DQ Leadership Series: In Conversation with Vanitha Narayanan, MD, IBM India

New Update



What do you think are the biggest challenges facing IT leaders today?

Today the rate and pace of tech innovation and disruption is phenomenal. This is not just in the technology industry but across Fintech, Edtech, Healthtech and more. With industry lines blurring, eco systems are getting complex and heterogeneous and with the consumerization of technology, the expectations in the market are based on instant gratification.

When we put these three things together, leaders have to ensure that they keep pace with not just traditional competitors but also the non-traditional competitors –start ups who achieve larger valuations in 3-4 yrs vs large conglomerates who traditionally have had to wait decades to reach such market valuation. Secondly, leaders have to be prepared to face competition from across industries and lastly they have to be prepared for a hyper demanding consumer. In today’s world leaders have to drive agile leadership and embrace technology that will help bring a digital millennia mindset to address the new business order.


Who do you call as your mentor and why?

I cannot pick any one specific person as my mentor. In my three decades of being an IBMer, I have had the privilege of being mentored – both formal and informal – by many erudite people. For me it’s about learning through observation and through interactions. I have not limited myself to one specific mentor and have always looked for inspiration from within and outside of IBM.

What is your leadership style?


I believe in an inclusive style with a high focus on communication. It’s important to paint the whole picture and get the team to buy into and drive towards a common objective. I have always depended on a very broad network of people to form a POV and seldom formed an opining on one person’s inputs. I think you can call it a democratic and decisive approach through collaboration and expect the organization to come along.

Quarterly pressures to long-term vision: The market needs numbers but a long-term sustainable vision is vital. How difficult is it to manage both and how do you do it?

It’s the realities of life so at any point in time there is an operation dimension and a strategic and market based view of the business. The good part of being in the IBM company is many of these long term views– be it technology innovation, strategy of the company are available for us to take and adapt it to our local requirements. In some cases you lead the strategy and in some cases you follow others as a best practice. It’s fortunate that we have great eco-system that allows us to do that.


On recession: Are we moving from a Cyclical to a Structural recession? Is it possible to de-risk for the future?

I would not want to comment on recession and will leave that to the economists. If we look at cycle and pace at which things are moving there is certainty that we will have more volatility - and business models need to adjust and adapt to this volatility. Given the volatility we will see business, innovation and technology cycles more compressed.

In our 105 years history, a lot of our business has been based on long term enduring client relationships where the core platform is based on sound business principles and outcomes.


Linear vs Non-linear growth-How can Indian IT industry add more value?

I think it’s all about transformation growth and embedding innovation into the product and services we offer to local and global clients.

If we look at the services delivery segment, growth can be non-linear where we are building platforms for innovation. For eg: IBM cloud - a platform which is a cognitive innovation platform and allows you to scale in ways that are very different when you are only looking at from a products and services perspective. Today, it’s all about building automation, innovation and cognition into our capabilities that will help us reach a broader eco-system across developers, starts ups, mature startups and the government.

If you reflect on FY 2015, per se IBM India what are the key performance takeaways?


IBM continues to shift its business to higher value and build capabilities to support this strategy. In India we are aligned to this approach and continue to make investments across our strategic initiatives – eg: Cloud Data Center, Design Studio, Apple Garage, THINK Labs, redefining mobile apps etc

The India market place is many market places combined into one - you see enterprise transformation along with a whole set of new companies becoming early adopters of technology. On one hand we have high end innovation across start-ups and on the other we have Government and Public sector companies, who have traditionally underinvested, paying attention to technology as a core growth leaver. So for me India showcases the best innovations coupled with the economy playing catchup in some segments.

Grooming leaders for the future: How are you approaching this at your organization?


Historically we have had a very strong leadership development approach – at all levels. And these are appropriate to their scope and scale of the responsibilities and the changing times of the marketplace.

Given the considerable shifts we are seeing across both internal and external, IBM has developed a programmatic approach to transformational leadership initiatives. These span a broad spectrum of leaders and we leverage, adapt and customize them as needed.

A big part of this approach is to be actively involved and personally lead these sessions as we drive transformational leadership.

What are your Top 3 priorities for FY 17?  

  • Agility in our transformation
  • Reintroduce our existing clients to a the New IBM and the capabilities we have to offer
  • Introduce the market and the ecosystem IBM as a cognitive solutions and a cloud platform company.
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