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7 Questions on Leadership with Sahil Arya

Name: Sahil Arya

Title: CIO Head Of Banking Technology and Digital Transformation

Organisation: Gulf African Bank

Results-driven CIO with over 16 years of experience in delivering innovative IT solutions, aligning technology strategies with business objectives, and enhancing operational efficiencies. Proven leadership in executing large-scale projects, managing budgets, and building collaborative partnerships with key stakeholders. Adept at fostering a culture of innovation and continuous improvement within IT departments to deliver exceptional business value.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Sahil's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

As a CIO in a bank, a number of challenges are faced which include as below but not limited to:

• To maintain balance between innovation and digital transformation journey with stability and reliability of banking operations.

• Be ahead of evolving cyber threats and implementing measures to protect bank’s asset and customer data

• To modernize legacy infrastructure with newer technologies within limited budget and time

• To foster creativity, growth, and job satisfaction in the high-demanding work environment to acquire Talent and retain them to drive the IT Strategy

• Lastly, to collaborate and have alignment with other departments on their expectation.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

My first leadership position as Head of IT was achieved in year 2013 when I was sent to lead IT Operations and drive the digital transformation Journey for Bank of Baroda in Kenya. But it was not a surprise but this was a recognition of my hard work and leadership skills shown while executing different program and projects successfully for the subsidiaries present across different continents.

During my 4-year duration with Bank of Baroda in Kenya, I delivered a number of successful projects including consolidation of branch networks, automation on tax collection, new digital channels etc In year 2018, I achieved second leadership role with SBM Bank Kenya as Vice President and Head of IT.

The challenge was big this time as the key expectation from this role was to complete Merger and Acquisition of 2 banks in Kenya, which I delivered successfully within 8 months of time and also run the bank for 3.5 years. In my current role with Gulf African bank as CIO and Head of Banking Technology and Digital Transformation, I am leading and managing IT operations and Digital Transformation for the bank.

I contributed to the team to launch first ever Shariah Compliant mobile based financing product in Africa region. In addition, I managed to revive and set the Disaster Recovery site. For all my efforts so far, I have been recognised and awarded with CIO of the year (Pan Africa) 2023 and Excellence in Digital Leadership Award in year 2022

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

My daily routine is well structured. I wake up at 5:30 am and go for a Jog or Gym for almost an hour. After that, I get my daughter get ready for her school. While my wife prepares the breakfast for me and my daughter and also the lunch, I get ready for my office at around 7:45 am.

While getting ready for office, I check my emails and respond to the important ones. Once I reach office, I check my calendar and schedules for the meeting and prepare for my day work. I usually have a number of meetings with different stakeholders including my direct reports, business team, and vendors across the day.

In the evening, I prefer to spend time with my family and friends. Before going to bed, I prefer to read some digital news or journals. By 10 pm, I am off to sleep.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

The most recent leadership lesson that I have learned is how to be Mindful Leader. I have been an active member of The Mindful CIO Community led by Nathalie Heynderickx. In this forum, different leaders from different part of the world share their experiences on mindfulness and discuss how mindfulness can be helpful to resolve the challenges of CIO.

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?

While I'm not an avid book reader, I thoroughly enjoy listening to audiobooks, especially during my morning jog. Additionally, I find pleasure in reading various journals online. Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to "Atomic Habits" by James Clear, which has had a significant impact on my motivation and daily routines. The book emphasizes the power of making small changes in our habits to stay focused and on track toward achieving our goals.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

I would say, be an effective listener and learn to work with people.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

A few months ago, I discovered that one of my newly onboarded team members was feeling deeply distressed and disheartened. When I inquired about the reason, she revealed that she had experienced mistreatment during a review meeting conducted by a team lead from another department. This mistreatment stemmed from an initiative I had assigned to her.

The team member explained that she had taken the initiative to learn a new technology and promptly address a critical issue while minimizing costs for the bank, based on the requirements provided by the other department's team leader. However, during the review meeting, the requirements were unexpectedly changed, and her proposed solutions were disapproved as they didn't align with the revised scope.

As a result, she was unfairly blamed for causing delays in the overall solution. Upon hearing her side of the story, I decided to address the matter directly with the team leader involved. Additionally, I sought a meeting with the head of that department to find a resolution to the issue. During these discussions, I made it clear that I had personally assigned the task to the team member, and despite being new, she had shown remarkable initiative in learning and tackling the challenge.

I emphasized the importance of encouraging such proactive behaviour rather than discouraging it. Eventually, we were able to rectify the situation by redefining the scope of the requirement, which enabled the team member to successfully deliver the solution.

It was important to ensure that our team members feel supported and motivated to take initiative, even in the face of setbacks, as it leads to a more productive and positive work environment.

As a leader, one must inspire their team to take initiative while providing support in times of failure.

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