(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Navneet Nayyar, Associate Vice President and Regional Business Head for South East Asia and SAARC at Sterlite Technologies Limited. An avid speaker and technology enthusiast who believes in participating and contribution at various thought leadership events to keep pace with the fast changing environment. This has led to product innovation and new solutions in areas like Digital Partner Settlement, IOT, API-led models, SDN, Digital Customer Journeys etc.


What makes you do what you do?

I think the primary reason I am doing this is because I aspired to carve a niche for myself in the world of Telecommunications and Technology. It helps me connect with the marketplace as well as the tech that enables the marketplace. Telco is a dynamic space, which is not only consistently evolving and changing itself but also significantly impacts each & every industry and is a driver for transformation in them. Hence it keeps me going by learning each day and looking forward to new developments around me.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

To be honest, I started my career as a solutions architect, I was not a business leader to
start with. I started my role in tech, slowly and gradually I did my MBA in Marketing and
from there I flipped the coin. I always felt there is a bridge from the tech that would drive business, which is today a reality. And I guess my persistence and conviction paid off. Today with the eruption of digital, technology and business are used interchangeably.

Further, my inherent inquisitive nature to learn new stuff and explore unknown space made me stick with this industry and as a result, I just like what I do. I guess that’s why I have done well for myself and my organization.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

Firstly, the leadership demographic itself has changed from what is used to be 20 years back and how it is today and how it will be in future. The image of a leader in early 80s was a grey-haired person with a suit and tie. Today that’s not the case.

Today’s world is fast changing, e.g. – If I had to look at the recent phenomenon. Mobile data has changed over 4000 folds in the last 10yr and 80% of that growth has come in the last 2 years. You see the pace at which it is changing. If I expect a person who started with Mainframes to innovate on what can be done on a digital SIM or bitcoin, it cannot happen. For this either he must be a genius who has constantly evolved himself faster than the pace at which the world is evolving. Or get some young blood who is hungry, impatient and can run with the pace to match the disruption.

When I joined my organization around 6 years back, I have given a challenge, We had zero presence in Southeast Asia and the task was to make an impact starting as a Sales director. Making this greenfield region into a multi-million dollar region was a challenge and today looking back makes it feel like a roller coaster ride. South East Asia is one of the growth levers for our organization and has not just given us revenue growth but also some of the best in class transformation stories in the Telco space.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

I will say I have multiple mentors. I try to learn and get inspiration from every inspiring individual I come across, whether they are renowned names like Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs, Indra Nooyi, Narendra Modi or even my family and friends There is plenty to learn from them and I do learn from each one of them. A simple idea of a growing start up coming up with something interesting can also influence you. So I don’t have one particular mentor I look up to, I tend to pick up all whatever I think is inspiring and bring about a positive influence on me.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

We all know these are uncertain and hence exciting times because everyone and everything around us is changing at such rapid pace. So how can we keep up with this change? And probably that’s the answer to this question. For myself as well as for growing talent. Continuous reading, you have to continuously read and you need to specifically give yourself time outside the mundane work that you are doing. I will have my goals, targets, KRA but 2 hours in a day I need to step out of that space and see what I need to do to survive myself in this fast changing world. A better way to put it, ‘To grow myself’. I read and follow editions/ webinars on how technologies are changing right, what are the recent upcoming trends, there are so many journals, so many startups who are innovating and you need to follow their innovation. Put yourself out of the box and challenge yourself each day. I look for the similar traits before hiring people. I believe in hiring people who are better than me and I can look up to them and learn from them. I strongly believe that hierarchies in organizations have
been destroyed and any growing organization will have to be flat. Essentially all it means is to have an equal right to opinion and opportunities for each and every individual. Hence I follow these basic principles to spots, develop and grow key talents in my team and we all work as one team with a common goal in mind.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Diversity is a key element in today fast changing environment, while the technology is a common thread connecting people but at the same time, every country and its culture is unique. We need a diverse set of people in a team who can bring a flavor of new ideas and different aspects. Our workplace, like the nation and wider world, is made up of men and women of diverse racial, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, with varied lifestyles and approaches to life. Instead of trying to make everyone fit one mold, diversity acknowledges people’s differences and works with those differences to create a strong team.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

Ability to lead is directly tied to one’s ability to inspire confidence in people. And to earn the confidence of your people in a world of the technology-driven world, you need to learn how to identify the driving forces that are shaping the future.I guess that holds true in terms of leadership traits for people as well as for organizations.

A leader of today focuses on agility — being able to change quickly based on external circumstances as a change from the outside in has been coming at an ever-increasing speed, and it’s only getting faster. To be a leader both today and in the future (again I am referring to people and organizations) you need to become adept not only at reacting to events but also anticipating a change. I believe that’s a general rule of thumb for me to identify someone as a leader. Look at any modern organization today from Google to any unicorn startups which is leading a change, you will realize they are all working towards controlling data and building models around predictions.

Advice for others?

Just follow yourself, live it and follow yourself. Make it as crazy as possible because the best of innovation comes from the craziest of things we do. Just follow your instincts and don’t let anyone run you down. Look for advice but do what you feel is right even it sounds crazy to others. Till the time, it is not crazy enough chances are someone else will also be thinking of the same idea. That’s how Google, Facebook, twitter have emerged and more of such examples are emerging in today’s world.


To learn more about Sterlite Technologies Limited, please see https://www.sterlitetech.com.

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