Describe what you believe to be your two most substantial accomplishments to date, explaining why you view them as such.
The above mentioned question brings to memory varied accomplishments at different stages of my career. The first is where I led a major turnaround at ABC (Small-to-medium enterprise business) and the second was during an international student exchange program in the early stages of my career.
On taking charge as Zonal Manager, I realized that morale among the 1200-strong sales staff was abysmally low. We were adding new clients but the confirming collections (account activation and account-related fees) never materialized. Sales personnel were meeting just 3-4 customers per day when the business needed a minimum of 8 “quality interactions”. Traveling, in itself, consumed nearly 60% of their working time. On an immediate basis, the core team was lead towards re-aligning operations – each salesman would now be assigned leads (prospects) closest to his/her area. During various training events, I accompanied salesmen during their client visits. More than 8-10 client calls per day were shown to be possible. My core team was quick to replicate this initial “hand holding” thus creating a positive ripple effect and bringing the average (per person) to 9 calls per day. As a “third front”, a 5-person customer analytics group was quickly mobilized. We were thus able to match the right set of banking solutions – to the right prospects – and customize effectively. The results: A complete turnaround with a 30% increase in client enrollments and 50% increase in sales revenue.
Thus, the 12 months beginning May 2008 concluded with a major entrepreneurial success. In retrospect, it taught me the nuances of facilitating across various functions – right from the details of day-to-day client servicing to developing, pricing, promoting and selling cutting-edge products.
In September 2002 and as a student of management studies (at MDI, India), I was selected for an international student exchange program at the BI, Norwegian School of Mgmt. During the 4-month-long stay, I went on initiate and organize the “India Day” festival – the first of its kind at the university. The day long event showcased various aspects of my country right from its immense cultural diversity to the capital markets. It culminated with an entertaining music extravaganza followed by traditional Indian cuisine. My skills in multi-tasking and time management peaked as I organized the event and simultaneously partnered on a major team presentation the next day.
Miles away from family, I had learnt the basics of self-leadership. I had successfully “managed myself” – right from studies to basic household activities to organizing a cultural extravaganza. Essentially my first step towards leadership, the event always brings in cherished memories of working in a truly global setting.
Four years of intense training led to this moment, and I knew what to do without thinking. As squad commander in the elite Air Force Commando Unit, I served my country during a war. I received notice that a platoon of 50 soldiers was under heavy attack, and my squad had to save them.
I had ten minutes to process the situation, devise a plan, assign tasks, communicate status to superiors, and make life-and-death decisions. We had exactly sixty seconds to execute the mission with complete precision. Bullets sailing overhead, my mind was completely focused on leading my brave men and saving the trapped soldiers.
I felt the full weight of the situation only after all soldiers were safe and able to return home to their families.
As a squad leader for three years, I often had to get my men out of dangerous situations. Planning a mission to save so many lives during wartime made this experience the most substantial in my military service.
Flying to Microsoft Headquarters, I couldn’t believe my luck! Selected as lead developer on the Microsoft Unified Communications Sync Server project, I convinced my manager to permit me to initiate collaboration with our American counterparts and persuaded a senior colleague in Washington that working with us would benefit his product.
When I first got the assignment, I knew that working with Americans could add significant insight to our development. A history of failed collaborations by senior marketing managers made my managers reluctant to approve the plan of a junior engineer like me. Undeterred, I reached across two continents and ten Microsoft ranks and convinced a senior software architect in Redmond that working with us would develop their product while stabilizing ours. Everyone finally agreed, and I went to lead the collaboration in December 2007.
In Redmond, I established relationships transcending this project, aligning both teams’ development processes and paving the way for future joint ventures.
This accomplishment gave me international experience and exposure to senior colleagues at an early stage in my career. That the partnership benefited both people and products makes it my most substantial contribution in a professional situation.
Validating My Vision
Leading a software development team to overcome obstacles and build a floral service website is an accomplishment that confirmed that creating state-of-the-art consumer products was what I wanted to do with my life.
After a month of work on our final computer science project at the University, we discovered we were going in the wrong direction. We were frustrated, but nothing gets me going like a challenge. I had a plan, and I knew I had to lead by example to motivate the group. I was always the first one in the lab and never the first to leave. I constantly improved my own task, the graphical user interface, demonstrating that I required the same commitment from myself I asked of them. Each time we met, I focused on one of the guys with a smile on his face and leveraged the opportunity by making him an ally to help me get the others motivated. I even stressed the fact that this project gave us experience with new technology that would be very beneficial in upcoming job interviews.
My team chose me to present the final project. We got a perfect score, but I received something even more substantial: a vision of my professional future.