I come from a very normal upper middle class family. I was born in Delhi. I travelled around the world quite a bit in my childhood, as my father was in the Foreign Service. As I kid, I spent time in Delhi, Iraq, Iran, Japan and Pakistan. After school, I did stats honors from Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. I loved math as a child. I have been fortunate to travel the world. Travelling certainly develops one’s personality. It exposes you to a lot of different cultures and that is a very good thing in your initial years.
I think the only subject that I understood during school was maths. English Literature also fascinated me. But I was crazy about math. After school, I naturally enrolled myself in Statistics at Lady Shri Ram College, New Delhi. I later did my Masters in Applied Math from Carleton University, Canada. I started my PhD there, but one term into it I missed home a lot. So I decided to come back to India.
After coming back, I joined TCS. I had never done programming before, so it was an entirely new learning experience for me. TCS’ training was very good back then. I was at TCS for three years and then I joined NIIT where I spent another two years. Post that, I took a three-year break to spend time with my young son. During that time, my husband who was at TCS was posted to Switzerland and Belgium. So we moved along with him. After three years we returned to India. I didn’t want to take hard core IT job because at that time outsourcing was the in thing, and I didn’t want a job where I had to travel often for long periods. So I joined DraftFCB ULKA. It has been 17 years with ULKA, and I love it absolutely.
ULKA was radically different. When I joined, we were a lot smaller then. You are catering to people who are consumers of the organizations. Advertising agency is completely different from an IT organization. Advertising agency is fairly chaotic, everything is open for debate, there are no rules and that is how creativity works. Being exposed to various projects at ULKA gives me a 360 degree understanding of an organization and a sector. The whole process of creating an ad is phenomenal. It is an entirely scientific process which I have come to love.
Before I joined ULKA, I was a hard-core math person; I was only guided by logic. Here at ULKA, I get to evaluate technologies from multiple perspectives and not just mine. There is something new happening everyday and there is no dull moment in advertising.
Always ask what problem you are trying to solve. Once you have that defined very clearly, you work backwards to arrive at possible solutions. Once I moved from hardcore programming to ULKA, it was a completely different ball game; every day there was a new challenge and something different to learn. But I always start with trying to clearly understanding the requirements and defining the problem.
One thing that has helped me clearly is discipline. Second is detailing, creating a plan and sticking to it. These things are important everywhere.
Second thing from a CIO perspective is that it is important that you align your department goals with the overall objective of the organization. You have to understand all the solutions that are there in the market, but you also need to have the wisdom to understand what fits the need of the organization right now. You need have a thorough understanding of the existing processes of your business to be able to carefully gauge what increases productivity and reduces cost for the organization.
And the main thing which brought me where I am is passion. I love what I do, and am extremely passionate about what I do. We don’t work eight hours a day, or five hours a day go home and forget about work. We are on our jobs 24/7. There are obviously days when your stress levels are high, but at the end of the day you must love the core of your job. Only if you are passionate can you transfer some of your enthusiasm to your team members. If the leader herself is not motivated, there is no way team members are going to run for a cause.
In my case, my productivity stays high because I am extremely methodical and extremely detail oriented. I refuse to compromise on detailing and planning.
Digital is the way forward. However, print and TV are not going away anytime soon in India. Having said that, digital is going to play a huge role in advertising spends. My son does everything on his laptop and everyone from his generation does too. Digital enables a lot of personalization. Advertising agencies are paying heed and they have to be able to cater to digital and social in a big and creative way.
To be honest, the three years I took the break were the best years of my life. I took a break because my kid was just two years old. At that age it is fun to be with the kids. My advice is do not be scared of taking a break. Your knowledge doesn’t go away when you are taking a break, it stays with you. Maybe when you come back you might be a couple of years behind, but you can make up for it in the long run. For women, it is easy now than ever before, given the sheer penetration of technology and internet. Today if anyone wants to take a break, then please take it. Keep yourselves updated by reading. Stay in touch with your subject matter. Once you decide to go back to work, plan who is going to take care of the kid or the house, and how you and your partner are going to divide the tasks between each other. Because once you return to work, you need to be there fully, not always physically, but mentally. Be patient, don’t be in a rush. In a career span of 30 years, two years really don’t make a difference.