Ranjith Varma is a member of:
Ranjith Varma's Advice
Believe in your team and provide them the opportunity to grow
It is clear that a new “era” of opportunities is available to each and every one of us in this post-recession, globalized and internet-driven w... more>>
Current work profile
I am working in the capacity of Director, Global Accounts for one of the strategic business units of UST Global overseeing efforts related to innovation, operational scalability, global project governance and knowledge management initiatives to support 4x business growth in the upcoming years. We have built a high growth momentum over the past 18 to 24 months in this business. We continue to look forward to build new value propositions by conceiving, designing, developing and delivering high impact programs in the above areas that will deliver mutual business successes to our customer partners and us.
Innovation is the key to our success and relevance for long-term sustenance in any business. So we have built a scalable and pragmatic innovation framework for our business unit by leveraging our over a decade long experience in delivering innovative solutions to our partnering customers. Our focus on aligning the business priorities with that of the customer is always on. We are on a growth path as I said earlier. Our business comes from the services that we deliver to our customers. So ensuring customer satisfaction is of paramount importance to us. At the same time, I do believe, growth needs to be managed diligently and by constantly anticipating the needs of our customers, industry and our associates. So crafting opportunities and delivering to exceed the demands are of significant importance in leading the business growth.
Just prior to this role, I was managing the delivery and operations of our Europe business where I was responsible for customer satisfaction, service delivery, organic growth and bottom line improvement with full P&L responsibilities. I also spent several years working with global ERP and IT service organizations in US and Asia in business development and global solution delivery with Fortune 100 customers in retail, wholesale, supply chain, consumer products, and financial services domains. All throughout my career, I was passionate in building businesses and people leaders who run the business for growth and profits. When I look back, I was fortunate that I was given the opportunity to contribute to this scale and am extremely happy that we were able to provide the leadership in this space for our associates, customers and the community we serve.
“Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other” John F. Kennedy said. This is one statement that transformed me when I learned the meaning of it. I do consider there is something that we learn from every day. This everyday learning approach will help us to ignite the passion in you to learn from mistakes and help us to avoid from being repeating the same.
I believe in the following three methods that helped me to grow and develop the skills required for being the leader. They are reading, practicing and crafting.
Let me tell you each of this in a bit detail. First let us consider reading. I am a vivid reader of books, magazines, listening to topics related to leadership, entrepreneurship and innovation. I maintain a private library and I cherish the books that I own forever. I typically get selfish here when it comes to my books. I try to pick up the latest arrivals on these topics to my collection. In addition to this, I invest on subscriptions and webinars for example, Harvard Business Review. I always ensure that, I am in touch with the industry and current trends in my space. I am passionate about this. Reading will keep you on the imaginative or dreaming mode. I do constantly imagine or dream about the next growth or leadership contribution that I can contribute to. This dreaming has helped me to come-up with new ideas and solutions that I could experiment in my current job.
Secondly, practicing what you learned through reading can be the most effective test of what you had understood. This step will help us to learn and grow immensely, according to me. I meant learn by doing it or you can call on the job training. You look for growth opportunities and go behind it. I constantly seek the challenging opportunities and learned from them. Sometimes, they were successful but many times, the learning from those failures will make you wise and bold to taken on new and uncomfortable opportunities and in unfamiliar territories. If an organization asked you to take on a role that was never performed by you in your past experience, I would say, you are in a learning organization. Your leadership skills are now put to test. This is the best opportunity for you to learn and grow.
Thirdly, craft a unique opportunity and create a path for others to follow or aspire. This is one of the best methods that can improve your visibility in the organization and bring business. All through my career, I was either part of some of these kinds of initiatives and have helped me considerably to grow and learn from the experience of crafting a line of opportunity (business). This method of learning will typically become handy for organizations to spot a leader in you with high visibility.
Taking a bold step to learn and grow is must for upcoming leaders. Your attitude to continuous learning is your asset.
Essential skills required for leaders
Well, people might have different perspectives on this point based on their experience and the mould from they came from. The most common skills that we always hear about for a leader to be successful are higher risk appetite, ability to built trust and maintaining the integrity of the business he or she is responsible for. I would agree to all of them.
