This is beyond money. Here is a summary of my 14 years Career with IBM, Citigroup & Sterlite. My Managers and Executives Rock. Values matter, people skills count and patience deliver. Best of the learning comes through most difficult situations, also called as experience. Great organizations value people and compliance. One quality to help succeed? Thy name is self-discipline.
IBM and Citigroup are world class organizations. Sterlite is a classic example of an entrepreneurship spirit. Sterlite helped me to get aggression and added an entrepreneurial thinking. Citigroup helped me to be meticulous and smarter and IBM taught me values, process orientation and added management capabilities. They helped me to be a far better human being.
I started my 14 years Corporate career with Sterlite, then went to Citigroup, then joined IBM and finally started my personal finance venture. Let me start with the Big Blue where I worked last, for 6.5 years.
Don’t compete, grow. First thing I learned at IBM was not to compete amongst each other. Normally, you have one opportunity and five people to contest for it. At IBM I found it the other way round. IBM is so vast, big, complex but still innovative, that everyone has enormous opportunities to grow. Just focus on your job and plan how you would like to grow.
Don’t pass the monkey. I once complained to my manager about one of my team member and wanted to get rid of him. He asked me If you have a misbehaving child, would you throw him out of the house? He mentored me to be far more patient and take a different approach in such cases. Removing from my team would be just like ‘passing the monkey’ to someone else.
Your career is over. This manager picked me up for complex IT Infrastructure Projects when my resume said I am a B. Com with an MBA in Finance. Few months later, he once said that my IBM career is over. We had a long chat past midnight. He was ‘pushing me beyond boundaries’ to take bigger roles. The pressure worked. I then took over Program Management, then IT Services Delivery, then Account Management and earned prestigious IBM certifications. The same manager also linked me up for higher roles. You have to shape your career. When you feel comfortable in your job, it’s time to move on. It is an art to pick up ordinary resource, take a calculated punt and give them extra ordinary jobs.
Focus on the client issues, not their language, not their behaviour. I once walked out of a client meeting as they behaved inappropriately. This executive gave me both, a piece as well as a peace of his mind. Meetings are your communication bridges. By walking out, you are burning the bridge. He asked me not to get rattled and stay focussed on the client issues, not their language, not their behaviour. Clients will always state their view in their way. What do you want to do, make up your mind. The message was loud and clear. Got it, Chief.
Focus on Category A issues. I was once going crazy with nothing working in a new Project. A senior colleague in the project, and a dear friend, gave me a management tip. Focus on Category A issues Rohit, She said. You need to show quick results. We need a positive momentum with things moving. What would help you to get there? Focus on them. This was also the client ask. Your multi-year transformation plan is brilliant, Guys. But how are you benefitting us right now, right away? We followed “Quick Wins” approach. When you can’t manage by rules, manage by exceptions.
When in trouble, reach out. On an issue, the same colleague, tracked me past midnight. We were not going anywhere. So are you taking extended IBM’s help? No, I did not engage them, I said. She let me do it my way but said that when she gets stuck, she reaches out for help. You can’t possibly solve all your problems, every time. It takes guts to say ‘I don’t know’ and needs some smartness to engage and leverage extended organization. If you can’t do that, then maybe you should make way for someone else to do the job. I learned this, but unfortunately the hard way.
Be patient or find your own way. Another ‘I need a band progression’ conversation and my manager calmly said that if I am disappointed, then the doors are wide open and I can explore outside opportunities. I was shocked but I now know that he was absolutely right. These were the post 2008 economic crisis days and there was no suitable growth opportunity in my area. He could see through this. Sometimes organization wants, but then it can be beyond everyone’s control. Asking for a bigger role is far better than asking for a band change. If you can be patient, then stay on. If not, find your own way.
Values, the way to do business. ‘Dedication to every client’s success’, ‘Innovation that matters for our company and for the world’ and ‘Trust and responsibility in all relationships’ are the values that guides IBM and IBMers. These were formed by Employees in a worldwide Jam in 2004. We lived through the values. IBM is very strong on client orientation. For years, IBM has been registering highest numbers of patents. Most IBMers, yours truly included, say that my blood has also become Blue. IBM is a learning organization and has a depth. Any company can’t put $100 Million on the table and say ‘Let’s be a learning organization from tomorrow morning’. It takes decades to build such an organization. It needs a military discipline, to run such an organization. It pays to stick to your values – a long but sure shot way to succeed.
