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February - 2009 - issue > Woman Achiever
Break-the--Preset-Norms
Vimali Swamy
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Gone are the industrial days when a strong physique and hard skills were crucial. In this IT era all that is needed is strong technical knowledge and soft skills. "I don't see why women cannot excel professionally when they do at home," says Manisha Sood, Country Manager India, SanDisk. With over 20 years of experience in IT sales and marketing, currently she manages a business, that of storage devices such as USB flash drives, Flash memory cards, solid state cards, and more for desktop and mobile phones, which caters to 20,000 retailers and 200 dealers in India.

"We women are preconditioned from birth, struggling for everything and preset to abide by certain rules set by the society and behave in the manner expected of us," says Manisha Sood, Country Manager India, SanDisk. Given an equal opportunity, she believes, women can excel in all aspects of life as well as men, if not better. "Hence, there is no point talking just at the organizational level in terms of women empowerment or leadership, but rather the entire society has to play a role in this," she explains.

Born in a middle class Gujarati family, Manisha is the eldest of four daughters. Since childhood she was raised to be independent and it was mandatory that she be financially independent too. There was always complete support and freedom in terms of education and career decisions. Hence, Manisha went on to complete her graduation in chemistry and post graduation in computer science.

Soon after finishing her studies Manisha joined a small size software company in Mumbai as a programmer but her stint there was a brief one as she realized that she did not have much interest sitting in front of a machine all day and writing lines and lines of codes. Being always a people’s person, she realized that she would be much happier interacting with people than just with machines. Having already studied about computer and technology, the next logical move was to sell them. Hence, she joined DCM Data Products as a management trainee. It was here that she learnt the various aspects of sales of computer software and hardware. Two years later, she moved to Modi Olivetti, a company that developed software for various banking purposes. This was the time the Rangarajan Committee had released a report on the need for the computerization of national banks. Manisha was intensively involved in this project and worked with the banks all over the country helping them with banking and ATM solutions.

In order to take up more challenging projects, Manisha joined Kodak in 1996. This was a huge change because along with shifting to another organization she had also changed her work domain. From sales and marketing of computer hardware and software she was now taking charge of digital products and solutions. The task involved hardcore sales strategy and dealing with the customers directly with no third party involvement. Manisha considers her stint at Kodak a turning point in her career. "I thoroughly enjoyed the phase at Kodak and found it a great opportunity to learn different things. From understanding market and customer needs to reaching out to them, working on innovative strategies and diversifying the business, I learnt it all," explains Manisha. It's a matter of pride for her, for she was involved in launching the first digital camera in the country. After ten long adventurous years, she left Kodak in 2006 as the country manager and joined SanDisk in the same position and has been there since then, focusing on increasing the company’s footprint in India, right from establishing a distribution channel to expanding the business.

Manisha sees her career as "One long learning experience, learning what no business school could have perhaps taught her". What can't be learnt in an institution is emotional intelligence but only practically. "As one keeps climbing up the ladder, involvement with people increases and so is the need to manage people working under oneself. Man management is another thing that can’t be taught by others," she says.

Her simple 'funda' of leading people is empowering the team members and maintaining a transparent way of communication. She believes that good leaders must always build a second line of leadership so that they can anytime step into his or her shoes in times of emergency and also allow them to explore newer opportunities. She gives her team members the freedom to take decisions even if they don’t know whether it would be right or wrong. "Decisions may not always be right but I feel it is important to give them a sense of responsibility and authority. This way, they feel empowered and also learn from their mistakes," she states. Manisha also believes in surrounding herself with people who are stronger than her in different skills. Having a mix of people with different skill sets and caliber helps her get a wide perspective on any issue, allowing her to take the best idea of the lot.

Though she is amazed at the confidence level and enthusiasm of young people - she has worked with a lot of them - she observes how they often make grave career mistakes due to the absence of a mentor. Often youngsters take up a job or work in a domain because that happens to be the trend, without realizing whether they have the right skill set for that domain. In addition, they fail to understand an organization's values and goals and end up not following the instructions. Thus it is important that one finds a mentor from the early days of career and constantly seeks their help seasoned by experience. She believes that networking with people also goes a long way in one's career.

A major lesson learnt in these numerous years of management is 'one must always look at the bigger picture'. "One often tends to be focused on one's operational area and fails to see the impact of a decision at the organizational level. Sometimes a decision may not be favorable to one's area of operation but it may be beneficial to the company as a whole. So, one must learn to see the big picture because at the end of the day it is what matters," she explains. Another lesson she has learnt from her mentor Shahi Ullal is "A good salesperson is one who can speak the customer's language". She spends 20 percent of her time in reading and bettering herself, and learning new skills to understand and manage customers."If I give a pen drive to a common man and tell him that it has a storage capacity of 8 GB, it means nothing to him. On the contrary, he would understand better if I tell him that the pen drive can store 10 movies or 2,000 songs," Manisha says. Taking the effort to understand one's customers and adding the personal touch every time one deals with them goes a long way in strengthening relations. Communication is the key to bridge two people, be it in a family, among peers or customers.

Today, when Manisha looks back at her career she finds it quite fulfilling and is content, but the journey to reach this level has not been a bed of roses. Being married in the early days of her career, it was a constant juggling of personal and professional responsibilities and commitments. Luckily, she found immense support from her husband's family who helped her cope up at times of difficulties. Her husband has been the pillar of strength because it was he who helped her decide that she work and carve a career for herself. "One cannot achieve success alone and support is needed all the time, from family, friends, peers, and others. This brings me back to the point of family and society playing a vital role in empowering women," wonders Manisha.

She often quips that while women do parallel processing, men mostly do serial processing. Women are natural when it comes to multitasking. Sincerity, commitment, patience, perseverance, and flexibility are their natural qualities because they are brought up to be so. Whether it is inventory management, crisis or financial management at home, keeping the family together, or mentoring children, women do them everyday in their personal life. All that is needed is enabling them apply these skills at workplace and allowing them to flourish with their natural sense of leadership.

There is no shortcut to success; nor does a magic formula exist for that. If one wants something and is persistent enough to spend time to achieve it, success will come one’s way, irrespective of one's gender. One must just be patient, disciplined, and have the drive to succeed.

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