However, in this highly competitive world of business, I would consider two essential skills that a leader should demonstrate in order to be relevant. They are business appetite and people appetite. You could call this appetite as acumen; so business and people acumen. Appetite for spotting the opportunity and going after it to realize it as a business is must for sustenance. It is not only enough that you spot the opportunity; but also to deliver to the demand of the opportunity. Information technology business is a collaborative business of people. Just the same way as the leader spotted the business opportunity, it is equally important that, the leader should be able to spot the potential of an individual and do the best in possible to tap the full potential of the people whom he or she associates with.
Avoiding mistakes – both in your personal as well as profession
This is an interesting question. The fact of the matter is, many times, you may not know whether you are connecting the right dots (I meant ‘dot’ to career opportunity in this context). Each connect is an experience and will have a learning that you can either take on or avoid in next time when you encounter a similar situation. That’s my take.
In my past, when I was about to decide an opportunity to take on, there were some of my friends in the professional circle, advised me not to accept it. I did hear this comment; but went ahead with my gut feel to take the opportunity head on. When I look back, I would not have been experienced the learning that I received from that opportunity otherwise. No trainings or mentoring can teach those lessons. So you need to experience it. Well, my friends were right in this case, the opportunity created lots of challenges and I had to put lots of additional efforts to change the perception that had on my career.
Please do your due-diligence and receive an ‘acceptance’ from your inner mind. According to me, that is important than any other advice. All others can guide you and provide you with inputs and the final decision will be yours to connect that dot or not. As I spoke earlier, the line graph of your career is something that I look back when I had to take a decision. I ask the following questions to myself.
a) By accepting this opportunity, could I be able to contribute to the growth of the company, associates and to the community we serve?
b) By accepting this opportunity, could I be able to take the line graph of my career in an upward trend from where I am today?
c) By accepting this opportunity, could I be able to ‘utilize’ or ‘enhance’ my skills that were either not or less utilized in my current role?
To me, all the three above should be a YES before I connect the dot. It has worked for me successfully many times and I believe in it.
From the personal stand point, I had gone through a very challenging stage where I had to make a choice. The approach of due-diligence worked with me well in that case as well; but many times, you may not have an ample time window to decide. So you will have to go with your guts.
Once you have connected the dot, then you will need to accept and respect the decision and intend on which you worked on. My humble opinion is to go with your guts and take the opportunity head on.
Grievances are to be heard and addressed. A good leader is a good people leader; a good people leader is a good listener too. Many times, employees are coming to you because; they ‘expect’ you can ‘solve’ their grievances. This expectation was built over a period of time by they observing your actions and your ability to make a positive impact on them. After hearing their grievances, I always used to think about what you will do in the employee’s situation that caused the grievance. What can you do to mitigate it? Accept the fact that, it will not be possible to address the grievances as always the way employee expects to address. If there are multiple parties involved in a grievance, I would recommend you to listen to both parties (if needed on a one on one basis) based on the sensitivity of the case.
Try to get the facts around the grievances. Many times, employees deliver the grievances with their emotions. A leader will be able to go through these ‘noises’ and get to the root cause of the issue. Your organizational policies, values and culture will aid you in the decision making process. This process will involve a detailed analysis of the findings which you gathered from interaction with the employee and from the past records in case of similar events occurred.
My suggestion is to take the decision as guided by the organizational value system. Every organization possesses a set of values that will help you to make the right decisions when there are issues, grievances or when in situations those are unfamiliar to you. As a leader, it will be your responsibility to get back to the employee and communicate the final decision to close the case. Closure of a grievance is very important and a leader never leaves an issue open without a decision. Make the whole process as transparent as it is suppose to be.
Be genuine and value driven; I am sure that, following this principle, you will maintain the integrity when you deal with the decisions related to employee grievances.
Taking Important career decision
Most of my career decisions were based on either or combination of some of the following needs – location, role, exposure, growth and impact to society.
It will be hard to list all of those decisions. However, I can highlight couple of them.
