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Padma Parthasarathy, SVP and Global Head, Consulting and Digital Services at Tech Mahindra

Padma Parthasarathy, SVP and Global Head, Consulting and Digital Services at Tech Mahindra chats with Sanjay Swamy, Managing Partner Prime Venture Partners.

Padma Parthasarathy heads the global consulting team at Tech Mahindra – a team engaged in business consulting, as well as technology and business process advisory & re-engineering services. One of her key focus areas is assisting clients with their digital transformation strategy. 
She is also responsible for the growth of digital business at Tech Mahindra. She works with global clients on redefining their products and services, business models, and processes to take advantage of digital opportunities.

Listen to the podcast to learn about

1:10 - Padma's 25+ years long career journey. From IIM-A to now heading global consulting @ Tech Mahindra
6:28 - ‘Understanding what your customer needs and wants, rather than what your solution is doing’
11:00 - How the digital initiatives have helped India leapfrog
14:00 - Advice to youngsters who are building their career
17:10 - Why you should stay technical as long as you can
20:05 -  ‘You don’t require only technology or only soft skills, you need combination of both.’
 
Read the full transcript below
 

Sanjay Swamy 0:22

Hi everybody, this is Sanjay Swamy here with Prime Ventures Partners. I have a very special guest today Padma Parthasarathy. Padma leads consulting for Tech Mahindra globally and has more than 25 years of experience in consulting, technology and process outsourcing primarily in the financial services industry. Padma was recently awarded or listed by Forbes Magazine as one of the India women power lists. Congratulations!

Padma Parthasarathy 0:50

Thank you.

Sanjay Swami 0:51

And so welcome to our show. Padma, would be great if you could start a little bit with your background. Our audience here is largely entrepreneurs in the technology space and you’ve very colorful background across 25 years. I would love for them to hear your background and how you got into consulting and some of your life experiences.

Padma Parthasarathy 1:10

Sure. Thank you, Sanjay, thanks for having me on the show. Hi everyone. My background is, I had a very interesting childhood. I was born in Kerala and brought up in Goa, so I love the sea. I miss that a lot in places like Bangalore. So, I studied in Goa, did my graduation there in physics and mathematics, and then moved to IIM Ahmedabad for my MBA, like I was telling you earlier, I’m probably the least qualified person in my family with an MBA most of them are PhDs in my family. So about work, I started my career with Citicorp Overseas software in Bombay. So very early on, I started specializing, I guess more by accident then design in the financial services BFSI space. So post that I worked with organizations like HCL Perot Systems, with Capco etc. where I continued that specialization in financial services. And then I joined Tech Mahindra in 2006, which was my first foray outside of the BFSI sector. And here I’ve been involved in multiple areas. I’ve been stumbling with strategic initiatives like the expansion we did into China earlier. And after the acquisition of Satyam, I did manage the integration of Satyam and Tech Mahindra. I ran the banking financial services vertical for a short while, and led some of the new initiatives which created this new line of business in Australia for Superannuation. And now I head the consulting and digital business.

Sanjay Swamy 2:32

Wonderful! I’m sure it’s been quite an amazing journey. So along the way, I mean, it’s great to see women rising to such high positions here at the firm like Tech Mahindra. What were some of the things that you felt inherently as a woman nothing was different between you and your other colleagues and things where you have to perhaps work harder in areas where you actually think you had an advantage.

Padma Parthasarathy 2:57

Sure, I think I was probably lucky. People in the IT sector in the 80s, I think that was probably the most, equal kind or less discrimination kind of sector that you could be in. And so, I was usually the only woman on the team, yes. But I didn’t think that gender was really holding me back at that time. And people didn’t really look upon me as different because of that. Yes, there were restrictions about how long you could work. And those days, you didn’t have things like cars dropping you home so we made our own way. But, people were very, very supportive. So I remember bosses or colleagues dropping you home, if it were late, etc. But, what I did notice, and I think the great thing about India, which I realized only when I went to the US is that we didn’t have differences between men and women in terms of pay. Definitely at the entry level in the first 10-15 years of your career you don’t see that. Perhaps later, there are differences. But, I noticed that when I went to the US that women were getting paid less for instance, and seem to be treated far more differently than we felt in India. So actually, I was far more comfortable working in India than overseas.

Sanjay Swamy 4:02

Wow! That’s really good to hear as well. I mean, it’s not one of those things that people talk about a lot. What do you think from your experience and from what you believe in? What do you think are some of the advantages that women have over male colleagues when it comes to managing people, when it comes to coursing people, doing working harder, and so on? What are some things that you feel work better?

