Ramkumar Narayanan

From Line Leader To CXO: Flexibility In Purpose

From Line Leader To CXO: Flexibility In Purpose

Ramkumar Narayanan

VP (Technology) & Managing Director – VMWare India

Ramkumar Narayanan

Ramkumar (Ram) Narayanan is a global leader focusing on data driven, digital product innovation spanning consumer and enterprise markets. He has been an advisor to Enterprises, large and small, in the arena of digital transformation, product strategy and product marketing.

Ram is currently VP Technology and Managing Director of VMWare India. Before joining VMWare, he served in global leadership positions at eBay, Yahoo! and Microsoft. He started his career in the auto industry in US developing software solutions for design and packaging of automotive suspension and powertrain systems.

Ram serves on the Executive Council of NASSCOM and as Chairman NASSCOM Product Council, Governing Council of DERBI Foundation, an academic incubator and is a Board Member of Sukino Healthcare, a leading company in the leading provider of long-term health care management for patients with chronic ailments.

Take home these learnings:

1. Are layoffs the solutions?
2. How to hold your team accountable?
3. What is a portfolio life?
4. What differentiates Leaders from Managers?
5. Why a leader should have flexibility in purpose?

Listen to the specific part


Episode Transcript:

Intro//: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first episode of the season 2 of The xMonks Drive! And for our first episode, we've got an extraordinary guest who has achieved incredible success in the tech industry. - the one and only Ramkumar Narayanan. During our conversation, Ramkumar drops some truth bombs about measuring progress, holding people accountable, and creating a space for success. But let's be real, we're all just here to bask in his wisdom and charm. Currently serving as the VP Technology and Managing Director of VMWare India, Ram has an impressive track record of driving innovation and delivering outstanding results. Prior to joining VMWare, he held global leadership positions at eBay, Yahoo!, and Microsoft, where he spearheaded cutting-edge projects and transformed organizations. In this episode, we are talking about A to Z of being an entrepreneur, the importance of bringing new ideas to the table and driving collaboration in larger organizations. As the world faces economic uncertainties and the possibility of layoffs, Ramkumar offers his perspective on how to stay positive and ensure the security of team members. Join us for an enlightening and inspiring conversation! Outro//: That's all for today's episode of The xMonks Drive podcast. We hope you enjoyed listening to our guest, and gained valuable insights into leadership and navigating through challenging times. Make sure to tune in to our next episode, where we will be featuring another remarkable leader from the industry. Until then, stay inspired, stay curious, and keep moving forward. 02:25 Gaurav: Thank you so much Ram. Such a pleasure having you here. How are you doing? 02:28 Ram: I'm well, thank you Gaurav. Thanks for having me on your program. Gaurav: No, it took me some time to finally get you on the podcast. I'm extremely happy that finally you could find some time in your calendar for this conversation. 02:43 Gaurav: So, let's dig a little deeper in the context that you were born into, the family that you were born into, the school that you went to. What are those traits, those principles, those philosophies that you picked up during your childhood days, that continue to guide you today as well? 03:00 Ram: Yeah, I think, you know, I think these are two separate things, you know, obviously, every, every portion of your interaction with the world shapes you. And I, you know, I was born into a family or my father was a civil servant. And, you know, he was from the 31st batch of the Indian Administrative Service. My father probably injected in me, the, the openness and the ability to deal with people. I mean, he was, he was always, you know, a person who could carry along a lot of different kinds of people with him in the journey that he had. And, of course, my mother was a person who was very encouraging, and I think she continues to be a big support person in my life, at this point, in terms of encouraging me to do, go beyond what, what I am capable of doing. And, and she's always constantly been a big cheerleader, in that journey. Obviously, my wife is a big source of support to me now, you know, an encouragement, and also a mirror, right? Sometimes, you know, it keeps you grounded in terms of what is real and what is, what is needed. At a professional level, I've had, you know, many different mentors over the years. I've had, you know, fairly varied journey in my career, and we can certainly get into that more as we talk about this. And you know, my philosophy is no experience is a bad experience, and every experience is a good experience. So some experiences are great, some experience or not so great, but every one of them teaches you something more. 04:25 Gaurav: Yeah, you know, this is really interesting. What I heard you saying is that you picked up openness from your father, you picked up going beyond from your mother, and interestingly, if I speak to 10 people, if I speak to 10 leaders from the corporate arena, one of the things which is common is that they have learned being grounded from their life. I don't know what our wives do that keep the husband grounded. 04:50 Ram: They don't believe the Kool Aid that surrounds you. 04:48 Gaurav: I know. So it's a difficult question. If somebody would ask me Ram, I would not have an answer. But I would love to hear from you. Who has influenced you the most, father or mother? And how? 05:00 Ram: No, I don't think, I think about it as who more or less. Right. So the way I think about this is, we are the fabrics of our life, you know, we are really woven through many threads. So I don't know, I don't know if I can differentiate between, which is, who has had a bigger influence. 