Leading from the front with a never-say-die attitude, HSBC’s Aparna Kumar is raring to go
From a young girl with an aspiration to secure a job to a new mother of twins, and finally a global leader in the world of banking, the transformation of Aparna Kumar, Chief Information Officer, HSBC India has been nothing short of impressive. In her three decade-long professional journey, Aparna shares her life lessons, a few failures, and many successes with YourStory in the latest episode of HER Leadership.
Powered by AWS, the conversation was steered by Chandra Balani, Head Global Enterprise India & Lead - ID&E initiatives, India, AISPL. The series puts the spotlight on some of the most successful and prominent enterprise business leaders in India.
Growing up in a small town called Anand in Gujarat, Aparna was the most pampered of the lot in her family. Deeply influenced by her grandmother, she imbibed the lessons of integrity and optimism from her. “My grandmother was very progressive in her thoughts and ensured all her daughters get excellent education so that they can stand on their feet and earn a living without losing their values,” says Aparna.
Fearless and brutal at her game, Aparna swears by the mantra of trust, belief, and empathy as the prerequisites for effective leadership.
A banker for many years now, Aparna started her career in the software industry. The big switch from the software industry to the banking sector has been nothing short of a paradigm shift for her. And it didn’t take her long to realise that the onus of building the whole digital architecture was on the banks, and that was one of the biggest challenges and a great learning for her early on.
“My entire perspective on banking changed within a few months of joining, as it wasn’t a solution, design, architecture or process but delivering excellent customer experience and delight. This is one thing that has helped me remain in touch with reality on the ground and focus on the end customer in mind,” she says.
Milestones and accomplishments
Pursuing an 18 month post graduate management programme from the Indian School of Business while working full-time along with managing her family has been a significant professional as well as personal achievement for Aparna.
One of the frontrunners in the digitisation journey, Aparna and her team were among the first few to lead the digital transformation of the banking industry. “Digital disruption was not just about business process reengineering, or technology, it was also about the way your thought process changes, your belief that this is something with which you can make a difference in the world, particularly from a customer perspective,” she adds.
With cloud implementation being her latest milestone, the list of achievements for this trailblazer is never ending. “We are working withvery closely to get our services on board and taking help and support from SMEs to assist us in doing that. These are some things that I had dreamt of and they are finally happening,” says an elated Aparna.
Navigating through challenges
From working for difficult customers using dated technology and an understaffed team, to working with European banks over varied time zones, Aparna has emerged victorious every time she encountered a setback.
Her leadership skills have always been a huge part of sailing through these challenges. “I think that transparency and honesty bring a lot of trust, you have to earn it. And that only happens when you accept the challenges and are ready to take risks on behalf of your team. You put your neck on the block and you always say failure is mine, success is yours,” she quips.
The move from software to customer engagement along with spearheading the whole digitisation process was one of the most challenging phases of her career, but teamwork and supportive mentors helped in smoothening out the bumps along the ride.
Leading from the front
With great mentors and supervisors all along, Aparna developed her own leadership skills and became a solid team player. Famously known as a no-nonsense boss, her leadership style is to ensure that ‘you deliver on your commitments’.
Extremely honest and blunt with her team, Aparna doesn’t believe in mincing her words, but she makes sure she leads from the front and acts as a shield protecting her team at all times.
Always insisting on the highest standards, this leader believes in pushing one’s potential and has helped in shaping many careers. “I've seen that people who I might have pushed as part of my leadership style have done wonders, and they come back to me saying that it was you who made us reach where we are today. And I think that is something I feel proud of,” says the hard taskmaster.
Helping women return to work
As a young mother to twin boys, the decision to join back the workforce was not an easy one. For Aparna, it was her husband’s unconditional support and encouragement that made her fight for her aspirations and aim for the pinnacle even post motherhood.
Having worked for almost the entire course of her pregnancy, she gives due credit to her team and organisation who not only supported her but also showed empathy and understanding all along.
While organisations are coming up with programmes to help women rejoin the workforce post maternity leave and scale up to leadership positions, it is still a long road ahead. Aparna strongly believes that women are ready to take the plunge but need someone to help them take the first step. “Technology has made information available. We need to continuously publish success stories of women who have gone ahead and followed their ambition post motherhood. And even those of failing and picking up the pieces again. It's a mindset change that women themselves have to bring about,” she elucidates.
The road ahead
A plethora of path-breaking innovations and many milestones later, Aparna’s future plans are consumer-centric. Her focus has now shifted towards enabling her customers to avoid any kind of risk-taking with their finances.
Turning philanthropic, Aparna foresees giving back to the society in the future of her journey. “Contributing to society and being able to make the smallest of difference is exactly the path I want to tread, moving forward,” she says.