In 2005, I was discussed about assuming a senior position within one of the business units based out of US for long-term. The position demanded me to be closer to my customers than working remotely. We as a family were moved back to India only in 2001 and another move back to US was a decision that we were battling with. Interestingly, while the decision making was going on, I received an e-mail from one of my well wishers and he happens to be my customer’s senior vice-president about him welcoming my move to US. It was completely an unexpected e-mail explaining to me about the benefits that will bring to me and to him (his organization) by this move. Location, growth, broader responsibilities and global outlook were additional benefits that these kind of assignments offer. He also went ahead and explained about how he and his family took a similar decision when he was asked to move around the globe and the benefits it brought to him. I cherish that e-mail as a significant recognition of my work and an invaluable asset. I keep that email in my personal file all the time. Decision making was easy for me and I decided to move and we moved back to US in the year. I never regretted that decision till now.
I always looked for learning opportunities as part of my career decision. I had a dream of taking management development programs from Harvard; but all the courses that I look forward required sponsorship and additional organizational investment. That was not something that I wanted to pursue. Well, I did not give up. I researched and finally narrowed to the Executive certificate from MIT Sloan School of Management as a targeted executive education course. It was a challenging decision as my in-person presence was expected at MIT during the lectures and I had to run my business in between as well. However, I decided to go ahead with it and in 2008-2009, I successfully became the executive certificate holder in the field of management and leadership from MIT. This was another decision that I always cherish.
I truly believe in taking global roles and contributing to the growth of the organization as a passion. You will need to make this as a choice. There are many opportunities in market place that offer this type of opportunities. You will need to decide yourself to be out of the comfort zone. We are doing business in a truly globalized community. Exposures to diversified cultures, ability to work with associates from heterogeneous countries, experience in running business in both developing and developed economies and creating a path for others to follow are must for a truly global leader of this century. As the competition gets intensified and the world gets more and more flattened, a leader should adopt to change and take every opportunity (that comes to him/her or the one he/she crafts) as a learning opportunity.
Advice to upcoming leaders
It is clear that a new “era” of opportunities is available to each and every one of us in this post-recession, globalized and internet-driven world economy. It is equally clear that those who succeed are who demonstrate leadership, implement seamless collaboration (“interdependence”) and continually innovate to deliver sustainable value to their shareholders. Leadership is about creating sustainable value to the whole enterprise. Your success in being a leader is about creating more leaders like you. So identify hi-potentials in your teams and give them opportunities to succeed in the similar way your managers provided opportunities to you.
Shed your egos and be ready to learn from each other. Your integrity and genuineness will be observed. As I said earlier, tell your mind to learn from everything on a daily basis. Be open to feedback.
I will request you to do this simple exercise. Take a piece of paper. Draw an x and y axis. You can represent time in x axis and your goals in y axis. Just plot your career progression in a form of a line graph from time to goals. See how the graph looks like. Are you seeing a line graph in a positive upward (linear) direction? Or flat? Or downward? If you see the graph on positive direction, go ahead and please continue to do what you do and grab any opportunity that comes in your way and create a value. If you see a flat line; take a pause and you may need a course correction. If you see a downward trend, then, you need to stop and look for another opportunity. This is a serious matter.
As a budding leader, constantly look for challenging opportunities and look for opportunities to craft a business and a derived value from it. They are essential part of your continuous learning practice.
My wife is Subha Raja. She also works with UST Global now. We have a nine years old daughter, Pournami Varma studying in 4th grade at Trivandrum International School. I love reading, cooking, driving, photography, travelling and traditional carnatic music
My prospective towards India Technological development
This is a very important aspect of our country’s corporate outlook. I agree to the fact, there was limited tech products came out from our country till now. This was a serious concern too. While the IT services industry in India about to grow to $100 billion in annual revenue, through the export of services to multi-national companies, our focus was on mass hiring for services industry throughout these years.
The latest National Employability Report on Engineering Graduates for 2011, published by Aspiring Minds, indicates an alarming sign of employability index of only less than 3% of engineering graduates are ready-to-be-deployed to IT product companies in our country. This is a much dangerous problem both economically and socially in a country of over one billion people about quality of professional technical/engineering education.
According to me, the root cause of this issue goes back to some fundamental aspects. They can be categorized into the following areas.