5:20 Gaurav: So Ram looking at the tapestry of your life, when you're talking about the fabric of your life, I'm sure we all go through certain moments in our life. We all go through certain episodes in this journey, that define who we become, what are those few episodes of your life that have helped you become who you have? 05:35 Ram: Say, I think I was, I was a relatively, I would say, a curious child. Growing up, I was, I was in I felt I was getting some of my early photographs of me as a child. You know, sitting with the lego blocks or sitting with a meccano set kind of noodling around, right. I was probably four or five years old. So I've always been that, you know, I've always liked that creative aspects of, of doing things, curiosity, you know, trying out things. And I think that has stuck with me through life. Even today, I think, you know, my ability to, to learn, unlearn, you know, keeps me you know, for me, I get bored if I keep doing the same thing over and over again. So, for me, I think that part of it has been very important. And it's probably started shaping from very early part of who I was, in terms of being able to look at things in a different perspective. Try out things be more hands on doing those kinds of now, when I got into a professional career, I think some of those traits continued. One trait I'll tell you, I mean, I was, I was not a great, I was not comfortable speaking in front of audiences, and or doing, you know, just going out of my way to meet people and things like that. And those are things that I have had to develop over time. I had to literally put myself in uncomfortable situations. So I would sign up for speaking engagements, which I didn't know much about, the topic I would not know much about. I would, I started off with smaller audiences, right, more friendly audiences, if you may, right, clear, you know, got comfortable with, you know, initially of, you know, writing things down, you know, making sure that I knew the points. So I wouldn't freeze up, you know, standing up there, you know, atleast starting to talk. And that got me more and more comfortable. I watched, you know, I watched some of my mentors, speakers, you know, when they spoke, how they carried themselves, how they spoke, right. So I think it's a, it's a learning exercise, and you have to deliberately do it. So that's, you know, that's really how, you know, I got over my, my hesitation. The other trigger for me is, I became an entrepreneur very early in, in my life. Nowadays, of course, it's fashionable for high school students to start companies. And when I was there, it wasn't that common, right. 07:44 Ram: And for me, and I was in the US, and I had a young family, when I when I, you know, got into entrepreneurship. And I had no choice because, to put food on the table, I had to get over my hesitation to cold call people. So it was much harder, because it was literally you calling somebody on a landline on their office phone and, you know, hoping they'll pick up and you have to, then you're a very short window of time, in which you have to convey your value proposition and then catch their interest, and then convert that into something else. So these were not something as an engineer, these are last things you do, right? And this, again, was another impetus to allow, to force me to change who I was and learn some new way, you know, skills, which I was not comfortable. So my larger point here is you asked about how you do that, right? My, my simple answer to that is you have to identify some uncomfortable scenarios that you want to, you know, you force yourself into you, you may not be great at it to start with, but over time you come to get comfortable doing and it just becomes muscle memory that you know who you are. 8:45 Gaurav: Yeah, sail through that, as they said. And what was the trigger for you to leave entrepreneurship and join the corporate again? 08:52 Ram: Couple of things, right one, I was doing it in a time, which was, probably entrepreneurship was still not very prevalent, particularly where I was physically located. I was in the Detroit metropolitan area. And that was the auto industry in that in those days. And so one of the realizations that I started getting was, you know, it was okay, it was paying the bills. It was, you know, it was moderately successful, I would say, I won't say it was, you know, inordinately successful. But I started realizing there were some gaps in my own, you know, experiences that would have been, would have suited my entrepreneurial journey, which took me to do my MBA, right. So I signed, I did my, you know, as I had already been nine years in the workforce working when I went back for my MBA. And that was, the reason I did my MBA was essentially, because I realized that I did not have enough exposure to areas like marketing, finance, right strategy. And so I could, you know, there are two ways you can learn, right, you can either take a formal education, like an MBA, or you could you're, if you're lucky enough, you are working in an environment where you can pick those traits up. So that was my trigger to do my MBA. Now coming out of my MBA, I had a choice and this was late. I was graduating in 2000. So I was interviewing in 99, you know, end of 99, when the .com, boom was at its peak. 10:15 Ram: And so, so my thought was, hey, I could go work in a company, which was where I could learn and practice some of the skills that I had learned in my MBA, and then come back out of that back into entrepreneurship. But, you know, fortunately, or unfortunately, I don't know what, which way to look at it. But I landed up at a company, which gave me so much in terms of exposure to many different things. I was at Microsoft. And, and that's a, that's a whole discussion myself, how, you know, how I chose Microsoft, at that time, but, but my thought was that, right? So this is a company that I thought I could go learn some of the skills that I needed, and then cycle back out. But Microsoft is a great company, I was, I was part of two internal startups at Microsoft. And then, you know, that gave me an opportunity to learn some of these skills in the in the construct of a larger organization. But it was entrepreneurial, their internal entrepreneurial intrapreneurship. If you may, right. So