A Desire to Keep Learning

Date:   Wednesday , October 01, 2008

On a fine morning, Vaishali Vaid, currently the Associate Vice President (AVP) for the Manufacturing Line of Business (LoB), KPIT Cummins, was called by the company’s CEO and was entrusted with the responsibility of streamlining the operations of a large project that was critical to the growth of the company but was going through difficult times.

At stake was a long standing relationship with the customer where past diligence showed excellent ratings on the Customer Satisfaction (C-SAT) Index. Over a period of six months company’s ranking on the index had started dipping and became a cause for concern. And comprehensively it needed someone like Vaishali who took quick stock of the situation at hand. She started off with a complete analysis based on extensive discussions with senior delivery team members and customer counterparts. She prudently and quickly highlighted the recent change in the model of engagement with the customer. The company had earlier been working with the customer onsite and when the operations had been moved offshore, the delivery process had not undergone much transition from the customer side. She then went into multiple rounds of strategic deliberations with the customer and explained the reason behind challenges faced in the delivery model.

Additionally, Vaishali also was facing resistance from the internal team that handled the customer’s business, since the leadership change was sudden and they did not know Vaishali. Patience, understanding and perseverance helped Vaishali align the team to the business priorities. She led the team to understanding the significance of ‘teamwork’, showed them the larger picture and the goal to focus on. It didn’t take long for the team to look upto her leadership. Her guidance has graduated many Tech Leads to competent Program Managers, and the customer ratings have grown from average to very good on the C-SAT Index. All the more, Vaishali has also successfully managed to motivate and retain the team members and the team has now grown from 15 to over 150 and still growing.

A clear demonstration of commitment and will to succeed brought to fore Vaishali as a person to watch out for. Her ability to be proactive and practical towards challenges turns them into worthwhile experiences.

Currently, Vaishali, as the AVP - Manufacturing Line of Business (LoB) is handling one of the largest business units of KPIT Cummins with a global team of 1800 employees. She is the operations controller for the LoB and focuses on operational excellence and profitability. Over the years, she has set up offshore development centers for a number of existing and new customers. She has also conducted multiple workshops on ‘effective offshoring’, for CXOs, VPs, and senior managers across customer organizations. Under Vaishali’s leadership her team has received the Outstanding Customer Team of the Year Award at KPIT Cummins for 2005-06, prior to which she had also received the prestigious Cummins Chairman Award for Innovation.

Completely a people’s person, Vaishali enjoys interacting with her team and believes in hard work, teamwork and ‘leading by example’. Nevertheless, Vaishali is a hard taskmaster who expects commitment and focus from her team. She has a simple rule that holds true for everyone in her team who expects a raise in the appraisals. “If anyone is desirous of a promotion, then I simply ask him or her to start performing in the higher role at least six months in advance to the formal announcement, and prove the capability thereby,” she says. At the same time she believes in keeping one’s work interesting and enjoyablet. “Apart from personal growth, whatever one does must also add value to the organization and contribute to the growth of people around oneself. This will be possible only if one has the desire to bring about a change in what every one does,” Vaishali adds. This is why she emphasizes on developing a flavor for the business along with technology, for all technology professionals. “For a customer, more than the technology that you use it is the value that your work brings to his business is important”, she adds. One should relate to the customer in the customer’s business language. She attributes her growth to the fact that she followed this path in the initial years of her career. At the same time she completely despises dishonesty and politics. “I hate any kind of politics but that is something that can not be stopped completely around you. I too have been a victim of it a few times in my career but have learnt that the best wat to handle it is by just concentrating on one’s own work and keeping one’s records straight so that no one can point the fingers at you. Hence, I strive hard to be a fair leader and discourage it in my team,” she says.

Being a hard-core technologist during most of her 20 year long IT career, taking challenges and overcoming hurdles has become an ingrained attribute in her. A humanities graduate from Delhi University, Vaishali was at a stage of choosing from a wide spectrum of opportunities. Though she had an inclination towards journalism, the computer field which was new in India at that time, also intrigued her equally. Out of curiosity, she took the plunge and enrolled for a short course in computer science. Vaishali realized that she had an aptitude for it and since she enjoyed it tremendously, she decided to grow in the same field and pursued postgraduate studies in Advanced Systems Management.

In 1988, she landed her first job with a software consultancy based in Delhi and started as a systems analyst cum programmer. She did a lot of work towards developing financial systems and applications for stock companies. A few years later she joined Eicher Goodearth, a heavy motor vehicle manufacturer, as a part of the in-house corporate IT team. Here she engaged herself in ERP development to meet the company’s internal needs. She was able to gain extensive insight on varied aspects of an ERP system here—from taking requirements from the manufacturing plants to tracking financial needs, procurement, materials management and other things, she did it all, and moved from single user application systems to multi user application areas.

A few years later, she joined Hero Corporate Services, the IT consultancy unit spun off from Hero Group of Companies. This business unit completely focused on business process re-engineering and software services and Vaishali joined them as a consultant. From the previous work experiences, she had come to understand the manufacturing process very well but after joining Hero Corporate Services, she had the opportunity to learn the business processes in much more detail. From a shop floor assistant to CEO of the company to the customer, interacting with people at all levels helped her understand and define new business processes, a knowledge that proved tremendously useful in the later years of her career.

After about seven years in the manufacturing domain and ERP space, she joined NetAcross (later called Intiqua), which was primarily into eBiz consulting and solution services. And after around five years in eBiz space she moved onto KPIT Cummins.

“Throughout my career, I have had the opportunity to work in diverse technologies and customer domains. From ERP to e-Biz, I have explored challenging options that have well rounded my knowledge of the business domains as well as technology. During these years, by interacting with customers in India and overseas, I also learnt a lot about handling cross-cultural environment. This opportunity to communicate across various geographies and technologies not only increased my knowledge but also helped me enhance my people skills,” Vaishali explains. Though she attributes all that she has learnt to the various opportunities that came across, the main drive has been her zeal to learn new things.

Unlike most who look for a growth in the position held every time they join a new company, Vaishali laid more focus on the opportunity and exposure. Most of her switchovers were to a totally new business space, even in the same position or sometimes even at a level below. But it never worried her as she was more focused on learning new aspects of her work. “For me it was more important that I explore the breadth of services, technology and business. Getting hands on experience on various technologies has helped me stay grounded. It is all about growing in the role you are in as you grow along and make a shift from the earlier role,” Vaishali explains.

Outside work, she has a deep passion for reading, surprisingly not about technology or business. She has tremendous liking for English literature and ‘Agony and Ecstasy’, a book on Michelangelo’s life, has had a deep impact on her. Apart from reading she loves spending time with her family.

Social work is something she loves to be involved in. This is the result of her desire to bring about a change. Though currently time does not permit her to take up this interest, she plans to do it if and when she retires. Until then she just wants to keep learning...