Listening to voices within, and outside
Harish Revanna
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Mohan Maheswaran is the chief executive
officer of Semtech (Nasdaq SMTC: market cap of $975.23 M), a supplier of analog and mixed signal semiconductor products.

My Beginning
To make a point right at the outset, my uniqueness starts with my being born in Srilanka. Even though I didn’t grow up there, since schooling happened in U.K and so did most part of my college and initial stages of work life, my culture is essentially Asian. I’d started off a career in chip designing, but soon changed focus to functional areas such as application software. Somehow as I experienced the business side of technology, and learnt about sales and marketing, I felt the need for a business degree. In two years time, I was out of Henley Executive Management College, armed with an MBA degree and working for Texas Instruments. MBA triggered my sense of appreciation for the people on the management, financial and operational departments in the organization. As I was enjoying this holistic view of my company, I had to fly down to Bangalore, India, to work with my team there.

My return to London had another surprise in store: an offer to work in TI’s U.S office. So even before I left to the America, I’d seen and dealt with the Asians, the Europeans and worked with a U.S firm, having a so-called culturally-global life and reciting my own global mantra: “In this world, all individuals are really the same except their difference in perspective, behavior and viewpoints. One needs to appreciate each of them to exploit their assets in terms of potential, abilities and character. ”

My days inside Behemoths
Right after my stint in India, I was relocated to work at Dallas, Texas Instruments’ headquarter in the early days. But I soon quit TI to work for IBM Microelectronics in Connecticut for the next 10-years of my life. I then made way to the Silicon Valley to work for a few more big corps like the Hewlett Packard and Nortel. Naturally, by then, I was motley of different organizational cultures; learning each companies’ varied (although for a singular goal) methods of human resource development strategies. But my trouble with blind acceptance of styles and unintelligible cultures set by a few individuals left few takers. Notwithstanding, there were very few attempts for explanation while constantly thwarting my views and perspective. Although today these small snubs add little value for thought, it has helped me maintain certain adaptability with a few young employees and their frustrated behavior at times. It has not only tooled me to help people overcome frustrations, but also show a ray of hope. Tell them there is always a dawn following darkness. Importantly, it is those thwarts in my early life that have charted my philosophy of management.

My Management Theory
Leaders are managers who have the ability to influence, while helping the people and the company succeed. Irrespective of a company’s size, nature, type and region of existence, five tenets of leadership apply to all. Starting from setting a clear vision to architecting strategies to get there, creating a set of values to incubating a sense of co-beliefs in the company and finally, designing the right environment for all this to exist in peace. It is certain that different companies and businesses need different leadership, not necessarily different leaders. And to spot those leaders is what I call the process of finding teachers.

A CEO in my parlance is a teacher; anyone with a teacher’s heart generally evolves as a good leader. Introspection makes me believe that I’m a teacher trying to educate my team on how to carry out a job efficiently and getting on to the next level, in turn raising the bar and pushing the company into the next paradigm. My favor finds way to such teachers inside the company. They are the ones who’re ready to make sacrifices to help their people. And their skills are clearly obvious in terms of their passion, depth of knowledge, clear vision and the ability to work hard by setting higher standards each time. My uniqueness in understanding different cultures assists me in identifying such people, or search for their potential in a different manner or through different roles. And getting the best out of my employees—an important quality of a leader.

My Leadership Mantra
Here again, my exposure to different cultures gives me the strength to handle certain things very differently from others. For instance, if a business problem does not see a cure through an American approach, I would resort to an Asian or a European way of approaching it.

Remember, neither of them is the right approach all the time. Different cultures have different merits. It is important for global companies to embrace global cultures of business and exploit the advantages each bring to the table.
So do individuals from different cultural background. Appreciating this cultural disparity in turn would help realize the dichotomy: Employees believe they work for the leaders, while the leader thinks he works for his employees. I have constantly worked for my employees’ goodwill; I care about people regardless of the company. A true leader is one who listens to all his employees. I can listen for long-hours saying nothing, but processing and learning new things from experiences and perceptions of my employees. My work as a leader immediately starts at this interjection to quickly turn around a discussion into a set of actions and help the individual aim and achieve the goal, which he always thought was unrealizable.

Motivation for me stems from such actions, constantly reassuring my principle to work hard for the people, their family and my faith. These principles or values are critical whether you run a company or a family.

My Other Side
Sometime before I left to the US, a marriage had made me a family man. Family, I believe, chiseled a few important characteristics of mine. Today my patience towards my employees is probably a lesson learned from seeing my kids grow while making mistakes. My compromising attitude was an outcome of sharing my life with a partner. And so are a few behaviors of mine all cast by a family. Looking back in time sometimes arouses the philosophical man inside me. I’m a spiritual person and my spirituality is the police in my mind. The art of controlling my mind and driving away unsolicited thoughts of work while with family or the other way round, or even handling a good or a bad news, is important to me. When you get your hold on mind and control on that strength, then you could get through extraordinary things.
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