what I started enjoying doing was doing these V1 kind of roles within larger organizations, or a turnaround scenario, right? I mean, that's the other big challenge. I've also had the opportunity to turn around businesses in my career. And both are equally entrepreneurial if you vilify me, you don't have to go start your own company to be entrepreneurial. You can have a V1 one mindset, you know, as Bezos calls it every day is day one, right? If you come in with that kind of a mindset, and if you are entrepreneurial by nature when you think about these things from a different perspective, you know, and things like that, there's enough and more to be done even in some of these larger organizations. And I think I've enjoyed doing that, you know, so anyway, I you know, I think about myself as an entrepreneur trapped in a large organization, but I think doing intrapreneurship has its own skill set. You don't easily lose a lot of the kind of the traits that you would want as an entrepreneur or think think like an entrepreneur, but navigating it through a large organization is not an easy problem, you can do that successfully, I think the payoffs can be much larger than, you know, sometimes then doing your own company or your own startup, nothing wrong with that. This is also equally sometimes…. 12:20 Gaurav: Different different choices, different benefits, different results. You know, you spoke about right turnaround scenarios, if we can just share one of those turnaround scenarios that you have experienced? Ram: Yeah of course. Gaurav: And what worked, what helped you to bring that turnaround, and what did not work? What are those lessons that you still cherish? 12:40 Ram: One of the roles I've done was, when I was VP of Product Management in Yahoo, at a time when that company was going through a lot of variations. Yahoo had these assets, what they call commerce, assets, so things like shopping and travel, real estate, anything that was ECOM kind of related purchasing, you know, transactional businesses, and these are kind of fallen by the wayside. And I was asked, challenged, along with another senior leader, who was my partner on the engineering side, to take over these businesses and bring them, you know, kind of inject some revitalization into it. And when we looked at them individually, these were all, you know, they were very good businesses, you know, from a potential perspective, but they're kind of fallen by the wayside. So we turned that around, right? You know, it was when we took it over, it was less than probably two $300 million collective businesses. 13:35 Ram: You know, we selected over a period of about 18 months, and, you know, brought back not only the, you know, not only the revenue number, revenues and outcome, but we were able to turn around these businesses, we have revitalized them, get them back front and center in terms of the audience, mindshare, market share, and then be able to drive this up up, the code. That is one. Second, over time, I also was asked to take on the search part of Yahoo. And if you can remember the times when Google was on its surgeons, right. I mean, today, of course, Google is, is de facto has won that battle. But in those days, there was still room for a, Yahoo was still a contender for the search. But this was a dwindling dwindling asset. I mean, every month was, you know, search share was getting lost. And when I took it over, you know, it was every month, we were losing about a percentage of market share. And in those days, a percentage market share translates to roughly about 450 to $500 million of revenue for every point of market share, right? These are very large businesses. 14:39 Ram: One of the things that we had to be very creative and how you turn it around. And, of course, the search, Yahoo had done a deal with Microsoft, to run the back end of search for Yahoo. So we had the front end of search. Now this is where the customer experience had to come in. The one of the things we landed up doing was he said, Hey, what assets do we have in our disposal that can actually change how customers will view search from Yahoo. And, and that was an external collaborative exercise that we had to bring multiple parties to the table to actually start to build cohesion. So I had these, I talked to I mentioned to you about these, these commerce assets that we have like shopping, travel, etc. Yeah. And then there was search. And what we landed up doing was, we started creating a unified experience around search, that let's say, you were going to travel and you were looking for, you know, you look, you typed in the search box, saying, you know, show me, you know, which places to see in, I don't know, Miami, Florida, right? It would not only show you places to see in the search results, but we would actually show you a booking engine for your flight ticket that said, hey, you know, you're looking for Miami, here's how you can book your flight right here. Or if you knew that you were going to Miami out to the beach, right? We would actually, we had a shopping portal, from which we could actually bring in shopping related suggestions for somebody within the search experience. So yeah, hey, you know, I want to buy swimsuits because I'm going to the beach. Oh, no, I could do that. Right from within search. Right. So what happened then was it changed the way people looked at Yahoo search differently than Google search. And it allowed us to actually start to revitalize search, and we turned it around. So not only did we address the growth, address the loss, but we were able to turn around the business and start increasing market share back. So, you know, again, none of this would have happened if it wasn't a collaborative exercise, if we didn't kind of go back to first principles and say, Okay, how do we want to think about this? And then come back with answers. 16:20 Gaurav: Yeah. So what I'm listening is that you know, at the core of the entire experience was the customer experience, which has to be unified experience that you were trying to create. One of the things that you would give weightage to is what we call as the collaborative approach. Now, today, look back, what are those few mindsets? What are those approaches that helped you to put this together? 