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August - 2008 - issue > Woman Achiever
Success is All About Finding a Purpose
Vimali Swamy
Friday, August 1, 2008
Time Magazine, in its feature ‘People To Watch in International Business’, christened her as the ‘Oustsourcing Wunderkind’. India Today listed her among the Top 50 youth icons of the country. Today, Sangita Singh is the youngest ever Senior Vice President of Wipro Technologies. In 36 months, she has more than doubled the revenue of Wipro’s Enterprise Application Services (EAS) practice at nearly half-a-billion-dollar run rate; making EAS one of Wipro’s largest service lines.

It was a normal day for Sangita Singh in office. Suddenly, she found her door opening and none other than Azim Premji and Vivek Paul, then CEO at Wipro, walked into her room. She was nibbling some ‘channa’. Looking at her Premji said, “So you seem to have a lot of horse power, why don’t you take over the EAS business unit?” It was a bombshell, and the only word that she uttered was “What?” Even as she was reeling from the shock and thinking whether to commit or not, came the organizational announcement: Sangita Singh, Chief Marketing Officer, is the SVP - EAS business unit.

Today after three years, the unit she heads has doubled the revenue at nearly half-a-billion-dollar run rate; making it one of Wipro’s largest service lines. At a quite young age, Sangita has been able to impact the business of a billion dollar company like Wipro at a global level - a feat not most would even dream to make an attempt at. For a person who had been involved in the marketing side of the business, pulling this feat had been much more challenging. Steering a global team of 6,500, at 36, this youngest Senior Vice President of Wipro has her hands full, driving the exponential growth that the company had envisaged. Acknowledging her achievement, Time Magazine christened her ‘Outsourcing Wunderkind’ in its ‘People to Watch in International Business’ feature in November 2005.

“The initial days of transition were an agony. I did not have a clear knowledge of what the new role entailed. Suddenly I found myself facing the responsibilities for project deliveries, business expansion, and profit and loss. I was now directly involved with the company’s growth and had to deliver successfully on a quarter-to-quarter basis,” she recalls. For Wipro, the growth of the EAS business had become very critical, as it had to compete with IBM and Accenture for higher value consulting work. Sangita had to convince clients, majority of them in North America, that Wipro was up to the task. Though initially skeptical about her ability to effectively take over this role, she decided to take up the challenge and embraced this opportunity as a platform for learning and growing with the organization.

Moving Up the Ladder
An engineering graduate from REC Durgapur, Sangita had never belonged to that select group of students who had envisioned and chalked out their entire career path. Instead, all she had longed for after graduation was a job to become independent. So, when HCL conducted a campus placement, she jumped at the first opportunity available and won herself a job in sales and marketing. Within a few months after joining HCL her hopes of independency were truncated short as her parents decided to get her married. Post marriage, she relocated to Bangalore and joined Wipro as a senior management trainee. Still a person who did not have much vision about her career, she was very lucky to find a mentor in her husband, who taught her the ins and outs of the IT industry and helped her build a vision for herself. With her dynamism and newly found enthusiasm Sangita quickly moved up the ladder donning new roles and responsibilities. “He totally changed my outlook towards my profession and I became very focused and vocal about my opinions, and was sure of what I wanted,” says Sangita. It was this attitude that led her to the dream she had dreamt for herself.

She was a 32-year-old junior executive at Wipro, when, in 2001, the marketing director suddenly left. The company was undergoing a major transformation to move up the value chain in the global software industry and emerge as a genuine IT consultant than remain a mere executor of projects. Plans were chalked out to not only win some major clients but also for some substantial acquisitions in the U.S., and the situation called for an effective visibility of Wipro in the global market. Realizing the presence of an opportunity to prove her capabilities, she marched into Paul’s office and asked for the job but her request was turned down, as she was a ‘nobody’. Rebuffed, she returned ten days later with a detailed pitch. Her audacity and confidence impressed him and soon she was busy building the company’s global brand, as its youngest Chief Marketing Officer. As CMO, her marketing efforts earned her accolades from both industry analysts and the media. Under her leadership, Wipro won two technology marketing best practices awards—the IDC CMO global best practices award and ITSMA Services Marketing Excellence award.

Lessons Learnt the Hard Way
Even for the ever-focused Sangita, there had been moments in her career when she felt lost. Ashok Soota, Krishna Kumar, and some other leaders had just left Wipro to found Mindtree. For Sangita, who used to report to Krishna Kumar, it was a loss of a mentor. Due to the organizational change there was so much chaos and she felt that she had not got much as she should have from the organization and contemplated quitting. But her husband advised to be patient and she held on. So effective was his guidance that when she got an offer to join Mindtree, Sangita decided to stay on with Wipro.

“I’m sure there are several people who have gone through a similar phase in their career and ended up quitting. From my experience I would like to tell them that life, especially career, is a marathon and you may feel that you are not among the top few. This is just a passing moment. So stay in power, maintaining an exceptionally positive attitude and you will find yourself on the road to success,” she says.

A leader of immense caliber, she herself learnt some of the leadership qualities the hard way. Going back a couple of years, in the initial days of taking over managerial responsibilities, Sangita came across as a tough taskmaster. She was impatient, demanding, and would raise her voice a lot. “If my team did not deliver what I expected I would lose my temper and throw a fit. I felt my action was justified but slowly it dawned that this did not help as they would further go into their shells and nothing would come out of it,” remembers Sangita.

One evening on her way back to office, she saw a new joinee from her team leaving for home early. She called him back and asked him if he had finished all the tasks given to him. When he replied no, he had a taste of her fury and it was his very first day at work. She made him go back to the office and he worked late into night till he completed what was asked for. His only reaction to the entire incident was ‘Oh man! What a woman she is’.

Her temper has mellowed down over the years but it is her toughness and no-nonsense attitude that lets Sangita mould and push her team beyond limits and bring out the best from them. Today that new joinee has emerged as one of the star employees of her team.

Sangita Decoded
A very extrovert and creative person, she is quiet energetic, demanding, and sticks for details while at office – happy and boisterous with what her team has achieved but constantly driving herself and others to do better every time by raising the bar. But once outside the office premises, she surprises her colleagues with her relaxed and ‘anything is acceptable’ attitude. Sangita is very passionate about books and can spend hours reading almost anything. She also plays an active role in grooming future leaders, especially women, in her role as the Executive Sponsor of the ‘Women of Wipro’ initiative that nurtures their talent in the organization.

Being a woman herself, she confides that personally she never had to deal with women issues in her career. As a CMO, being a woman had proved to be an advantage for her, as people would remember her much better than her counterparts. “When you are a leader you deal with only leadership issues and not gender issues. One has to stop living with the complex that things will be difficult if one is a woman. Men have their set of challenges that they face in their career. So instead of belittling oneself, we should make use of the opportunities without hesitation when they come,” she explains.

During the course of her career, Sangita has learnt that if one has the confidence and the will to make it happen then nothing will stop one from achieving what he or she wants. Factors like qualification, IQ, EQ, and other such things seem very trivial. “Today there is ample opportunity for every one but what is important is finding a ‘purpose’ for oneself. It is this ‘purpose’ that defines a person and makes a difference in ones life. It is this ‘purpose’ that has made leaders like Ratan Tata and Azim Premji what they are today,” she states.

In the current scenario when the industry is going through turbulent times, Sangita is on the look out for more avenues of growth and hopes to promote aggressive young people even if they’re a bit green on paper. It worked for her, she says. “I’ll just pass it on.”

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