in advertising? You've done your computer sciences, and you've done your Bachelor's and Master's," and the answer I gave to the MD, the managing director, was I said, "I'm in it because I can," and he said, "What do you mean?" I said, "See, we talk about we get onto the tube - in those days, the TV was called the tube - you get on the tube and you talk about what you're being taught in school, and colleges doesn't really work in the real business world. It's a question of how do you take it and how you apply it," and that has to be taught by the companies that are doing the hiring, and there was a huge question about gap in terms of ready talent for the market.
When I say this, one, I learned all of this in computer sciences, I applied it. I've now seen the marketing and the advertising aspect of it. Here's how, for me, it all comes together as a wider set of end-to-end capabilities of being able to conceptualize something to taking it to market. Three minutes later, I had my offer in my hand saying, "We want you on the team. We're starting up Accenture Consulting in India, and we need people like you who can think about things beyond just the closeted ways in which they are being defined."
Aviv: Let me capture the learning insight of this story you share, which is that, sometimes, it is smart to follow a non-linear path, and take the next step following an inspiration that guides you to do something that you wouldn't otherwise do, which is the essence of the story that Steve Jobs tells about picking up calligraphy. In this case, you found yourself with an advertising experience, and all of a sudden, you're able to bring to Accenture a background and a set of skills and experiences that create, for you, competitive advantage.
Rohit: Absolutely. It's about working on yourself and continuously evaluating, also, what are some of the things that you can add to your arsenal of capabilities to differentiate you from the rest, to make you be able to do things beyond what 20 other people would be able to do who kind of are walking in stride with you. Therefore, you've got to sometimes look at yourself, especially in your early career, on how do you package yourself, and it becomes important, therefore, to add these capabilities to your arsenal of skill sets.
Aviv: Can you trace at what point in your career do you develop this conscious thought, which is, "How do I package myself?" Is it something that you had back then, or is it something that you are now able to develop and frame with the benefit of time looking backward?
Rohit: Interestingly, if I were to trace it back, I would trace it all the way back to high school. Not this part of my career. I might have better words and better language to wrap the whole thing in, but I remember way back in high school, I got thrown out of school. For a week, I was suspended, because apparently, I had not done well in one of the exams. When I was allowed back in school, I found out that my father had gone and met with the principal who had thrown me out and said, "Hey, my son's never performed so bad. What happened?" and what he told him is, "Mr. Tandon, Captain Tandon, my problem is not that your son has performed well or bad. My challenge is your son has not performed and not utilized all the potential that he has, and that's what I want him to do. He might be doing great in exhibiting three of the qualities that he's got out of the 10, but that's not good enough for me."
Aviv: Wow, so not holding you accountable to a performance measure, but rather holding you accountable to your potential. Absolutely fascinating insight, and when I talk about the three pillars of trust and we examine the behaviors that create trust, one of those that we look at is the idea of holding people accountable to their true potential and expecting them to deliver their full capacity. That must have been an absolutely enlightened teacher to take that kind of a position and expectation from you as a student.
Rohit: Absolutely. Any time anyone asks me, he has been one of the key mentors for me. His name is one of the first names that pops up. That was a life-changing moment for me.
Aviv: At that point, you are at Accenture India. What are the skills and capabilities that you are learning and developing through this experience?
Rohit: As I mentioned, Accenture was just starting off its operations in India, the consulting operations that didn't do any of the business process management pieces in India at the time. What a small team of five or seven people had to do was be able to represent this huge global giant in the local Indian economy. So, we would have to be prepared to have conversations on anything from strategy to supply chain optimization to reorg, to process technology change, as what used to be the three kinds of pillars on which Accenture used this time, and what it did was you realized that you were not walking in there as an individual. You were walking in representing a large organization and there is absolutely no way you could do that on your own without significant amount of reliance on your teammates, both who are physically there, as well as who you had to connect with virtually, and then you can imagine, in the '90s, connecting back virtually wasn't that easy, but who you could connect with on a global level, how to leverage their knowledge, their experience, and then be able to condense and take it to a client in a manner that you could convince them of the ability of Accenture to deliver what needed to be done versus you delivering what needed to be done.