Lack of (or less effective)
a) Quality of professional technical/engineering education
b) An encouraging eco-system for budding entrepreneurs
c) An active national level technology agenda and
d) A progressive mindset for constant innovation
Let me take these four aspects in detail.
First, we have noted a sudden increase in the number of private engineering colleges in our country over the past two decades. This higher number of engineering colleges allowed more students to graduate – good sign – but with less employability – not a good sign. While, professional technical education in India has become more and more accessible, it has brought the issue of massive graduation of engineers who were less connected to the skills needed by the industry when they graduate. For example, when I graduated engineering in 1995, I still remember, the microprocessors that I studied in practical classes. They were 8085 and 8086 microprocessors which by even that time, hardly anybody used for commercial or industrial operations. They were completely outdated by that time. So we passed out with outdated technology skills. This has to be changed. Professional education in India should have a ‘closer’ connection with the industry than ever before and we will need to define a framework to constantly feed the industrial needs of the future to our professional institutions. Technology is changing in a rapid speed and even the experienced professionals are finding difficulty in ‘catching up’ with the latest trends in technology. These engineering graduates should be exposed to the technology of tomorrow to catch-up with the needs of our century.
Second, we never had created an eco-system for aspiring entrepreneurs in our country till recently. It was also observed that, the traditional culture for ‘no’ to high risk appetite was encouraged in this field. The impact of this culture was what we are paying now. Our mindset got adapted to traditional IT service business where abundance of educated professionals was available; so no specific intellectual property (IP) was needed. This situation has created a vacuum in the areas of local product development efforts. But I am constantly encouraged to see the sprawling young entrepreneurs across our country these years attempting to create technology products; this is start of a change and a good beginning. I do see an emergence of an ecosystem that promotes entrepreneurs to set-up products and services is taking place in these years. For example, STPI has set-up several incubation centers that promote, guide and provide the coaching, product ideas and infrastructure to the aspiring entrepreneurs in our country now. The Technopark – Technology Business Incubation (T-TBIC) centre at Trivandrum, in partnership with Technopark and Department of Science and Technology Government of India, so far has produced several small and medium scale companies from the T-TBIC. Similarly, Startup Village is another initiative between Department of Science and Technology Government of India, T-TBIC and MobMe – the first successful start-up from T-TBIC – to encourage entrepreneurs coming forward. This coming decade will be of IT product companies for India and I am positive that, there are much awaited policy reforms will be in place that encourages more and more young leaders to come and experiment their ideas in these labs. An experimentation culture is required to create a system of IT products from our country.
Thirdly, a broader and much awaited national level technology agenda is a must for a developing country like India to synergize the various national level initiatives in the fields of electronics and information technology. It was at last noted that, an ambitious year long agenda for the country’s Department of Electronics and Information Technology (DEITY) was announced by the current India IT minister by end of last month. This is a good sign. The areas noted in this agenda include, introduction of online portals and e-governance measures that addresses bureaucracy and increase accessibility to the common citizen in the country. This agenda also includes the necessary policy changes, digitization of local and national governments, improved adaption of mobile governance, further expansion of our country’s mobile service delivery gateways, continued strengthening of cyber security measures and faster access to the much needed services through enabling technologies like GPS tracking etc. It was great to note that, the agenda also supports active encouragement of start-ups which will eventually impact at a larger economic and social scale of the country. These initiatives will bring a higher percentage of people in the country to become e-literate which will again encourage people to create standardized technology platforms that will further aid the development of commercial software products or applications for mass usage.
Forth, we cannot create a value without continually innovating our operations and services. So it is must that, we create a progressive mindset for constant innovation in anything we do. The national level bodies like National Innovation Council and state wise innovation foundations can play a significant role in improving the awareness and educating the people about the needs of innovation. There are several initiatives put forward by these institutes. What we needed is to channelize their efforts to constantly innovate our solutions.
With these changes in place, I felt that, we are now in a growth path with respect to creating the technology products.
My father – that is undoubtedly him. He was a home maker in my family. I saw a true leader in him. He delivered confidence to me to take the life head on. He helped me to craft my personal identify in life and among the community. He instilled the values and principles that I operate today since my childhood. Naturally I followed him. He showed me, by his life, how truly a global citizen I should be by following a strong value system. My leadership style has this foundation.