16:40 Ram: It starts with a shared purpose. So if you have a group of people that you're trying to bring together, rather than jumping into solving problems, you need to be able to define very clearly and collectively agree on what and the why. What are we trying to achieve? What is the problem we are solving? You know, what is the, what is the problem worth solving? And while, why do we need to solve it, what will change if you solve it well, right. So what? The kind of the so what question really needs to be agreed upon and handled. Which means that as a leader, you need to build a very sharp purpose statement, that is well understood and agreed upon by the people that you're trying to address. Okay, so that's the starting point. 17:26 Ram: Then from that stems, once, once everybody's agreed on and signed up for a purpose, then it's a question of working through the details and understanding what you have at your disposal, you know. You mentioned customer centricity. Of course, that's super important, because they, at the end of the day, they are the people you're trying to cater to. But there is also a business imperative, right? What is the business imperative that you want to achieve? And how does it line up against the customer, you know, customer opportunity, and the outcomes that you want to derive? Because those two have to match, you're gonna have a business outcome over here, and then you're gonna have a customer expectation over here. They don't come together some way. I think that's where the purpose statement really adds up. Because that the purpose is what bridges between what you want to deliver and what is it that you want to achieve, from a business perspective, bring that together and say, here's what we're trying to do. Here's why we're trying to do it. Now, let's go address how do we want to do this? How can we have multiple avenues? Yeah, the touchstone that tells us which is the better avenue to choose is based on the first two parts, right? That's how everything comes together. 18:23 Gaurav: Yeah. So what I'm listening is Ram, that at the core of it, it's the purpose, why are we doing what we are doing and making sure that we all are aligned, the entire team is totally aligned with the purpose. And then on one hand, what we are talking about is the business imperative. And on the other hand, we are talking about the customer centricity. If we can put this three together, we'll be able to drive the business and navigate through the difficult times is my understanding, right? 18:53 Ram: That is correct. Because you also have to you know have enough flexibility there. Because things could change, right? Things could change so rapidly on both sides. And you have to be able to show that your touch points, you know, you're periodically revisiting that purpose statement to make sure that everything, things are still alive. 19:08 Gaurav: Yeah. In fact, that was the question I wanted to ask you. Let me still ask you that question. Ram during that journey what was the most difficult part for you to change within? How you were coming in your own way? And how did you overcome that? 19:24 Ram: Yeah, good question. And I think sometimes you jump in and you have your own biases, in terms of what needs to be done, right? You think you have the answers and sometimes it's a pressure that you put on yourself saying, as a leader, I am supposed to lead people and I need to come up with all these answers myself, and then get everybody bought in. Right. And, and I think my big learning out of that was you don't have the answers. And you have to be comfortable saying I don't have the answer. Let's go figure this out together. Yeah. And then start opening up a dialogue, right, reach out to people start, you know, listening, you know, really, truly listening to what others have to say, not hearing them for the sake of hearing, right, really, truly you know, listening, you know, still your mind, because they may have points of view, which could be very valuable. And you may be missing the bigger picture and by the point you may have a point of view. But you need to hold it relatively lightly because the others input matters at some point to make sure that we can we can work it together, right. And I think those are the kinds of things that I picked up in my with those leadership crucibles, if you make it, it's testing by fire. And I think that's where I have learned to, you know, change myself so that I can, I can, you know, bring the people together around a joint outcome. 20:30 Gaurav: Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Ram. Help me understand, fast forward 2023. What is it that you were expecting as a byproduct of being at the CXO position that you have not yet experienced? 20:46 Ram: I didn't know what to expect to be very honest. You know, I had some experiences that I thought I could bring to the table. But what has surprised me is, the new learnings that I've had over the last five years, and that learning is how to look at beyond, you know, as a product leader, my role was product, right? I didn't have to worry about a lot of other things, somebody else was there to take care of other areas. But my role here has been has shaped me in a slightly different way. And it's enabled me to think around a broader set of dimensions, at a company level, because we are we a fairly large organization here in India as a percentage of the larger company. 