Padma Parthasarathy 4:24

I’m not sure, actually. Because I think I’ve grown up with many boys. So I used to play with my brothers as a young child etc. I think, yes, women do tend to multitask a lot. You can’t really do multiple things at the same time, you have to do them sequentially. But I guess we are used to balancing multiple things. So that’s an advantage at work, especially in today’s kind of lifestyle and work style, perhaps more patient. I wouldn’t say that for myself. But, yes, women tend to be more patient. But otherwise, I think they, in terms of skills in terms of ability to do things, it’s fairly equal. So I don’t really see too much difference. At least, when I was talking to women about how they felt about work, etc, and what the challenges for them were. They talked about the fact that when they’re in office, they do give it 100% they don’t get distracted by things like smoke breaks, etc, that often. This again, perhaps 10 years ago, maybe today it’s different. And therefore they were always being told that they were not putting in as many hours as the men and they weren’t working late, etc. And when you actually measured it, you find that they’re probably doing the same amount if not more. It’s just that the perceptions were there because they’re not in the office after six o’clock or whatever it is.

Sanjay Swamy 4:41

So make more use of the time that you’re at the office and be more efficient.

Padma Parthasarathy 5:40

Come in early, to do stuff earlier.

Sanjay Swamy 5:42

Awesome! Obviously, you’ve had several years of experience and you’ve seen and worked with youngsters over the years, and see how the work ethic and things like that has evolved you’ve seen it in different parts of the world. A lot of our audience are young entrepreneurs, or people working in the startup ecosystem and thinking of going off on their own. And as a consultant, you’ve had some entrepreneurial stints as well. It would be great if you could share a little bit about your experiences and what you think works. What do you think people want, to say, who are working in the tech industry, in the consulting industry, but want to venture into entrepreneurship, what they should look out for and vice versa. People who are in the software tech space, but want to get into consulting, how would life be different for them?

Padma Parthasarathy 6:28

Sure. So a couple of things. One is, I think, understanding what your customer needs and wants, rather than what your solution is doing. I think starting from the outside in is very, very important. You might have a brilliant idea but if it doesn’t have a customer for it, it doesn’t have people interested in it then it won’t really succeed. And I think a lot of entrepreneurs tend to focus on their solution rather than the business problem that their customers are facing. If you’re building a product, experience is so important and being able to create that experience when you’re even selling it. So the prototypes and things are so important. All of us have got very spoiled now with our own devices and the kind of experiences those give us, all of us expect that from whatever we get around us now. So being able to actually understand again the psyche of your end customer and designing things for them correctly is quite important perhaps much, much more so now than it was maybe 10-15 years ago. So those are, I think, two things. And the third is that ‘fail fast’ I think is very, very important. Figure out what is working and what’s not quickly so that you can adapt and adaptability is so critical, again, to be able to change and not be stuck with what you have been doing so far, but adapt to what the market requires.

So obviously, one of the challenges for a lot of consultants is that, ultimately, you’re not building for the customer, but you’re building for the customer’s customer.

Padma Parthasarathy 7:51

Exactly!

Sanjay Swamy 7:52

Even when it’s customer facing. How challenging is that for engineers, especially if they’re sitting in a different geography trying to build for a customer of a company that is in the US, for example, your team is sitting here in India, and what are the best practices to try to overcome some of it?

Padma Parthasarathy 8:09

Oh, absolutely! I think in the past we were very-very removed from end customers because in India you would be developing software which went to somebody else probably in the IT and went to the business and then finally to an end customer. So we typically depended on requirements that came from the customer to develop whatever we needed to. Today, we have a lot more access. One, there is obviously the travel and things that are there. But more importantly, I think we have a lot more access to getting information. So I remember one of the our teams internally, we challenged them to do kind of design thinking or at least understanding customer requirements. Because they couldn’t talk to the end customer, they went online, they found things like customer forums where the end customers had listed complaints about the products that they had from this client of ours. And through that they were able to say this is how we should address it. So I think there are now creative ways of actually identifying the needs of those end customers. So definitely research, both secondary as well as primary research. You can actually reach out to end customers also, now.

Sanjay Swamy 9:13

That’s amazing! Because I think certainly and this is a huge industry that India has built from the likes of the Infosys, Wipros and the TCS and Tech Mahindra and companies like this, I think the first generation, the perception was that because mostly sort of the overseas customer defines the requirements and the India team probably has to implement it. But now you’re saying that a lot of the thinking behind the solution is also being sort of co-created between the customer and the consulting service.