Aviv: You are learning, at that stage, to be a team player, and you're learning to access the resources of a large company, and you also face a variety of situations where you need to be able to address and respond to topics on a whole range of areas, and in many ways, it forces you to become a generalist, which is perhaps the best preparatory training to becoming, later, a general manager of almost anything.
Rohit: Absolutely. If you limit yourself to -- again, different people have different aspirations. Some people can be extremely deep in technology, for example, or a particular skill set and grow in that line. But, if you aspire to be a general manager, extremely important for you to go wide and be able to leverage different capabilities, different skill sets from across your team, beyond your teams, and beyond all geographies.
Aviv: What do you remember as the most challenging assignment or biggest challenge that you faced as you're working with your team to build the India arm of Accenture?
Rohit: A couple of them I would mention. One, how do you take the stable ratio -- there's a line that gets drawn beyond which you can't just talk about what's possible, how do you take it to a level of being able to execute? And that's when it became a reality that you had to roll up your sleeves, and because you were a small team, dive into the details of everything and make things happen. I mean the phrase "make things happen rather than do things".
Because, again, you couldn't do everything yourself, but your ability to understand everything from technology, to process, to the business reality, and thereby be able to guide and lead teams who had to be assembled and put together for every assignment. It's not teams you've been working with for years. You had to put these teams together, there were a set of people, and managing them through the entire process. I would say that would be the biggest challenge that one faced at that point in time.
Aviv: Right, so your early experience with leadership is right there at this stage with Accenture India when you need to pull together resources to meet and deliver to the opportunities and the needs that are presented to you.
Rohit: Absolutely. That's really by learned, the fundamentals of leading large teams. Because, before that, it was more personal leadership, and then being able to work with a couple of colleagues and getting things done because you were the boss.
Aviv: What happens then? I believe you stayed at Accenture for seven years and what happened next?
Rohit: I did. I was traveling like a madman, and also went through some crazy experiences. I was in Indonesia. We had to bail the team out, we had to evacuate the team on the military tower because of the coup that happened there, and that's the time I decided. I told my family, "That's it; done. I'm going to move away from all of this." I stopped traveling, I had a little child at the time, so I said I'm going to reduce my travel, and that's around the time when GE was looking at setting up its operations in India, and reached out to me, and offered me an opportunity to be part of the team that set up what is now Genpact.
Aviv: What year is that when GE is setting up its Indian operation?
Rohit: This was in '98. They've done some proof of concepts, and in '98, they started the conversation with me and I joined them early '99.
Aviv: At what point do you become the CIO for GE India?
Rohit: Interesting journey out there. GE hired me to be one of the key business development people for what is now Genpact because of my global experience that we talked about, and after doing that, and let me mash it all up, I did that and I became the Six Sigma leader for the company. I also set up some new lines of business. Again, it's all startup mode, so you can understand.
In three years, after we grew to more than 10,000 people, I moved to the U.S. to be with GE commercial financiers, the Six Sigma leader there to help drive lean Six Sigma across non-industrial processes that had never been done before, even within GE, and rising out of the success of that, the CIO and quality head of GE would see me work very closely and driving the change. He asked me to take on this leadership role back in India as a CIO for GE India in Southeast Asia, apart from a few other things that were put into that role.
Aviv: What would you say about the learning and development experience at GE? GE, obviously, a company that prides itself in terms of how it develops its people and the investment that it makes in its people. So, how would you describe the most important elements of that experience for you?
Rohit: A couple of things there. One, very clearly, in terms of leadership development and nurturing talent, GE was absolutely crucial in my learning, and it was an environment where, practically, every leader that I met, I would look up to and aspire to be like that person, which was something that was new for me. It was, "Wow." I always thought I was up there, but I suddenly got pitched - I wouldn't say against. I got thrown into the teams of leaders who just knew so much more, who knew how to lead teams much better, and it was a daily learning experience getting into work and working with those leaders. I don't want to pitch it against what it was in Accenture, because that was a totally different kind of learning experience.