21:24 Ram: And so, you know, it has allowed us to look or allowed me and my, you know, my my compatriots here, to look at this problem much more wider, right, in terms of looking at it from the angle of, of course, customers and product and as a technology company, that is our lifeblood is innovation and customers, but also the tech, the talent dimension, right? How do you think about talent, not in a narrow way that you want a set of people to run business outcome for a line organization, but think about talent management in a broader way. EI in a broader sense, think about, you know, ecosystems and partnerships and branding in a very different way. And then of course, think about governance, compliance policies, etc. These are things that I had never had to worry about in my past, in my previous experience. So it was a new set of experiences. But when you talk about being a CXO right, now, that has also helped me kind of step away from saying, Okay, I'm a line leader, to saying I'm a CXO type of leader because it has shaped me by giving me that exposure to a wider set of dimensions which I did not have exposure. Yeah. 22:35 Ram: So if I look back and I say, hey, what were those expectations that I had coming into the room? Probably not, because I didn't know what I didn't know, I think the point I made earlier about being open to experiences, you know, take it as it comes, you know, listen to it, don't force it, just, you know, let it come to you. And then then based on that you create things to be done. I think that has allowed me to be successful in the role that I am in now. You know, that kind of setting up the organization. 22:53 Gaurav: Just curious, don't you find it overwhelming, don't you experience any kind of anxiety, because if you look at the world, where we are living in right now, the average age of a C suite executive is reducing. So on one hand that’s happening, on the other hand, there is so much to learn. And as you said, that at one point in time, I did not have to worry. And now I'm learning. How do you deal with that kind of overwhelm anxiety? And how do you stay relevant? 23:20 Ram: Well, first of all, I don't have any anxiety. I don't have any anxiety about becoming. Sure. I mean, at some point, you know, you may out, you know, my my philosophy is very simple. Either, you will outgrow your job at some point, or your job will outgrow you. And in both cases, you know, there is disruption. Right? Yeah. So I don't think it's an anxiety at all. The way I look at it is, you know, I, like I said, one few traits that have helped me stay open, right, new things always coming up every day. Or you know, some of it is noise, some of it is has potential, how do you start to differentiate what is your personal framework that allows you to differentiate the noise from what is may not be noise? Right. So keep that in mind. Second is, you know, I don't feel any different today than the day I started working. And I this is my 35th, year of being in a, you know, in the, being a professional. Right? Wow. So today, I don't feel any different today than I did. When I started my, you know, started my career as a 21 year old, 22 year old that I was. So I don't feel any different. So, then, then the question is, what is there to be worried about? Now the question in my mind and I think this is where I tend to spend some time thinking about. And I am a person who likes to do new things over time. So you know, every role I've taken in my past, has, while there are some experience I can draw upon, I've always taken on roles, which are completely different than what I've done in my past. any role that I take on, like, give me 90 days I'll be productive. 24:55 Ram: So I fully anticipate that I will be reinventing myself and my career over the next few years. Right? I will, that is, you know, that's a given. So, to me, the age doesn't play a role in that. It's just a number as far as I'm concerned. Yes. There are some realities. As you as you get older, you know, your energy levels may not be the same as what it was when you were in your 20s 30s or 40s. Your, you know, you but so, leave that aside for a second, right? Every other piece doesn't change. You still have to stay relevant in terms of understanding, I say relevant for myself, I'm not saying irrelevant, because I need a job. Right? And how do you how do you add value to others, and continue to do that? So I, I love engaging in the larger ecosystem. As you know, in addition to my role at VMware, I was also part of the NASSCOM Executive Council. I chaired the NASSCOM product council. So all of those keeps me refreshed. It keeps me engaged, it keeps me you know, a plugged in to what is going on around me. And it allows, gives me the ability to take the learnings that I do and test it out with people. 26:05 Gaurav: Brilliant, thank you so much, Ram, I've got two questions. One is when you're talking about that, you continue to get involved in other things as well. For example, you spoke about NASSCOM and I remember last time when we spoke, you spoke about it's important to have a portfolio life. That's one part of it. The second part, you spoke about that in three months time, you become productive. Now, let me just ask the second question first and then I'll come to the portfolio life. When you get hired at a senior position, and now when you are hiring people at a senior position, how and on what basis do you measure the progress of those people on daily basis, because those people are at a higher salary package, every day is important. And if they're not doing anything, the company is going to bleed. 26:50 Ram: I think, you know, I always approach these interactions as a learning exercise. In fact, even going through the interview process is a very critical part. A lot of people treat interview as a, you know, it's like a root canal, right, you have to go through to get a job. For me it’s not that, for me it is about , you know, interview process at these levels, is really a conversation to understand both sides. Because I tell them, look, don't put pressure on yourself for the first 90 days. There is no accountability in the first 90 days other than making sure that they're getting the space to go have the right conversations, learn, understand, and and then, you know, but I keep track of it right, in the sense that I ask them for that 30, 60, 90 day update. The end of 90 days is when we will sit down and start talking about what the business outcomes that we want that person to be doing. 27:36 Gaurav: Got it. Let’s flip the tables now, let’s assume somebody is joining your team, as a leader, what are your responsibilities to provide a space where the person can flourish and how would you hold that person accountable? 