Padma Parthasarathy 9:49

Absolutely! And even the kind of problem statements we are getting now are quite different. So in the past, they would say implement SFDC for me or implement an ERP for me. But the problem statements that are coming to us today are, I have a negative net promoter score, can you help me improve it? I want to grow my trucking business 4x for a logistics company and how will digital help me to do that? So, now you have to get a lot more involved in the customers business and understand it in order to create or craft a solution. It’s not the customer telling you this is what I want.

Sanjay Swamy 10:21

And also because technology is changing so fast, and customer expectations are changing so fast. I guess we don’t have this sequential building opportunity.

Padma Parthasarathy 10:32

That’s right. And I guess the way software is also developed in this whole agile, iterative fashion etc.

Sanjay Swamy 10:38

So, that means that people who are in the consulting industry here in India are actually being exposed more and more to the state of the art end customer experience as well. And in some ways, some of those experiences are very applicable for the startup ecosystem here or the technology ecosystem here as well if they wanted to sort of work in a startup or build a product or do their own startup, for example, exposure is already better.

Padma Parthasarathy 11:05

Yes, absolutely. And also, I think the great thing is that India now with all of the digital initiatives that have taken place in India, we are actually far ahead in some of the things. So one of our customers in the telecom space was actually saying when they were asking for ideas from our teams. And our team said, Oh, in India, we do it this way. We can get a connection activated in less than a day, how come you take three days to do it? So I think with the work that people like you have done I think on Digital India, we have leapfrogged quite a bit. So our experiences here and our work here, is now being used as examples of what can be done differently in other markets.

Sanjay Swamy 11:44

Wow! That’s great, because I think you’re saying that the exposure that our teams have got here, in some cases is way ahead of the rest of the countries.

Padma Parthasarathy 11:52

Absolutely! Because now you can have a SIM card activated in about half an hour or something in India which they haven’t been able to do in other markets that easily.

Sanjay Swamy 12:01

That’s very interesting. So on this topic, we have Aadhar and India stack and UPI is a payment, real time interbank payment system, which pretty much still has not been copied in any other part of the world. And Google wrote this letter to the Fed, suggesting that they should try to do something similar to UPI in the US, and given your banking BFSI experience, are you seeing other markets also trying to replicate this whole, digital framework that we have in India, similar to India stack for customer onboarding, KYC, instant account opening and things like that.

Padma Parthasarathy 12:38

So, there is interest. I have not seen anybody, I think adopted fully, probably because they have a lot of legacy. I think the great thing about India is we didn’t have too much legacy in these areas we could build from scratch and you could build a state of the art up front. But yes, there is a lot of interest. I mean, there are telco there are banks that are asking how these things work in India and what they can replicate, but probably not the full stack as we see it here.

Sanjay Swamy 13:02

And we’re seeing a lot of interest in all of this. Literally governments and countries are looking at what’s happening in India, especially in the emerging economies. So if you look at several countries in Africa, where they say, maybe we don’t have to go through all the evolution and we can straight away leapfrog.

Padma Parthasarathy 13:19

Connect! So yeah, mobile payments, for instance, has become a big thing in Africa, the Middle East areas, right. So Comviva, which is one of our group companies does a lot of business in peer to peer payments in that region. And that platform has been extremely successful in doing a lot of this. so yes, these markets have had access to faster technology and much cheaper also, for them operationally to access.

Sanjay Swamy 13:44

So, your career has been sort of a storied career, and I’m sure there’s a lot of hard work that has gone into it, perhaps some serendipity and some other things as well. But of course, sometimes the harder you work the luckier you get as they say, but I’m sure there’s a lot of perhaps planning and inflection points in your career. What do you advise youngsters? It doesn’t matter whether they’re working in consulting or in technology companies, startups or what have you building their careers over a period of time. What are your say, top three pieces of advice to all youngsters and then of course, any additional ways you would say for women.