The other big thing at GE was just the scale. The size of the projects, the size of the work, the size of the impact, being able to work on multi-billion dollar portfolios and drive an incremental change there which would be equivalent to a full year's revenue for the initial ideas of Accenture in India was like it got you to a different level of values that you were working with and in business impact that you were working with.
The third, I like to -- I'll use my favorite analogy of Mona Lisa. When you work in an Accenture kind of place, you get to see the ear of one painting, the nose in another, the smile in another. You'll never get to orchestrate the entire painting, and being in GE and being in a large multi-billion-dollar business, you're able to see all parts of it, and you're able to see it all come together as one beautiful picture, beautiful painting, which is an experience in itself. I know you love classical music, so it's like listening to the different instruments being performed separately versus the whole orchestra coming together and listening to that sound. That's the best analogy I can give in terms of how the learning was.
Aviv: The impression of scale and of seeing a large enterprise operating and humming together is a formative experience that you can then take forward into any next challenge that you face, and the other thing I'd highlight from your story is this absolutely rare and precious experience of being surrounded by very smart people who have experience that you don't have, and this is truly the aspirational position.
The aspirational position is not to be the smartest on your own, but rather to be surrounded by people that can enhance your experience because of what they bring to the table, and looking at them, and finding opportunities to emulate and carry that experience forward is truly a precious experience. Then, at some point, you, I believe, make the transition to IBM. Give me a bit of a context for that next leg of the journey.
Rohit: Sure. Before I jump to that, you know any important qualities I don't want to miss adding to that, the whole thing of surrounding yourself with people who know more than you, I use it all the time when I build my teams. I make sure that anyone who comes and joins my team knows more than me in at least one or more areas so that it's not a one-way learning process for them. It's a two-way learning process. We can talk about that later, but I didn't want to miss sharing that. It's something that I learned at GE as well, getting the right people on the team who you can learn from rather than just from your details.
Rohit: The transition, I go back to your introduction. As you've seen, I enjoy being in areas where I can drive a lot of change and I can influence a lot of results. After spending around nine-odd years with Genpact and GE, last of it was I was running the analytics business for Genpact, and we were doing so incredibly well that we didn't want to change anything, and we wanted to cut new on the glide path that we had set ourselves for, and that was the right decision for the business.
But, obviously, that made it a place where I wasn't being utilized enough, and again, much more potential than being utilized, and I said, "I need to get some fresh air; I need to get out." Luckily, the leaders were very open, receptive, they understood, and that's when I joined IBM as it's a long designation, so I won't go into it. But, basically, I was running everything other than HR in finance for IBM's business process services unit, and set some new lines of business there again, started up their analytics process, which grew into and merged into the old smarter planet initiative for IBM, and I did that for a bunch of years before I realized I needed a different kind of environment, and I needed a more global play than I was finding available to me at IBM.
Aviv: I'm curious, Rohit, coming from GE to IBM, how would you characterize the culture of these two great companies, one against the other?
Rohit: That's a very tough question, Aviv, and I've got lots of friends in both the companies, so you're going to put on a spot by asking me that question. Both have their own positives. I obviously grew up in GE, and therefore I enjoyed working in an environment which was more open and you had much more access. I mean, I could reach out to Jack Welch and I've had meetings with Jeff Immelt when I was in GE versus an IBM base structure, and it works beautifully for a lot of people like that. Clearly, IBM and GE, both hugely successful, companies both hugely successful in generating leaders, and generating thought leadership.
I spent so much time in GE, when I went to IBM, it took a little bit of time to adjust to that culture, but once I did, I found it to be a great learning place for doing a lot of things in a very structured manner, in a very disciplined manner. Whereas, at GE, I got used to a little more elbow room and wiggle room, and one could come to the table with an idea regardless of where in the organization you were, and at IBM, it had to go through a significant process.
