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Thank you to the 1,400 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 questions!
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7 Questions with Arun Cavale

helps you in your leadership.



Jonno White

7 Questions with Arun Cavale

Name: Arun Cavale

Current title: CMO, Cloud & Cognitive Solutions, ASEAN

Current organisation: IBM

Arun Cavale is a highly accomplished and mission-driven Marketing and communications leader who currently leads IBM's marketing for Cloud, Analytics and AI to evangelize and deliver growth across the ASEAN region.

With over 22 years of experience in driving significant demand and revenue growth across multiple markets and businesses, Arun is a recognized technology marketer and an accomplished demand creator. Over his illustrious career, Arun has received multiple awards including being honored by CMO Asia and the World Marketing Congress as “The Most Influential Global Marketing Leader 2018”. He has also been featured in the Forbes magazine as one of the 50-Best Marketing and Communications Leaders in Asia. In addition, for his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arun has been recognized as a “Global COVID-19 CMO Superhero” by Enterprise IT World.

Arun has lived and worked in 3 countries, traveled to 25+ countries, speaks 5 languages. Outside of work, he is also a sought-after public speaker, an international Badminton player, a crypto-investor and a 100% hands-on father to his teen daughter.

Follow him on Twitter: @aruncavale or Linkedin: for more on technology and life discussions.

7 Questions with Arun Cavale


1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?

Getting things to move. This is the #1 challenge across any large enterprise. With matrix reporting, multiple teams carrying multiple - sometimes conflicting objectives - it oftentimes becomes challenging to drive changes through the system.
Befriending management systems, understanding stakeholders' measurements, and building strong political and support networks is extremely critical to succeed with execution.

2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?

I started my career building earthmoving equipment (e.g. Hydraulic excavators). Then I moved on to building systems and processes (e.g. built CRM systems). Now i build ....PPTs:)

On a serious note, it is important to define your purpose or why you do what you do. For me, client centricity has been my obsession - and that has defined how I operate. In large enterprises, it is very easy to get swamped by processes, internal stuff - and get busy just being busy. Your energy can get spent just contributing to the stalemate.
I have chosen to focus on trying to understand and drive impact to the customer (external / internal).
This has reflected in the types of roles and assignments I have been fortunate enough to take up. Taking on new market opportunities to incubate and scale (e.g. driving geographic expansion, building out the Smarter Cities market, or helping establish our Cloud and AI business very early on) has given me the opportunity to often sidestep established process gridlocks, and demonstrate impact.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I believe I am the sum total of all the different things I do, and the multiple roles I perform. And that is built into my everyday schedule.

I start my day with a run. That's my "me time" that helps me frame and visualize the day in my mind.
Then the "Dad" in me takes over and I drive my teen daughter to school, chatting with her over our exclusive dad-daughter uninterrupted time! My work day - often working from home - is a series of back-to-back conference calls. I try and keep at least 2 hours of my work day free to ideate or actually create content.
I keep my evenings for my biggest passion: playing Badminton. I play badminton about 3 times a week, for about 2 hours each session. On the evenings that i am not playing badminton - i will be at the gym doing a mix of strength training and HIIT.
Nights are family time, before spending an hour or so working before I get to bed.

4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?

A very senior leader who just retired after 40 years at the same firm showed me the power of humility - when he could very easily have used positional power. His demeanour was one of curiosity, openness, servant leadership, with a brilliant willingness to listen with empathy!

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

Cannot think of 1 -specific book. I have found inspiration from several books including "Life without Limits'' by Nick Vujicic, "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, "Who Says Elephants can't dance" by Lou Gerstnert Jr., several spiritual books etc

6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?

There is no one-formula - here's what I believe is my style:

1. Authenticity. Tried applying complex people and leadership theories in the early part of my career but realized that the best philosophy is to be your authentic self. Unless you have a fundamental flaw in your personality - why would you not express your true personality? And in turn encourage everyone in the team to also express their individual Personalities

2. Consistency. Related to Authenticity as a direct outcome. When you are busy trying to wear a mask and trying to be someone you are not, you cannot be consistent. And consistency is critical because that is what helps create a mini culture within the team, a set of unwritten rules and a common spirit.

3. Co-ownership. As a leader, I see my primary purpose as being able to clarify the higher order purpose of the job and drive a sense of Co-ownership. Initially in my career, I would take an officer -soldier style bit worth increasing responsibilities, it is impossible to be an "officer" with oversight over every aspect. The only sustainable option to ensure everybody in the team feels ownership for the overall purpose and is working towards its success.

4. Power of Visualization. I try to Visualize success - a practice from my athlete days - and have our team practice positive Visualization. " What defines success? What does success look like?" Are questions we always discuss and document in the team. This helps us frame how we view not only the task but also each other in a positive way

5. Respect over fear. My teams know they can challenge me without fear. My source of power comes not from my position but from my ability to clear the weeds for team, knowledge and clarity.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?

Impact of executive actions on their teams is often not understood. Two stories come to mind:

1. This was an incident that IBM's former Chairman and CEO, Lou Gerstner told us many years ago. On his first day at IBM, he went into a meeting where he picked up a bottle of Evian. He happened to carry that bottle to his next meetings as well.
And then he started to notice something strange: He started seeing Evian bottles in his office and wherever else he went. For a company that was in financial trouble, he found it strange that they were ordering Evian bottles for him. Apparently, his team - after seeing him carry Evian on his day-1, thought that he preferred the brand.
He tells this story to demonstrate how important it is for executives to clarify and communicate clearly.

2. Another example of executive communications and the impact it can have? Upon completing my 10th year at IBM, I received some $ points that I could use to pick up gift items from a standard catalogue. I had a few hundred $ worth of points which I exercised. I don't remember what gift i got.

I also received a handwritten personal note from my Global CMO (Jon Iwata). Just 4-5 lines. I treasure that note and it remains priceless for me. Again demonstrates the power of impact a leader can have when done right.

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