The Executive Way. Sometimes, I would face a very bad day at work with the whole world pouncing on me. But the next day, the whole of IBM would be with me, thanks to the Executive intervention. Executives would setup calls at 6 AM and then an hourly checkpoint. They will ‘get the right guy on this call, right now’. They will get to the crux of the problem, then connect with the client and point us to new directions. They will make notes and track. They knew, when to get in and when to get out. They will keep the strategy in mind but also take a tactical approach. They will tell the client that ‘we will do X, Y and Z by so and so date but I need you also to do A, B & C by so and so date’.
Once an executive sent me a private email and warned that I needed to resolve the issues or else he will sack me even before the client asks to do that. If I talked client issues then, I was asked if we did all that we were supposed to do? Are you going to fix these or should I get in? These notes were hard hitting. That said, he supported all my asks to fix the issues. He defended my case with the Executives on the client side and got me more time to turnaround. This helped to save the project and my career.
Executives demonstrated ‘One IBM’ philosophy. Internally, we are different teams, but for client, it’s only one IBM. You must own up as IBM in front of the client. A client side executive also said many times that IBM + client Team is One Team. We will not grow without your help, he was clear. Executives said ‘My Dear Rohit, you CANNOT drop the ball’. Once an elderly Executive, directed that the project dates can only shift to left side of the timeline, and not to the right. Executives taught me how not to vomit all over the place, but speak logically with numbers. In so many words, they said, it’s only because the Project is complex, I was hired. Having accepted the role, now, I must go, deliver. When I quit, the Executives reminded that I did not have the Sales experience. This got me to focus on Marketing when I started the venture.
Good leaders have a foresight, are client focused and they work in a result oriented manner. They pay attention to details and they demonstrate an outstanding thought leadership.
Even the Language can make you rich. A senior colleague showed an excellent temperament, built conversations, asked leading questions and maintained a superb rapport with the client even in difficult situations. Sometimes, my managers took pain to write back with corrections to my notes. Once an executive sent me a private reply, ‘only a donkey writes I before you’. Once my manager called me on a nasty note I sent out. He urged me to avoid a particular sentence in future. I did not agree but I liked his maturity in sweetly mentoring me. So I obeyed. When I used the Facebook style English, an elderly manager patiently re-wrote my broken sentences. If I went overboard in client meetings, then smart colleagues nudged me, to ‘keep quiet’. Another elderly colleague in US always said ‘You speak first’. One of my up line Executive actually issued a guidance on usage of comma, period and swashes in the presentations. A manager at Citigroup, would always quietly change ‘&’ with ‘and’. Once a senior Executive at Sterlite, took painstaking efforts and guided me to write, edit and re-write an internal Minutes of Meeting.
At the start of career, with my vernacular English, I felt inferiority complex. I had to often refer to Dictionary and subscribed for ‘A word A Day’. Most of my managers and senior colleagues spoke in a polished manner with a finesse. They used few words to convey many things. The wealthy language they spoke, inspired me to improve my communication. Sometimes the best way is to show your people how to do it, the better way. Now if I am asked a personal question, I smile and say – why do you wish to know? When we speak to our client or team, our messaging has be clear and we need to set the expectations, right. When you effectively communicate, without actually communicating, you have mastered the fine art. Then, even your Language can make you Rich.
Before asking, prove yourself. I cannot execute this complex Project, I said. There came this brilliant insight from my Manager. We are in services business, Rohit. We have to first build our credibility. If the client has a difficult ask, it may need a discussion or negotiation. Before you go that way, first deliver and build your credibility. Today, some of my clients are distinguished thinkers, decision makers and influential leaders. I do not reach out before we deliver.
Let there be some attitude. A dear friend advised that it’s OK if your team members have a little bit of attitude. The world out there is very tough. We can’t be with them all the time. How will they survive, he asked. My learning is that as long as one understands that there is only a thin line difference between being smart and being over smart, then we are good.