What I did was even at IBM, I decided, "I'm going to figure out how to manage this whole process and figure out how to get on top of it," and I did that with getting an acquisition during one of the most toughest times, economic crisis in 2008, 2009 around that time, and successfully got that through, then did one more thing. I successfully eliminated the job they had hired me for by varying my strategy role and showing how an entire layer that they had created for which they want me to be the head, it just didn't make sense.
So, I surprised my boss' boss boss, and people who work at IBM would understand the layering, when over lunch, he was discussing me taking over my boss' job, and I said, "Actually, here's my blueprint on how the job should get eliminated." That's what I did out there, setting up some new lines, and that's where I found the difference there that it was so structured that you had to first learn it, but for someone like me, after you've learned and mastered it, you just continue working in that manner on and on where it's not something that I enjoyed very much.
Aviv: The important learning of this part of the story is that there are different elements that, together, shape the experience that we develop through our careers. So, obviously, creating for yourself a role that brings challenges and learning opportunities is one critical element. Another is the broader culture in the ethos of the company, and then there are other elements too.
But, the important thread through this is that in every stage during our career, we're not just merely doing a job. Rather, you have two jobs at every stage along your career. There is the job you actually do, and there is the learning and the development job, which is your interior experience. I discussed this in Create New Futures where I talk about champion learners, and how critical it is that we bring ourselves to the professional experience with that focus and intensity of wanting to extract the most learning out of every situation.
The other story you shared there of how you got yourself out of a job really is something that I've seen and observed with some of the best and most successful leaders, which is that they get themselves out of a job either because they trained somebody to succeed them, or they simply eliminate that job altogether.
Then, at some point, you make the transition to HP, and obviously a company that, at that time, is going through one change after another after another. Share a bit about that experience of coming into HP at that time as the company goes through tremendous transformation and change.
Rohit: It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, of my career. The last six years that I was there at HP, I was actually going, I put in my papers, leaving IBM, and going on a sabbatical. I wanted to get some time for myself, do some sport, write a book. I planned to go to all the four tennis Grand Slams that year, and then HP chased me down saying that they needed help in understanding and organizing around analytics. This is 2010, I remember August, September time frame when I was comfortably planning out the rest of my year, and they chased me down and said, "Okay, here's a couple of tickets. Go meet these people in Bangalore. They're coming in from Germany and from the U.S., and no commitments. Just go and meet your friends, spend a couple of days there, and in between, take out two hours for these discussions." I said, "Why not? I have nothing better to do. I'm taking it easy."
Had some very interesting conversations with the people who I met, and before I left the room, they said, "We want you on the team," and they wanted me to speak with their boss, someone who worked for Mark Hurd, who was still the CEO at the time. So, HP, at that point in time, had these disparate teams which used to work on data, some do reporting, some do analytics. This is all for internal stuff, but there wasn't a strategy behind it. So, they wanted me to come onboard and grab that, and make sense out of it, and I committed that I'm on, but maybe only for a year.
Now, to the fascinating part of change: a week before I joined, there was a change at the CEO level, and I got a call saying, "Hey, we are still keen and we are still interested in the strategy that we shared. We've confirmed with the board that they want to go ahead, so please join us." So, I went ahead and came onboard. I said, "Okay, great. Still gives a great platform to drive some change," and then we had a new CEO, Leo. He came onboard, worked with him on a bunch of initiatives and agreed a plan how to drive analytics forward. But then, he left, and I started reporting into the CFO of the company, and she was amazed with the kind of capability and things that we could do, and that's when we got aligned to the -- she's a strategy officer for HP.
Long story short, four CEO's, six bosses in six years, and the huge amount of change of joining a company which was HP, and now it's two companies: HPE and HP with all the changes that have gone through. So, I was there throughout the journey grafting the best spot for how to drive analytics within that, and how to manage teams, and drive each of the business' agendas through those six years.