27:55 Ram: So I tell the, I give them the exact same advice I take myself. Which is, you know, of course, I need to make sure that they’re coming in, you know when they go through the interview process. One day I had a good experience doing it, because meeting the right type of, diversity of interviewers who can add value to them, as much as we can test the person for what they’re fit into, what we’re trying to. So we have a really clear picture, what we’re hiring for and what this person’s role would be coming in right. So it’s not a random hire. Second is how do you on board them effectively, ensuring that they have all the tools ready for them to get going. So are they being given any context etc etc. 28:40 Gaurav: Yeah, yeah, I love it. When you said that the clarity of why we are hiring this person, it should not be a random hire. The second one is you spoke about onboarding, making sure that we provide the right context, we provide the right tools, and we make sure that the person speaks with the relevant people in the organization so that the person can get the diversity of experiences. And then 30, 60, 90 days reporting, what is it that you're learning? And who else should I be connecting you with? Thank you. Now, as a leader Ram, in your day to day practice, how do you ensure that you are building a culture of growth and progress? 29:20 Ram: My style is non interfering, in some sense. And especially with senior people. I love I am not I'm definitely not a micromanager. I, you know, I, I like to let people operate, especially senior people, give them the space to be, you know, to be creative, about how to do things. Of course, I'm always available to help, you know, to brainstorm, to guide, to coach, all of those things that you want to be able to do for people right. But I like people stepping up, you know, coming up with their own methodologies on how they want to go, we agree on a problem to be solved. We agree on something to be done, right? And I hold them accountable for the outcome, the sense that, you know, even if it doesn't work out there, there needs to be enough learning that comes out of the exercise that we can use to either pivot, you know, what we're trying to do? Or we may decide not to do it, but at least there's some learning that comes out of it that can be used somewhere else. So that part of it is non negotiable. Okay, success and failure is really a set of things that, you know, what are the what, how are they approaching the problem? How are they actually going to solve it? Which is, but I let them go do it right. It's not something that I'm going to be micromanaging them when what is going on etc etc? We have we have agreed upon milestone we have agreed upon outcomes that we want to derive. But there is a path to those outcomes, and how are things going during that path? So I keep track of that. It's not about, you know, calling them up vertically to say hey talk…so we set up time and space to have those conversation. 30:32 Gaurav: Yeah, thank you. I think it's very much relevant, especially when you spoke about the providing space is more important than micromanagement. And something which is non negotiable, is holding people accountable, periodically revisiting what's working, what is the learning, success may happen, success may not happen, but the same time for as long as we are either hitting the nail on the head or we are extracting learning. And that is important. Now Ram having walked this path for almost like 35 years, what you think are the myths that people tend to carry at your level, which are absolutely not true? 31:08 Ram: I think the first thing you have to realize as a senior leader is you're not in control. And you can't be everywhere. You have to build the capacity and capability in the organization to take things forward. You know, even in this role when I came in the CEO of a company at that time, why my conversation with him, I said, What is your expectation? And his answer was very simple, build leadership. And that's a very open ended statement. In hindsight, I think that was a very profound statement because as a senior leader, your number one job is to build capacity and capability in the organization at various levels. Okay. And leadership is not a title, leadership is not, you know, it's not a entitlement. Leadership is a, you know, it's a set of capabilities that you build in people to, to take things forward, have the courage to stand for what they believe in, and be able to take along people with them. Right. And I'm being very careful here, because sometimes leadership is associated with the title or a managerial role, or something else. But you know, one of the things that is, you know, you asked me earlier about what is kind of surprised me sometimes, it is about people, irrespective of their age, or their age professionally is in some sense, right? Not talking physically, but just professionally, how long have they been workforce, etc, is not as easily a bearing on the leadership capabilities. If you put people in the right scenarios, give them the right latitude and empowerment and give them the right outcome. Sometimes people surprise you in a positive way. They step up, we've had scenarios where we've had people who are relatively junior in the workforce, or stepped up and taken on responsibilities, which was, which some of us would look at it go, Hey, this is like hitting, you know, way above the weigh, right? Yeah, but there'll be other situations on the flip side, where you have somebody with a certain title or a level, who probably doesn't step forward, who doesn't take on leadership capability, they're more of a manager, right? Hey, you know, and I differentiate a manager from a leader, not that both are not important. But they don't necessarily show leadership traits, of being able to take things over and above their day job, take on things with courage, you know, go drive things in the organization, manage by influence, various other traits that you would associate with leadership. So I think, anyway, so that's, those are things that, you know, I look for, and and I consciously do this to how do we build more leadership capability. 