Padma Parthasarathy 14:26

Sure! So yes, I think don’t look back too much, you made a decision to move on with it. I guess when I was in cosal, one of the logical things for me to have done was probably to go overseas and join Citi which is what a lot of my colleagues had done. And yes, that would have given me probably very good growth. But I took the decision to stay on in India and work in different areas, in fact, lead the company at that time. So that took me on a different trajectory. Is it better or worse? I don’t know. But I made that decision. I think I shouldn’t really look back and regret things too much and move forward. So that’s one advice. Don’t rethink these things too many times. A second is work hard, a lot of the times people I think expect to get a position, get a title when they come into an organization, what they don’t realize is once they come in and start working good people get things handed to them. So if you’re working hard you automatically will get more responsibility, you will automatically actually grow. So it may not happen when you first enter the company. So don’t be too whet up about titles and positions and things like that when you start off, especially in the beginning of your career, those things will come as you work. And I think it’s very important to be part of a team because everything right now actually works a lot on collaboration. So the ability to work with others and work at different paces, depending on who you’re working with is quite important.

Sanjay Swamy 15:46

That’s very interesting because I think the part about coming if you like the team, like the leadership, like the company, start working, do great work and good opportunities do keep opening up to people that are already in the company. So one of the things that I have seen at least and has bothered me from time to time in India is obviously there is a lot of opportunity. And so a lot of the growth comes by switching from one company to another, which means you interview very, very well. But it doesn’t mean that you’re great at what you do, because after your work if you’re not getting promoted and getting more responsibility. And I think obviously, you can’t stop people from leaving, getting great opportunities, potentially with huge salary increments. But people are probably missing out on this growth path within the company and see the company grow. Well, so what advice would you give people, when should they say, Well, you know, this is a good option for me to leave versus stay here because good things are likely to happen. Like what are the 2-3 metrics they should be looking at when they’re making this decision? Because the opportunities will keep coming.

Padma Parthasarathy 16:55

Sure! So, I guess, the growth I mean, what kind of growth do you have? How much will you learn? Because I think that’s very, very important. In today’s world you have to keep learning. So is that new job going to give you an opportunity to learn something new, learn something different. And yeah, so opportunity and learning, I guess those are the two things that I would look at in these things. The other thing actually, I wanted to add one more thing to the advice, stay technical as long as you can, because I think the ability to especially in the IT field to understand technology and to grow with it is very important. The management skills you will pick up over time. So don’t get whet up about again, you know, having a management job, so to speak, managing teams and those things will come but stay technical as long as possible.

Sanjay Swamy 17:39

And moving ahead, just actually on that point, stay technical for as long as you can. management skills will come. Technology also is changing a lot. So how does one sort of devote some share of their time, invariably tends to be personal time to stay abreast with technology? Ofcourse, there are a lot of online opportunities and so forth. But how significant and important is it?

Padma Parthasarathy 18:06

Hugely important, because I think the ability to be able to understand and apply new things to what you do is so important and I look at and probably as you’re managing businesses to be able to decide what things will be relevant for your business going forward is so important. So yes, reading blogs of people who are at the forefront of these things is probably the quickest way to start. But then going, doing the more deeper courses is also important. But I think the advantage now is that you can learn anytime, anywhere where earlier you had to go to a classroom and attend a course on these things whereas today you can learn in your house and like you said on your own time, wherever on your phone, etc. Also, you can download some of these things and learn. So that advantage is there today. There’s also this huge, I guess plethora of things available. So trying to decide and prioritize which you should learn which you can do with a basic level, that’s also quite important. So organizations like ours have tried to curate some of that content and say, Okay, this is probably what you should be doing at this level, etc. So we’re lucky, maybe in that sense, to have somebody to do that research and provide it to us. But yes, otherwise, I think the ability to choose the topics wisely and decide what you need to learn is quite important.

Sanjay Swamy 19:23

And lastly in the whole data revolution that’s happening and AI is fundamentally transforming how people think about solving technology problems, or people now can attempt to solve fairly audacious problems that were impossible to solve because of the new methodology and cloud computing, things like that. What is your advice for youngsters around these areas, especially those who may not be, both you have the technologists and the non technologists? How significant of an impact is this going to have over the next 10-15 years, for people who are in the mainstream.

Padma Parthasarathy 20:02

I think it is important to know these areas. And I think, now actually there is an interesting change that’s happening. You don’t require only technology or only soft skills, you need this combination of both. Because you might have data but to be able to understand that data and to interpret it correctly, you need to understand data science, you also need to understand psychology to some extent, especially when you’re dealing with retail markets or retail consumers, etc. So that combination is quite important. Similarly, you can’t just develop software you have to have the design and creative element as well. So I think people now have to bridge these two areas as the scene is completely different in the right and left brain so to speak, have to come together a little bit more. So it’s good to see schools also encouraging both things now in children. So they are not sent to one course or one stream. It’s not just science or technology. It is science, technology and maybe arts as well. So STEAM is probably what is going to come out now.