One of the most exciting and challenging places for me to be, and challenging from a positive aspect to be able to continue to deliver on what you are supposed to with all the jigsaw pieces getting rearranged every few months was quite a high point for me.
Aviv: Rohit, two questions about this phase in terms of your career and your experience. First about leadership, and what is it that you're learning through this experience about leading teams through times of tremendous change when there is unclarity, ambiguity, and even confusion, what's the learning about that? Also, more at a personal level, what is it that you are learning about yourself that enables you to be adaptive and agile? So, combine these for me, both the personal discovery learning and the leadership component that you extracted as a learning value from this Hewlett-Packard through transformation, and you right in the middle of it at that time.
Rohit: Aviv, one very important, and you talked about it in your book as well, is you've got to be able to welcome change. A lot of people, as soon as they think about change, their antennas go up on, "No, why do we need to change? Everything's fine. Leave it as it is," and a lot of energy is spent in trying to resist change. That energy is better spent in trying to understand the rationale for the change. So, A) you can best optimize how you need to work and how you need to organize your teams. B) You need to be able to understand it so you can communicate it down the line. 3, if you understand it well, you can probably anticipate and be a few steps ahead of the change.
Very important that people don't spend their time resisting change. Embrace it, and actually I like to look at change as an opportunity. So, a big learning was as these changes were happening, how would one draft out an opportunity for the team to do something very different that they would never have done before to impress upon them that this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of such a change, and jump into the battlefield rather than sitting on the sidelines, and try to prevent the change. I think that was a big learning.
Aviv: You're framing there the martial arts aikido pivot of instead of resisting change, embracing change, and using the change to identify opportunity and move forward with the velocity and the power of new, emerging opportunities that present themselves through the change.
Rohit: Absolutely, and I'm not the expert and I know you are. It's almost like using the momentum of the other person's body to drive the change versus trying to create a direct head-on impact.
Aviv: Yes, and what else are you learning about leading teams through times of change when it's confusing and you still need to execute and deliver results?
Rohit: Very important: clarity of communication and ongoing communication with the team so that you are totally transparent with them, and you are able to put them in the driver's seat for the change rather than them feel that they are being pulled or pushed in a particular direction. I felt that if you were able to achieve that with your leaders and show them how they should ripple that down, that change becomes extremely smooth, and actually, because we are officially for people in the -- we are in more. But, the amount of communication, the amount of touch, the amount of empathy that you've got to display and you've got to have during the change process is extremely crucial.
Aviv: Open and transparent communication, and also being transparent about what is known, and what is unknown, and in it, also being transparent about what is in your control, and what is not in your control. All these are critical along with this idea of embracing change rather than resisting change. These are important elements of leading through times of change to help ease and remove some of the unnecessary anxiety in the system.
As I listen to the evolving story of your career, it appears that, at times, you sought the change and wanted to shift from one scenery to another, and then in other times, other people reached out to you and the new opportunity found you. Is this a true observation and is this how you experienced it as the story unfolds?
Rohit: Absolutely, Aviv. I don't remember when I've actually gone out seeking for, let me call it a job. I've always tried to create the change where I am and drive that. But, once in a while, like you said, the opportunity is not, changes come my way, and whether it's within the same organization or outside, we say, "Okay, great. It sounds like something exciting enough. Let's go for it."
Aviv: Do you feel that the early formative experience that made you, in a way, a citizen of the world, and then later that you developed roots both in India, of course, and in the U.S., that these provided you with an advantage as you then moved from one role to the next?
Rohit: Absolutely. I'd say if I'd not been able to get that kind of exposure, it wouldn't have opened up my eyes. I remember the toughest thing that I got charted to do, my dad, who was another huge mentor for me, I asked him, at an early point in my career, saying, "What do you want me to be?" and it was a genuine question saying, "Give me guidance. What do you want me to be when I grow up?" and I got the easiest and the toughest guidance that I could have ever got. He said, "Just be better than me. That's what I want of you."