33:35 Gaurav: Yeah, you know, you mentioned that you look at manager and the leader from, through a different lens, what is the one or two mindsets that differentiates a manager from a leader? 33:45 Ram: Courage, a manager sometimes follows orders, right? They have set of delivery mechanisms or outcomes that they've been asked to do, and use their teams to make it happen. They do that, right. But I think a leader shows a large trait of courage, being able to speak up, you know, things which are not necessarily popular, to be able to bring it forward for the right reason. I'm not saying just, you know, for creating noise. I mean, the ability to, to step forward and say, Look, I'm going to take charge of this, I don't care what it is. But, you know, and like I said, you know, managers who show leadership capabilities will go far in their careers, because they just have that extra dimension to them, that people would resonate with, and be looked upon, favorably when somebody is being considered, when you consider two people for the same role to the next level, right? What will differentiate them, there is one person who is very successful at givin outcomes, delivery, right? There's another person who's good at that. But shows that extra dimension of bringing new ideas to the table, be able to get people charged up and resonate around a purpose. Be courageous about putting forward their ideas to others, and take it forward. Drive collaboration in larger organizations, those people stand out. And I think, when you choose between the two, those dimensions are what kind of identify somebody to be ready for. 35:15 Gaurav: Yeah, yeah. During the last conversation, today, as well, you spoke about that you have been involved in several other initiatives. And you spoke about, last time you spoke about portfolio life. Just curious for our listeners, if you can help us understand what is portfolio life, and why is it important for the leader to lead a portfolio life? 35:33 Ram: Yeah, I think I have to thank my, one of my mentors, Mr. Ravi Venkateshan, his latest book talks about this. And I think I would credit him with kind of raising my awareness of why it is important to have multiple things going on, some of which is, you know, monitoring, it's a job, it pays you, etcetera, etcetera, doing a great job at it. But there are things that you want to do for your soul or doing other things right. I've noticed that this actually helps, it makes you better in every one of those dimensions. So, for example, if I have, like my engagement with with the larger ecosystem that I do with industry level, it makes me a better, you know, employee of VMware, because I can bring some of those experiences back and say, Hey, have we thought about what's happening in a larger ecosystem? How are we thinking about it for our company? How do we fit into the broader ecosystem? How are we doing the things that are necessary for us to do something more, so it has created some new learnings for me, that allows me to bring it back here. 36:30 Gaurav: Ram help me understand, you use that you have had few mentors in your life. At your level, why do you need a mentor or a coach? Just curious? 36:40 Ram: Well, you need a sounding board. Okay. Again, like I said, you know, some some conversations you can have with your peer group or people who work for you, right? I mean, it is natural, because it could be, it could be something that is, that you need validation, or you're trying to validate and you need somebody else, you can go have a conversation and save space. Now, of course, I think there's a difference between a coach and a mentor. And and I think it's very important to differentiate that. To me a mentor is somebody, I can go have an agenda less conversation, some sense, right? Now, I can openly go and have a conversation on a certain topic. And they're good at it, I know that they have either demonstrated in their life, that I can go have that conversation. Whereas to me a coach is somebody who can help me improve on certain dimensions that I have, or a certain, you know, a blind spot that I have I want to overcome, and the coach can help me do that, work with me more, much more deeply to kind of overcome some other some other dimension. I think these are two different people, but I think they're very important. Both are important, equally important, in some sense, right? Because, uh, you know, look, I mean, nobody has ever arrived. I mean, it doesn't matter how senior you are, it doesn't matter how big you are in terms of your, you know, portfolio managing or, or the organization you're managing or, you know, whoever you are. There's always things that you need somebody to go to get your feedback from, right. And so I think a mentor, set of mentors is required for you to be able to do that. Now, of course, you may decide at some point, or some of the relationship may fade over time. But keeping them in your broader network is still important, because, you know, at some point, you're not going to be able to do that. But I'll tell you one more thing Gaurav, it's very important. See, we can always be take, take, take the sense that you are always looking for your mentor, blah, blah, blah, right. But I have had situations where the mentors come to me as a reverse mentor, and say, okay, hey, yo, I'm struggling with this. How can you help? So I think it's a symbiotic relationship, and you have to open yourself up, because I've also seen some people who are very, you know, who come who who approach relationship as a single one way channel, right? They need something so they go to somebody. I think it's very important and may not be, you know, like I said, you know, maybe a symbiotic relationship with a mentor where you’re playing mentor role to each other, but that could be one. But it is also very important for you to be a mentor to others right, open up yourself, as, you know, as a, as a channel for others to come meet you and learn. And frankly, you know, the mentorship where I've been a mentor and, and working with my mentees, I have learned a lot in some of those interactions myself. Gaurav: I'm sure, yeah. Ram: Yeah. Because it just, it's important for you to help, when you're helping somebody, watching