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7 Questions with Bhuvana Subramanyan
helps you in your leadership.
7 Questions with Bhuvana Subramanyan
Name: Bhuvana Subramanyan
Current title: Chief Marketing Officer
Current organisation: Randstad India
Chief Marketing Officer at Randstad India and hold responsibilities across communications, digital, social, brand and lead management. Prior to randstad I have worked across industries in sales, business management, partner management, communications and marketing. Thrive on challenges and love when someone says cannot be done. Recipient of many internal and external awards in marketing. Hold an MBA in marketing and strategic management. Live in Bangalore with my husband, son and a brat of a Labrador. Practice yoga, love trekking, and follow all kinds of sports including F1 racing.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
When you lead a team and are in an executive position, everyone is looking at you for answers, they are looking at you to solve all the problems.
But you need to know that it's not your job to provide all the answers, but enable the team to find them or go to someone else for the answers. As a leader, you need to guide them to identify the right opportunities. To do that, one needs to work on believing in the cause and purpose of the company.
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Firstly, I have been passionate about Marketing since my 11th grade.
Setting my goal was easy. But doesn’t mean everything falls in place automatically. However, I started in sales as those jobs were easy to get. I have sold teak trees to advertising space and have also done a lot of marketing research early in my career. After moving around a bit in the initial phase, I realized that I had to steer my career in a direction I wanted.
I had the confidence; I had to learn the skills. I threw caution to the wind and said 'yes' to opportunities, even when the role was well beyond anything I have done previously. Although I didn’t feel fully prepared for the challenges ahead, I learnt from the best, I observed what the best leaders did and did not do. I made career moves when I started feeling comfortable and complacent. I was not into sprinting towards being an executive but I moved if the role or the organization did not offer me anything to learn or contribute to. I was bold to take on additional assignments and stretch projects whenever possible. I put up my hand for anything that added to my experience. Over a period of time, I learnt the power of networking, the power of having a coach, a mentor and a sponsor.
I also started making bold career moves over the course that catapulted me to the top. As I moved up the ladder, it was more about the soft skills and the people skills. I was constantly working on decisiveness, reliability, adaptability, and the ability to engage for impact.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
A quick check for any urgent emails/ messages, a big hug to my dog Buffy, 45 minutes of walk in the morning, scan the newspapers, get ready to log in to work.
I walk in between calls or take some of the calls while walking around the house. Sitting in one place and moving from one call to another doesn’t suit me. My adorable dog visits me in between and that’s another thing that I cherish while working from home. I have set timings for lunch and it's in my calendar. I catch up with my 20-year-old during lunch.
Back to work. I close at 6.30 pm to get to my online yoga class for an hour, 3 days a week. The rest of the days I go down for a walk or just chill. 7.30 to 10.30 pm is a mix of prepping for the next day, reading, catching up on my favourite shows and then getting to bed.
Catching up with my husband happens only over the weekend or over the phone during the weekdays as he is out at 8 and is back only at 10.30 in the night. I see weekends as an opportunity to give back as well, so I am either part of a panel or in a master class with college students or I am working with organizations that are working for environmental causes.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
"Lead with questions, not answers and do one thing better than anyone else."
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?
Book by Paul Dupuis, MD & CEO, Randstad India - 'The Rule of 5: Leadership & The E5 Movement'.
It’s a fresh approach to leadership, and brings out the first-hand experience of the author and has relatable concepts and showcases game-changing leaders from the world of business, sports and politics. What I like about the book is that it’s not a philosophy or Gyan as they say in India. It's practical and something one could put to practice on a day to day basis. It takes you through the 5 Es: envision, express, excite, enable and execute. The framework provides structure to the way I think. Has given me a step by step approach to what I do, and it doesn’t have to do with only the workplace. I love that there is an emphasis on 'execute' and that’s something that I believe in.
There are many golden nuggets in the room that I put to practice.
The key ones being :
- listen carefully, the answers are in the room
- leading outstanding execution requires consistency, grit, passion and optimism. Start each day with optimism and the rest will fall into place.
- the past is where you learned the lesson. The future is where you apply the lesson.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
It needs to start with caring and appreciating. Good leaders genuinely care about their people. Design programs that enable building competencies. It’s not about if they have already mastered something, but are they capable of mastering something. Identify that quality and build on it. At the same time, do they inspire? Without being able to inspire others, one cannot lead.
Leadership is a skill that can be developed. So you start with people with the right attitude irrespective of levels. They need to have the ‘can do’ ‘will do’ attitude. Do they come with the ability to deduce problems, not necessarily have all the answers? Are they able to get their job done?
We all know that not every business problem is the same, so being able to look critically at a problem is a key leadership skill.
Implementing leadership development programs helps build leadership capacity within the organization. Development programs cannot have a one size fits all solution approach. Recognize the talents and the value of each person on your team.
Having access to a plethora of coaches and mentors is also important for budding leaders. It’s good to encourage them to have more than one mentor/ coach at any given point in time.
Providing platforms and education that focuses on developing leadership skills is another route. Networking with people in the industry and urging them to attend external events, programs.
Giving back to the society in the area of their expertise also enables them to develop as a person and as a leader.
Put forward opportunities where they can take risks and fail. Let them get up and figure out. Encourage intrapreneurship behaviour and reward good practices.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
One of my all-time favourite movies is Sully. Not just because of Tom Hanks or how he has portrayed the character. I speak about this movie when I talk to college students as well and ask them to watch it. It has impressed upon me the basics of leadership and how we can learn from anywhere.
For the uninitiated, Sully is a story of how on Jan. 15, 2009, Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) tries to make an emergency landing in New York's Hudson River after US Airways Flight 1549 strikes a flock of geese. All of the 155 passengers and crew survive the harrowing ordeal, and Sullenberger becomes a national hero in the eyes of the public and the media. Despite the accolades, the famed pilot now faces an investigation that threatens to destroy his career and reputation.
Leaders go through crisis throughout their career and how you come out of it says a lot about you as a person and a leader.
• The courage and passion showed by Sully in a moment of crisis and how he stands by his decision is inspiring.
• You can rely on any kind of technology, but there is always going to be a human factor to your decisions. Human skills are the most important skills.
• It’s important to create a culture where your people are ready to jump onto what you are doing despite the risks. That culture is important as it facilitates your people to bring their A-game to work.
• Think on your feet. Think from different perspectives and act quickly. Sometimes you just have minutes to take that life-critical decision.
• Lead by example. Lead with energy. Lead with passion. Be accountable not just for yourself but also for your people. Take risks before you ask your team to jump in with you.
• Never underestimate the work you do. It’s important, so believe in what you do and do it to the best.