I've grown up seeing him react in different environments and how he was able to adapt to different things, and how people could approach him, and I just loved that and I said, "I want to be able to do that. I've got to be able to work in different environments. You change the playing field, I should still be able to play the sport." Therefore, getting an appreciation and getting comfortable with working in different environments became very important to me, and I think it, in today's connected world, is one of the crucial things that you need to be able to be successful.
I've lived and worked in three different parts of India, and people who know India know that different parts of India are created very differently. I've lived and worked in Hong Kong, in Indonesia, in the U.S., and some people will say northeast of U.S., and the West Coast, where I am, again, totally different working styles. Worked in Europe, led teams across Latin America. You've just got to be able to understand how people operate, you've got to be able to connect with them, and you've got to be able to bring them together as a team, and you can't do that if you don't open your eyes and ears to different ways of working and be.
Aviv: Let me ask you about India. I read analysts that believe that the next half century is, more than anything, an India story, and that India will surpass China, and there are those that believe that India will continue to be an overpromised and underdelivered story. What is your perspective of what's unfolding now in India, and what we can expect to see next?
Rohit: You know, there's this old saying that, "Out of chaos is where order comes out." So, we've seen multiple rounds of chaos in India, and we've seen order come out of that in multiple shapes and forms. For example, nobody can imagine that, at a time when you couldn't make a telephone call from one city in India to another without it dropping or you having to scream loud enough so that all your neighbors could hear you that people took up the initiative to set up infrastructure to run call centers for the U.S. and other parts of the world out of India. Breakthrough; it was unimaginable. But, some people believed in it and pushed it forward.
Fast-forward to, let's say, a few years back. Huge amount of focus on the services industry, and how India has capitalized on it. I think we've come to a point now where A) India will have to move more and more to innovation and technology to be able to eliminate a lot of stuff that it has built on its own. But, being more importantly do some of the things it's doing today, leapfrog on technology, go to the next stage, missing a bunch of cycles in between, and use that fore for the development of India.
So, getting to a cashless economy. If we are able to get to that with the right leverage of technology, and we're able to spread it not to the 9% of the population, but spread it to 90% of the population, huge. We can make a huge difference.
Aviv: So, the nation that is more attached to precious metals and has appreciated, historically and traditionally, gold for its value more than any other nation, you believe and you predict will be the first cashless society, large cashless economy? That's absolutely fascinating.
Rohit: And a lot of pointers are indicating that we might actually get there. There's a huge push. I mean, just the penetration of mobile phones in the country, absolutely amazing, more than any other part of the world. It's just because rather than investing and setting up telephone lines and areas where telephones never existed, let's roll out mobiles and mobile services, and just that scale allows you to drive the cost down and increase penetration.
We've got to be able to capitalize on all of these technology breakthroughs that are happening, and thereby be able to build -- I won't say build. Accelerate to get ahead of whoever we're being pitched to get ahead of, be it China or some of the other countries.
Aviv: So, you are very bullish about India?
Rohit: I don't see any other country taking the kind of steps that India is taking right now. I'm bullish and optimistic. At least the steps are being taken in the right direction. We've got to be willing to wait and see how things play out. You know as well as I do, if you want to drive some drastic change, you can't drive it based on incremental changes. You've got to make some drastic changes, and I see those drastic changes happening. It will lead to some chaos and lead to some disconcert, but these are steps in the right direction.
Aviv: This is a fascinating comment you're making, which is that there isn't any other large nation on the world stage that, at the moment, is applying this mindset which we see in business and in companies, which is that certain transformative change, you cannot implement through incremental steps. Rather, you need to take more radical, transformative steps to bring about the kind of future, the kind of vision that you have. It appears, at the moment, that India, indeed, may be the only large nation that is attempting to implement a coherent radical and transformative change. Quite fascinating. Ultimately, success will ultimately be determined by execution, but the fact of it is absolutely fascinating.