their scenarios unfold is a big learning experience for you also, in terms of what could be, how to handle? Yeah. 39:10 Guarav: Well, absolutely, I think while you are sharing what your experience is, you reflect on it, it provides you a lot of nourishment, when you can say, You know what, this is how I could do it differently. Now, Ram you spoke about always being a curious child, in your earlier days, you still… Ram: Yeah I still have photographs… Gaurav: That's exactly where I'm coming to now. What are you curious about now, at this stage, at this stage of your life? 39:45 Ram: You know curiosity is not something that, you know, it's you turn it on and off periodically, right? It's something that is constantly bubbling all the time, you know. I read a lot. I read a lot of books. But right now, I actually I'm, I'm kind of learning about the whole molecular biology space. Okay. Because there's so much happening. So I've been reading books on that topic, you know, whether it's DNA, RNA, you know, all the, you know, I, I had no, no, no, exposure to something like that. So as I'm, I've been kind of, you know, educating myself on what, because you hear so much about what's happening in the whole health tech and genome space, and, you know, all these other things. So, so, so again, you know, I pick some topic like that, and, you know, I like to learn about it right? Not, it may, may or may not be useful, but it at least gives me a chance to learn something new. You know I’ve been in the tech space. Every day is a new day. Now, of course, the whole AI decisively suddenly got rebooted. You know, there's so much of euphoria that is, that is bubbling up. So we also, you know, say okay, again, again, this point about noise versus reality, what is, what is really material versus what is not. Curiosity is not something that is only one dimensional, you know itself is, how do you feed it? Right? How do you nurture it? How do you nourish it? And then what do you get out of it? 41:08 Gaurav: Yeah, yeah. You know when there's lots happening and the the world is going through some really difficult phase right, I think that's the worst that at least that I have seen in my life, so many layoffs. How do you ensure security for your team members? 41:23 Ram: Look, I mean, I've been through enough of the ups and downs cycles of these in my career. Okay. And every down cycle looks worse than the previous one. You know, you can, I can trace back to the many different recessions when I was working in the US the.com bust. Right, the 2008 financial crisis. And now, of course, the whole economic potential recession that is looming its head, and its associated downturns. Now, you know, is layoff the only way? Maybe not? Do I agree with every single layoff decision that happens? Probably not. But it is the reality of the industry that we work, you know, it happens. Now, one of the things I encourage people is, and this is the point I was making earlier, you know, you can either stay anxious, right? I mean, obviously, there's a lot of anxiety. And it's easy for me to say it compared to how everybody's personal situation is, obviously everybody's got their own, you know realities to live and the way to mitigate it is peer, you know, this is where I think it's very critical for everybody individually to ensure that they are, they are keeping up with what is going on. They don't fall back on a comfort zone that suddenly, you wake up from and you say, Okay, I'm, you know, I'm not, I'm not ready now, to go interview, I have friends and colleagues or even some of the people who work in my organization, when I have these conversations with them. They tell me oh, you know what I'm not I've refreshed by resume in 10 years. Okay. Now, that to me, tells me that it's not about you don't need to refresh your resume, because you're looking for a job. You refresh your resume, because it gives you a chance to periodically take stock and say, hey, you know what, here's how I look back, here my achievements, here's what I've learned in thejourney. What are some of the things that I'm yet to learn? What new experiences do I need to expose myself to? Right? Because you're taking stock of a situation, you're trying to take a cell stock of saying, okay, hey, you know, I've done this, I've done this for so many years now. Yeah, there's nothing new for me to learn. Yeah, how do I take on something? I don't need to change my job to do that. Right. I actually refreshed my resume every three to four months, maybe maximum six months, I do that not because I'm sending it out for jobs. I do that because it gives me a chance to take stock in a very short synopsis. It's a it's a, it's a health check. It's a career health check, even today, I advise people to say, look, you got to do this. Because that will tell you, right, maybe you outgrown your job. The point I made earlier about either the job will outgrow you or you outgrow the job. Yeah, one of the two will happen. It is. It is, it will definitely. Yeah. 43:58 Gaurav: Thank you so much Ram. If you were to give a piece of advice to your younger self, what what… 44:02 Ram: I would have taken more risks in terms of career choices. Early on, compared to what I have done later in life. I would have exposed myself to more opportunities to learn by doing different things early on in my career. Okay. I stayed, for example, I stayed in the auto industry for 12 years. In the beginning of my career, not all of them are good experience. I won't trade off some of those things for what I learned during the journey. But some of those things I did for a little too long. I think that maybe I could have done something a little different or tried out different something. Yeah, but I think that's what I would I would tell myself, right, take more risks early on in your career than what most people do. 44:40 Gaurav: Super, thank you and stay curious and continue to take risk. Thank you so much Ram for your wisdom, for sharing your experiences, and being so kind always, always and always. Thank you. 44:54 Ram: Thank you, Gaurav. It's been a pleasure. Having this discussion.

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