Having completed over 16 years in the mythical ‘9 to 6’ with some of the best global brands, I felt the need to pen down my two (or rather 16!) bits from this adventurous and eventful journey, thus far.
I call it mythical because one’s journey in the corporate world can be as fabled as one believes it to be. So, what’s the moral of my story? Let me start with some basics.
1. MBA entrance prep is indeed a big deal
I say that because the ‘foundational advice’ that I received as an anxious, ambitious and purposeful MBA entrant, stuck in my mind and it indeed proved its practicality way beyond the desperate need to impress the B-School panellists more than 18 years ago.
My older brother, having proved himself already by doing his MBA from one of India’s top B-Schools, tutored the answer on ‘values’ to me. “A foundation built on hard work, sincerity and honesty will always yield sustainable, long term results rather than success acquired through short term measures.”
My best friend’s older sister, another role model, provided the answer to another popular interview question: ‘What does success mean to you?’ And there at the panel, I blurted out articulately, “Success is best defined as Happiness, Recognition and Wealth—in that order.”
The last one: ‘How would you deal with challenging situations?’ And once again, I said a quiet ‘Thank you’ to my dad and answered with deep confidence. “I believe in putting in my best and the rest will follow.”
Enter real world quest for success. After 16 years, I can say in one line that success requires an almost obsessive quest for perfection, the ability to withstand pressure and not crack under it.
2. Attention to detail is not a stand-alone concept
My teams have always been, initially shocked, and eventually amused, with my keen eye for detail. The fundamental point here is: if you are totally in the moment and fully committed to the task at hand, then there is no way that you will miss out on basics as well as important details.
3. Never take success and recognition for granted
Be mindful of your own effort as well as the support of everyone around you that has contributed to your success. Having gratitude for everything in life—small or big—works as a magic magnet to bring more.
4. Hands are best used when dirty
My experience, soon after doing my post-graduation in brand management from MICA, as an advertising account executive at JWT Mumbai helped build a solid foundation to my understanding of the tasks at a grassroots level and also appreciation of the most minute detail in delivering a job well done. Till today, I do not shy away from getting my hands at ground level whenever needed.
5. Dressing for work
Like it or not, you are judged for how you show up at work. Make sure you dress to cater to your individuality and not your laziness! And dress up a notch to lift your mood on certain days or occasions!
6. Leverage your EQ
In any situation, your Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and grace will never fail you. Women have a higher EQ than men. Hence, we must use it appropriately for collaborating and building relationships at work.
7. Set your own standards, be self-driven
Do not let mediocrity or lack of conviction in others, doubt your own sense of value. In the recent years, I have been amused by slogans like ‘progress is better than perfect’. Well, to each his own, but trust me, you will earn more respect in the long term (including from the opposite side of the table) when you hold yourself to your own higher standards.
8. The philosophical dilemma
Many people find themselves in a situation where they have very different ideologies vis-à-vis their new boss who is an outsider. This can be quite challenging and frustrating and requires a huge amount of patience, listening, accommodating and yet staying true to the brand principles you trained on and nurtured over the years. Remember that companies may be built overnight but brands aren’t.
Be fearless! Hold your own. You are fearless when you have conviction and when you have conviction, you have fulfilment.
9. Make your mantra
Mine, as a marketing professional, has been: Always focus on the emotional connect with your customers and not just transactional. Because in today’s world, where product standards and features are comparable, it is up to the marketer to create an ‘emotional connect’ with the brand.
10. Brand person vs marketing person
Be clear which one you are. What drives you? Does the generic nature of marketing drive you and that is absolutely fine. Or does your sense of fulfilment come from leveraging the values of the particular brand you work for to create deeper and lasting consumer connections? It’s important to discover this for yourself and ensure that you are working in an organisation which plays to your strengths.
11. Once a brand custodian, always a brand custodian
Over the years, I have been privileged to work with iconic brands like TAG Heuer and Dior at LVMH Group, L’Oreal and Starbucks. Being appreciative and morally aware of the rich legacy of these brands on my shoulders as I went to work each day is something almost embedded in my DNA now! And on most social occasions, my friends and family loved to discuss the brands I was managing. I realised I wasn’t just taking home the salary. I was taking home the brand.
12. The ‘M factor’
Yup, the male ego. It’s real. And appears more clearly in your face as you climb higher up the ladder. Some women are able to manage it and some decide it’s not worth their while to engage beyond a point and move on. The theoretical efforts, now part of formal KRAs of most HR heads and CEOs, of having more women at the top level would take a long time where the men in-charge for putting theory into practice go through some internal shifts and start becoming more comfortable and accepting of women who are not scared to express their opinions and hold their own.
13. The Other M: Mentor
All of us have a mentor, knowingly or unknowingly! Some companies have mentorship programmes for development of select individuals. But most people, unknowingly seek guidance, learn and are impacted at their work by ‘quasi-mentors’, who could be their spouse, mother, father, sibling, friend, ex-boss or colleague. Think who really your mentor is at this stage and don’t be shy of seeking more from that person. People love giving advice!
14. Passion vs profession
Along the journey, we get tempted, frustrated and nudged many times to think of giving up our job and giving our passions a larger share of our time and mind. This can be risky if your actual need is of more time for yourself rather than trying to make your free time agenda into a commercially viable proposition. Think hard through it before shifting full time from your profession into your passion. It’s important to reach a stage where your professional growth allows you the time and resources to indulge in your passions, which somewhere also aligns with the ‘self-actualisation’ stage of Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ theory.
15. Beyond work hours
Your daily priorities must include making a conscious effort towards well-being of your mind, body and soul. I make it a point to take out time for my daily meditation as well as gym or yoga three to four times a week.
16. Work-life balance Notice that most successful people have an ‘always on’ approach to their work but take conscious steps to balance the share of time and mind they give to various aspects of their life. So, do not try to isolate your work as an out of norm phenomenon and create frustrations for yourself. Instead, have the courage to go after only those jobs (even at the cost of refusing much more lucrative ones) which give you a sense of joy, thrill and purpose.
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