Once an IBMer, always an IBMer. I would have never left IBM, had it not been my own venture. Today, about 1/3rd of my client base consist of IBMers. Glad to be in touch. Now let me summarize what I learned from Citigroup where I worked for 5 excellent years.
Build credibility. In a new project, we were in a bad shape. The executive asked us to report where we are today, no matter what. He gave this superb insight. The fact that you are not doing well, your client knows already. By reporting the true status, you are at least building your credibility. If you are at 60% SLA V/s 99% in the contract and don’t see a way forward, then we anyway have a problem.
Dealing with Humans. At Citigroup, I have met some of the finest people managers and I deeply regret that I could not work forever with some of them. Once a team member repeated a silly question. I answered but said you are not welcome, for such issues. The client, this lady from US, later explained to me that everyone brings in a different skill and needs a different level of learning. We must be patient while dealing with human beings. Now, several years later, I realize that, I agree.
Keep your margin. Once a manager advised me to say ‘I will need about 15 to 30 minutes to reach’. You will either reach before or after 15 minutes and very less likely on exactly at the 15th minute. Simple but powerful thinking. I now give measured response when I am consulted on tricky issues. Sometimes I tell my clients that sorry, but I haven’t found the solution to all the problems, as yet.
Compliance is binary. I learned that we are either compliant or we are not. If we are not compliant then we are not in the business, period. Outsourcing within Citigroup took place only after every cross boarder compliance requirement was met. Sometimes Projects went on toss but Executives put their foot down. If we used background music somewhere, the Executive quickly questioned – Who owns the copyright? I experienced a similar, non-negotiable, compliance posture at IBM. Compliance is a very very big deal. Great organizations build delivery framework around Compliance and not the other way round. It is always tempting to take short cuts. It is only when no one is watching, how you behave, shapes your success, eventually.
Now, let me share what I learned from Sterlite, my darling Company, where I started my career and worked for my ever best 2.5 years.
Go, get the job done. I handled Banking and Treasury portfolio for one of their plant. I would always be on toes with the pace of business. There was a new demand every single day and I was often cornered. To push, negotiate, be aggressive, assertive and get the work done was a sea change in my personality. My transformation started.
The bread, the butter and the cream. I asked a senior executive for a good role. This gentleman mentored me that everyone wants cream in life but the reality is that there is always the bread, the butter and then the cream. You can’t just get the cream, be it my level or yours. There on, I learned to accept the difficult parts of my job. This is one of the fundamental truth of life.
Did you eat lunch? At one of the Foreign Bank, I was shouting on the floor, for a mistake. This gentleman quietly asked if I had lunch. He was right. He ordered food and got me to eat. We then easily solved the problem. Sometimes there is more to what is obvious. Try and address that, first.
To grow, keep walking. It’s well known that Sterlite would aggressively bid for Companies when they would not have the needed money. They would then work on the financing. They have grown amazingly over the years. Growth is a very fine balancing act, I have some idea, now. The Chairman once said something like this in an interview ‘There will be lot of pressure. But if you stay on the course, you will succeed’. The Sterlite spirit taught me to ‘Keep Walking’, no matter what.
Sweet days, tough days, never allowed to fail. I met some of the loveliest people in my life. Someone taught me Bank Reconciliation and someone taught me foreign exchange position impacts. This Accountant who joined later with a banking experience taught me Debtors reconciliation. I had to be a sharp shooter on the working capital funding. We managed payments of millions of dollars with a razor sharpness. I worked crazy hours and went through a tough time but the environment never allowed me to fail. Leaving Sterlite was a very painful decision.
Sterlite experience got me in the Banking Domain, that got me in to Banking Projects at Citigroup, that got me in to IT Projects at IBM. This mid-career shift, diversified my experience and eventually helped me to be on my own.
Like everything else in life, there are good things and then there are not so good things. One has to look at the brighter side and pick and choose. Howsoever smart you are, in some situations client, boss, colleagues, project or life will invariably outsmart you. As long as the intentions are right, we are good.
These invaluable learning, disguised as painful situations, is also called as ‘experience’. Oh Success, thy name is discipline.