Rohit: Absolutely, and you see some of these seeds have been sown a few years back. For example, the whole unique ID card, the hard card that got rolled down in India. I mean, imagine rolling it out in such a populous country. It's the equivalent of your Social Security number in the U.S. It never existed until a few years back, but it's been rolled out, and suddenly you're allowed to open bank accounts based on that, you're allowed to get mobile connections if you've got that. That's kind of your preauthorization.
So, it's been a staged setup. Some of those changes are not evident because the implementation of those has been showered in a huge amount of chaos. But, they are all a buildup to some of the big steps that can be taken in the future, which will actually have a positive impact. That's what makes me optimistic and bullish about this.
Aviv: That's great. Let me follow up with a couple more questions, and first, let me ask you about your space: analytics, big data, machine learning, and AI. What do you see as the mega-trends shaping that space going forward in the next few years?
Rohit: It's a very exciting time when 50-year-old analytics scales, like machine learning and artificial intelligence which were being experimented with, talked about, used in a very small fashion now suddenly have got so much more limelight because technology allows us to really implement the promise of AI and machine learning, and if I were to point out too, again, if you're going into the definition, is machine learning a part of artificial intelligence? Is computer vision a part of it?
You take these consolidated set of technologies, whatever you want to call it, the ability for technology to be able to look at data, to be able to understand it, to be able to parse it, to be able to recognize patterns, and come up with recommendations is going to have a huge impact on how previously available data and new data is both managed, stored, and utilized. It's a question of our imagination on how we can prioritize where we want to apply this for the max bang for the buck.
I'd do it enabling technologies like IoT. We put all of this together, and you suddenly an environment where, for years, you have got data out of, let's say, aircraft engines, and you're able to analyze that at the end of a flight, or when it comes down for preventative maintenance and see how things are going.
Now, you have the ability, based on IoT and telecom, to get that information on a real-time basis, and with machine learning, churn through that huge amount of, usually, 10 terabytes of data out of a single aircraft engine in a Transatlantic Flier. Humans could churn through it, but machine learning, artificial intelligence, now you can go through that data and record time and actually predict potential aircraft engine failure before a flight is about to take off.
It's a question of how do you accelerate deployment of these technologies and how do you use these technologies to further what manual techniques and capabilities we were able to achieve in the past.
Aviv: The dramatic shift in this example that you give represents the shift from the value generated by looking backward at events that happened in the past to machine capability to predict events. So, predictive analytics. That's very profound, obviously, in the case of predicting a possible engine failure.
Rohit: I didn't take the example of the autonomous cars, because it's been overabused, but it's all analytics enabled by technology. How do you predict which car is going to go there, what pedestrian might suddenly try to run across the road in front of your car, and how do you then have to loop to react to it? In some cases, it might be a manual reaction back, in some cases, an automatic reaction saying, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, this aircraft engine's got to be locked up. It's one wheel out to take off."
So, building that entire ecosystem of being able to analyze, predict, and put the feedback, and take action, which is what the whole autonomous car piece is about. It's about where do you apply it? How fast can you get it going? I sometimes imagine if the amount of money that is being put into cars to try and do this whole autonomous driving cars was deployed somewhere else where there is already a need and a use case, how much further we would have been by now.
Aviv: What advice would you give yourself today if you were 25 again and you were looking to find your professional path, and how would you advise yourself or anybody else, for that matter, if you were 25 today?
Rohit: Wow, that's a tough one. One, don't eat all those pizzas. Somewhere down the years, you will regret it. Two, more importantly, take more risk. Take more risk, take more leaps of faith. Don't overanalyze things. I see it happening all the time today, I tell you, and just overanalyzing and over trying to chart out where you're going to be in like five years', 10 years' time. The world's going to change in the next five to 10 years. Why do you want to plan for so long? Take risks, enjoy what you're doing. The earlier you are in your career, you have the ability to take those risks and make sure you enjoy what you do. Not to say I didn't enjoy what I did, but I think I could have taken a few more risks.
