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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Spark of the corporate is today celebrating Vanitha Narayanan, an epitome of power-woman, the Chairman of IBM Indian Private Limited. She has been trending as one among the top inspirational women whom the youth of the country has been looking up to. Working with diverse clients across the globe, her leadership qualities and deep expertise in telecom solutions has shepherded the company to new heights. She has perceived the importance of social media in gathering customer feedback quite early and has been putting it to use wisely.

The start...

She moved to US in 1981 with a degree in Marketing and Advertising. At 22, her plan was to study marketing in Chicago and then a Ph.D under Philip Kotler, the marketing guru. But life had other plans for her. One may find it quite shocking to learn that the very first job of the now Chairman of the leader of global technology solutions was that of a minimum wage earning shop-floor clerk in a mall in US. She did not curse her luck. Instead, she took charge of her life and utilised this opportunity to understand the new country, its culture and later the art of selling, knowing the customer and driving them to create a positive shopping experience. Two and a half years in this job may not have paved a strong career path for her, but it certainly gave her valuable life lessons which started giving shape to the strong and talented business woman, Vanitha Narayanan, we see today.

An IBM veteran...

This shining star took off her career with IBM as a trainee in 1987 and served the telecom customer Southwestern Bell Telephone Company in Missouri, US. With her husband travelling often she had to juggle between raising her daughter and work as a sales rep dealing with customers with a different cultural experience than hers. Being liberal arts major with no strong technical backing, she became a little insecure walking with the smart technologists around her. It's this insecurity and discomfort that pushed her further in life.

After a decade with this client in various roles, she moved on to take up global roles and in 2006; she was in Shangai to lead the Asia-Pac communication sector business. After two decades of her service outside India, she came back to India as VP – S&D and then the Managing partner of Global Business Service.

She was inducted to IBM Industry Academy in 2012, which is an expert team designed to advance IBM as a brand. It is an indeed proud moment to know that Vanitha Narayanan was the first woman to head IBM's India operation when she took charge as the Managing Director of IBM India Private Ltd in January 2013. She fought hard to ensure that IBM starts winning large outsourcing contracts again beating its rivals in the market. From January 2017 onwards, she is taking IBM India to a new level through enabling capabilities across IBM’s global missions in India, global centers of excellence, and research and innovation labs in her latest capacity as the Chairman.

With three decades of service with the technology giant, IBM, she has amassed rich experience and deep industry expertise over the years. Starting from client-facing leadership roles, she climbed the corporate ladder to national and global leadership roles adding feathers to her cap. She has adorned many vital roles in the senior management of Asia-Pac region in the last decade as Vice President , Sales and Distribution – India / South Asia, Managing Partner – GBS ISA, Managing Director of IBM India and has now propelled herself to the position of Chairman.

A woman leader...

It is also extremely important to note the dedication of this woman leader in a male dominated work force, to bring forward talented women leaders to the limelight as the executive sponsor for developing women's leadership in IBM's India/South Asia region and a member of IBM's Multicultural Women's Network. She believes that technology development has bridged the gender gap at work place by levelling the ground for all alike, which in turn has pushed more women to excel in their workplace.

She fondly remembers that when she was called to come down for the IBM interview in short notice, she was asked to bring her three year old along as her husband was also travelling. The person on the other end assured that necessary arrangements will be made to take care of the child when she is being interviewed. It dawned on her how IBM treats its employees as people with family and personal commitments, and not just as employees. No prize for guessing why she never left IBM. Many such gestures from her colleagues and the management pulled her deeper and closer to the IBM family. When she rose to the leadership role, she assured that the fellow women IBMers gets even better treatment at their workplace. Her team walk that extra mile to understand and accommodate the new requirements of the talented and committed women, so that IBM doesn't lose them and they don't lose IBM.

In 2015, she became the first woman to be appointed as the chairperson of AMCHAM, India, an industrial body incepted in 1992.

Technology and India...

Vanitha Narayanan is optimistic that the engagement of English speaking young population of India at a macro level would enable India to drive the ecosystem. She strongly believes that IBM Watson can play a major role in large-scale problem solving of the nation, especially in the areas of health, education, financial services and talent management. She is immensely proud to see a big opportunity for companies and enterprises to digitise its portfolio of cloud platforms and cognitive solutions underpinned by analytics or digital intelligence. It's not just about the operations of the company; she and her team partners with the Government of India initiatives for giving a better life to the citizens of the country through big picture initiatives like smart cities, digital India, financial inclusion, Startup India etc.

Vanitha Narayanan sees a bright future in the small and medium firms and start ups of India by tapping the democratised high end technology and reaping it's benefits without having to make huge investments. Technologies such as cloud, analytics, mobile, cognitive and security, coupled with a robust infrastructure has immense potential for India’s growth and transformation. She was heading the global technology solutions company when the government was shifting gears to facilitate digital transformation which opened a new era for the Indian industries. Having worked a large chunk of her life outside India and dealing handling multiple challenging assignments, she says she could see something different coming back to India.

Education...

She has bagged Masters in Business Administration in Marketing as well as Information Systems from the University of Madras and University of Houston - Magna Cum Laude respectively. She is also conferred with the Degree of Doctor of Letters by the LNM Institute of Information Technology.

Personally...

This charismatic leader and extremely modest business woman is collaborative and decisive. She relates herself to being “influential” rather than being “powerful”. She loves reading, watching cookery shows, experimenting with various dishes, catching up political news etc.

Married and proud mother of a daughter, Vanitha Narayanan is currently residing in Bangalore.

Associations

Member of IBM’s Integration & Values Team
Member of IBM’s Global Women’s Council
Member of IBM's Growth and Transformation team
Former Chairperson of board of governors for NIT
Former chairperson of AMCHAM (American Chamber of Commerce) India
Member of CII
Co-chair of National Committee for MNCs of CII
Director of Catalyst India Advisory Board

Awards and accolades

Named as one among the 12 Global Indian Super Women of 2016 by CXOToday
As one of the ‘Most Powerful Women’ in Business in India (2016) by Business Today
Conferred with the Degree of Doctor of Letters by the LNM Institute of Information Technology.

Quotes

I have certainly not felt it. But we cannot declare victory and women should continue to remain focused - on the glass ceiling
It helped me lay a foundation - you respect the industry of your client and sometimes, the client is your best teacher – on the experience with her first client.
If we focus on skilling and innovation, we can be not just part of the new ecosystem, but drive the ecosystem.
It’s all about ensuring that the way we work delivers a better outcome for the client, otherwise the partnership isn’t sustainable.
The one's who succeed and lead will be the ones who become learners.
Change and comfort, and, growth and comfort, don't go together. Be just a little bit uncomfortable and insecure, because that will push you further.
You can't do it alone. You need people to opt in with you. The more people say it's our job, the easier it gets.

Hope viewers caught up the spark …

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