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May - 2007 - issue > Woman Achiever
Executing-the-20x20-plan
Vidya Balakrishnan
Tuesday, May 1, 2007
Sujitha Karnad learnt it the hard way, quite literally. This techie cum entrepreneur was a little disarrayed when asked to manage operations of the software engineering and delivery division at DSL Software, a joint venture between HCL technologies and Deutsche Bank providing end-to-end solutions in application and development, during its period of turmoil. Faced with teeming attrition, an ODC that was not functioning right and poor employee morale, she was ready to script a fairytale turnaround. Except this was no fairytale; ‘a nightmare every time I woke up’- her exact words. Her team began by relentlessly investing in people, aligning them with the vision of the company which was to attract more projects into the center while she developed and administered plans and budgets, formulated estimates and managed cost controls. There were stakeholders on the HCL side as well from Deutsche which made her job all more demanding. While on it, she taught her team to stretch and put in a little more effort needed to pull of this mission. Though transforming project managers into solution providers was her mantra, there was no specific formula waiting to be adopted. It was sheer hard work as she had to push herself and her team to update themselves about emerging banking technologies and applications to extend their range of portfolios and bring in more business. Sometimes the studying extended into flight journeys, in between meetings and wee hours of the night. Many fell on the way. However, those who stayed witnessed a great turnaround story in the next 14 months, as a tired but beaming Sujitha and her team unveiled the ‘new’ DSL Software. The company moved from $ 18 million to $100 million in revenues with the headcount hiking from just 300 to over 1,500 in a span of one and a half years. “It was like accelerating from zero to 100 in a couple of seconds and the hardest I have worked in my life,” she reminisces at the success.
That coming from a lady who had previously started and run her company must be something, but Sujitha claims to have enjoyed every bit of it. Today DSL Software forms the core of HCL’s banking division. For her, a sneak peek beyond the obstacles offered lessons that would last a lifetime. And it has always been this fascination to learn, even if it meant from a textbook or by attending seminars that kept pushing her to try new domains in the IT industry. While the unsaid norm of the industry went along the lines of absorbing in-depth knowledge and constancy in a single domain for long term benefits, Sujitha decided to hike the other way. “Techies usually look at their careers as ‘the 1x20 plan,’ i.e. doing one thing for a time span of twenty years whereas I took it up as 20x20- doing twenty different things but within IT industry,” she explains.
Today, twenty-five years into her career and she can claim to success as a techie, entrepreneur, business developer and head of sales and marketing. They span across the telecom, Industrial control and processes, semiconductor, banking technologies and healthcare industry. Chasing the bigger picture, she knew ‘broad basing’ her profile and accumulating the necessary experience to reach the top was necessary. ''One should ask for the right job at the right time. If I didn’t get them, I would seek them out. And there were times when I sat and wrote down what I was looking for,” she says. Letting go of organizations when ever she felt that their canvases grew small or her aspirations clashed with the maturity level of the company was Sujitha’s slow but steady trek to the top.
It was precisely for these reasons that she left each establishment after achieving success in them including her consultancy firm that she built after teaming up with her techie husband. As consulting technologists, they set up designing process controls for critical machines in the automobile industry and a variety of test systems for Telecom majors in India. For Sujitha, it was a switch from semiconductor to automobile where assignments were made ‘design-to-manufacture’ and like at every other job, learnt her way through this one as well. The ‘hands on’ experience enthralled her as she doubled up in her role, from answering the door, to making the tea to performing the coding and eventually demonstrating the coding to the customers. She suddenly realized her flair as a sales person but more importantly the nuances of running a company. “If you don’t understand what it takes to sell, you won’t appreciate the company,” she states.

The learning propelled her for larger things, creating a need to handle more such assignments and managing companies. However, larger canvases did not necessarily indicate larger companies. After DSL, she wanted to test her flexibility in scaling and scaled down by ‘a factor of ten’ when she took over as Managing Director (India) of ThoughWorks. “I discovered at DSL, that we (Indians) don’t do application development and product development well enough.

We somehow miss the creativity bit of it as we don’t experiment enough in India. That’s where ThoughtWorks fit my bill as it was a pioneer in Agile technology- something new,” she says.

It was this fascination for agile technology that eventually landed her at SISL, quite by an accident while attending a seminar. And today she has embedded herself into their healthcare division working on their life critical applications. Her switches in domains was never bothered her, au contraire, they were her key strengths. “When you start getting higher and higher in roles and responsibilities, domains cease to be a cause for concern. And what ever you do, specifically in IT, is a value change. It is all about taking IT as a core and then applying it in various domains such as banking, healthcare, aviation, etc.,’’she remarks.

Many times, it seemed like pure accident the manner in which Sujitha landed new assignments pushed further by her yearning to experiment. “Experimenting is very important. I think it is opportunity combined with luck many times coming after an extensive thinking process that prepares you for it. Young techies today forget the big picture; they are after the bigger pay or the bigger company name for recognition,” states this techie cum entrepreneur who now is planning to now take over as management guru as the next step of her grand 20x20 plan.

Her twenty-five year old career is testimonial to her achievements, a far cry from when her (future) professor at her engineering institute skeptically questioned her on her choice of pursuing engineering as a career option three decades ago. “You are going to get married and settled down anyway,” was his reasoning. Little did he realize the ‘positive’ heat it turned on which soon lead her not only to be an engineer, but everything else in between!

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