Aviv: The central point that I attempted to make in Create New Futures is the recognition and the realization, really, that every moment, every conversation, every opportunity is a portal for a possible new future, and that as you share, through your stories, if you're curious, and open, and prepared to embark on new experiences, then you can open, for yourself, a new future, and actually that this idea of both daring to imagine the future, but also working here and now to embrace the opportunities that emerge for you to make a difference and to discover, through this, new insights about yourself, and about your environment, and about how you can create and make a difference is the way to create your new future.
As we bring this to landing, what parting wisdom and message do you want to share?
Rohit: I'd say two or three things. Part of the reason I picked up your book and I was enamored by it was it extends what I talk to my teams about. They come in, they'd be talking about taking up a role, and I keep reminding them, "It's your responsibility to create the role. It's not a hard-line designed role that exists. You will decide how that role is and how it evolves," and you took it a few steps further, many steps further by talking about you create your futures.
The second thing is you keep looking as to what is the role of a leader. Again, people will give you 10 different lines and 10 different bullet points about what the role of a leader is. The reason I continued to read your book was, right up front, it says the role of a leader is to create futures, and I said, "Whoa, this is the best way I can see it summarized."
I would encourage the younger people, as they start getting into leadership roles, one, start with taking responsibility for creating who you are, two, take responsibility for your job, and your role, and what that is. Never take it on a sheet of paper and say, "This is what I need to do." You define it and you are responsible for creating it and evolving it. Third, create that future. You have that in your hand not just for yourself, but for your teams. You're responsible to make it.
The second thing I would say is, just as I mentioned before, take those risks. Take the actions. Don't overanalyze. I think, in the book somewhere, you talked about within 72 hours or something, you need to take action.
Aviv: Right, the 72-hour rule that defines that you have a 72-hour window to move from idea to actualization or to some action, and that unless you begin the journey to action and actualization, then you quickly reach the point where the new idea or the new insight becomes ineffectual, because you are pulled back into the gravitational pull of current conditions.
Rohit: I just like to do things in the instance that this is an action that needs to be taken versus that we put it down on a to-do list and figure out a time on my calendar when I get to my to-do list or something. Just take care of it now. Done. Single-touch operation. Just move ahead. That's what I like to do. I think that 72-hour rule is very important because I've seen people overthink things, and I'm a strong believer that you've got to work with your gut, with your heart, and with your brain, and with data, all of those.
But, the brain is so powerful that you can end up convincing yourself of not doing anything at all if you let the brain go amuck and keep thinking about something for beyond 72 hours. So, don't overthink it, get to action faster, go with the feel, take that risk. That's the other thing I would encourage people to do.
Aviv: That's great. The tone that comes with this message that you're offering, Rohit, is one of confidence, and that to produce movement, we need to take confident actions, and when we do, that's how we instill confidence in other people, and are prepared to join in support of the movement and the leadership that we bring to the table. This has been an absolutely rich and fascinating conversation and exploration, and I truly appreciate the opportunity to explore and be in this dialogue with you today, Rohit. Thank you very much.
Rohit: Thank you, Aviv. It's been a pleasure, as always, talking to you, and I really appreciate what you're doing for the young leaders and helping them get through the maze of their lives and their careers. All the very best.
Aviv: Here we are. We've landed this Create New Futures journey, and it's your time to take action. Here are a few steps you can take this week. First, practice deliberate and conscious curiosity, inquire to understand beyond the obvious, appreciate different points of view, and look to discover new and better solutions. Second, find situations where you are surrounded by inspiring leaders you want to emulate. Hire people who know more than you do in at least one domain and aspect in your business. Third, take smart risks, take leaps of faith. Don't overanalyze. Discover the opportunity in change. Lead with heart, gut, and brain. One more thing, you can reach me directly by phone and on email to explore how we can help you and your team create your new future. See you next time.