Sanjay Swamy 20:59

Yeah, because they In our generation, they’re probably were more focused on STEM. And then the right brain was either not really appreciated or not probably not understood very well, but now it’s becoming very important.

Padma Parthasarathy 21:14

It was seen as a good hobby to have.

Sanjay Swamy 21:20

And then now you’re saying they actually are both very important skills from both ends. Obviously, you will have specialists on either side, but we are saying there’s opportunity for people who can develop both sides.

Padma Parthasarathy 21:33

There’s a need to at least appreciate the other side and to be able to, you know, at least access the right skills on the other side as well. So while you might be a more creative person who understands psychology and things like that. You need to be able to find the right person who can give you the data and the interpretation of that to feed that correctly.

Sanjay Swamy 21:53

Building a team, to double click a little on this last piece when you’re building the team. How easy or difficult is it, to pull together sort of a well rounded team, because especially in a startup, where you have a small team, and with large companies, also you end up having a small team and you don’t have infinite resources. So, what’s the balance? And how does one come up with a balance?

Padma Parthasarathy 22:17

Yes. So you have to look at which people have what skills and kind of, like you said, balance it out. So there is that requirement for having the right experience design kind of skills and depends on what you’re building also, if you’re building an app, which is going to be used by the end consumer, yes, you would need to do that. You’re building a back end system, the thing that probably focused more on technology and architecture, rather than the front end experience. And the other part now, of course, while you talk about agile teams and things like that but you do still need to have that program project management skills, and not everybody has those skills. So that’s also important to build in get people trained on how to keep track of deadlines in the work. So, agile is probably all very well, in an experimentation first and it works very well, even in commercial situations, so long as somebody is keeping track of these things,

Sanjay Swamy 23:08

And do you feel they’re getting better at things. And all of these things, a little bit progress. Or new problems come about from a customer perspective. Is the transparency, visibility and predictability of projects being done in a certain timeframe with a certain budget, getting better?

Padma Parthasarathy 23:28

I’m not sure because I think there are enough digital projects that have failed precisely because they haven’t understood an external requirement or they’ve tried to build something too esoteric, etc. One thing though, there is a lot more focus on things that are going to work or at least there where the end customer is going to get a benefit. And what’s also happened is now everybody’s doing technology. So it’s not only the CIO, CTO kind of realm. which means that you do have pockets of things getting developed on their own, which may not be maintainable or you know, done right or architected right etc. So I think that you go a few steps in one direction, and then you kind of rein back a little make sure it all fits together correctly and is able to. The CIO team is able to take charge of it immediately.

Sanjay Swamy 24:12

Probably also able to do a lot more iterations faster on shorter development cycles and test something before actually doubling down on it.

Padma Parthasarathy 24:21

Absolutely. And then I think the ability to access things, information, data, consumer, suppliers, everything is a lot easier in today’s world, so much more access that is enabled,

Sanjay Swamy 24:33

Great! Any last pieces of advice that you have for youngsters and entrepreneurs?

Padma Parthasarathy 24:39

Sure. So I think for the women entrepreneurs we were talking about, this is something that I think women everywhere, not just as entrepreneurs but also in corporate jobs. We don’t ask for help very easily. We hesitate to ask other people for the things that we might need. I think the men do it a lot more easily. They do network a lot easier and they connect with other people a lot more easily for these kinds of things. We do connect, but not necessary for work. So I just wanted to tell the women out there do take help. I used to hesitate too until I realized it when people reached out to me, even if I hadn’t spoken to them for 5 years or 10 years, they reached out, I was helping them. So I realized that they probably will do the same for me if I reach out. There is no harm in asking for help from somebody else if they have the access to provide you something. And most people have been more than forthcoming in providing that help. So do reach out and take the help. So take advantage of the network that you have.

Sanjay Swamy 25:37

Yeah, well, that’s actually great advice for all of us. I also recently had some experiences where, one of our companies was having you sudden explosive growth in Southeast Asia for no apparent reason. And they wanted to talk to someone who knew the market and I just put a post out on Twitter saying, Hey, does anybody understand this market well? The number of people who reached out and said, Wow, I’m happy to help in whatever way we can. It was really eye opening thing to me that people actually are really helpful. And all we have to do is ask and whether it’s women or all of us. People are always happy to share. And being helpful, I guess is a two way street. So Padma, thank you so much. I know, we tried to do this at very short notice and I really appreciate you for making the time. Thank you so much for coming.

Padma Parthasarathy 26:30

Thank you, Sanjay.


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