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7 Questions on Leadership with Sanghamitra Saha


Name: Sanghamitra Saha


Title: Lead Cyber Risk / Third-Party Risk Management Analyst


Organisation: Ultimate Kronos Group


A highly qualified, hands-on, Certified Governance, Compliance, and Risk Leader, Lead ISO Auditor, and Project Management Professional with 20+ years of management experience in multiple Big 4 consulting firms (Accenture, EY) and global, corporate positions. After a miraculous escape from a nearly fatal accident in 2019, I decided to take a professional break in early 2020 at the peak of my career, in pursuit of my dream; I joined law school and graduated with a Master of Jurisprudence in Compliance & Enterprise Risk Management, along with a Master of Health Administration from the business school in 2022 which happens to be my 3rd and 4th Masters [1st being a Master’s in Mathematics, 2nd – a MBA in Information Systems]; however, the best part that I treasure is that I shared the same graduation date with my high schooler son, who got accepted to Harvard and Stanford (currently a sophomore there with intended CS Major).


In 2022, I happened to encounter another fatal accident, this time with my husband and only son with me. We found ourselves trapped in a smoking and severely damaged (totaled) car, stranded in the third lane of a busy highway in complete darkness. We waited anxiously for over an hour, surrounded by the uncertainty of our situation, desperately hoping for a 911 rescue.


We were not sure that we would make it. As we held hands, contemplating the possibility that this could be the end for our family, the experience left an indelible mark on my perspective of life and the materialistic world. Surviving two near-fatal incidents within a mere three-year span has profoundly altered the way I view existence.


In response to these life-altering events, I took a step back in my career. Currently, I hold the position of Lead Cyber Risk/Third-Party Risk Management Analyst in an organization whose mission deeply resonates with me. This journey has convinced me that there is a higher calling in my life - a calling to utilize my leadership skills as a catalyst for meaningful change on a larger scale, ultimately contributing to the betterment of humanity.


My primary hobbies are meeting people from different cultures and volunteering. Some highlights of my volunteering activities are as follows:


• Volunteer Coach for an Educational Non-Profit Organization since 2011- IMPACT: Individually raised $20,000 in funds through online coaching registration fees, to support academically bright, financially disadvantaged students of color to attend college.

• Organized a Pro Bono Concert - IMPACT: Fundraised $1500 for free/reduced lunch students at a local High School in Atlanta

• Mentored a team of five Grade 6 students for a National Stem Environmental Project - IMPACT: The team placed 1st in both Regionals & Nationals, winning $25,000 in prize money - used for a new water system at School and a significant donation to three different global environmental non-profits.

• Organized a Districtwide Math Tournament for 3 years - IMPACT: Raised $3000 for the host school.

• Founder and Organizer of Free After School Math Clubs at 2 Schools - IMPACT: Raised Awareness for Competitive Math by starting A) Math Counts for Grade 6 and B) Math Olympiad for Grades 4 and 5 at the schools.


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


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


Cheers,

Jonno White



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


Motivating and energizing team members consistently to get the very best out of them and have them leave behind all negativity and/or baggage if any to create a truly synergistic team.


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


Right after completing my MBA, I joined Accenture as a one-year experienced hire. During my initial days with the company, I was very fortunate to be selected to work on very large, complex, multi-million dollar, HIGHLY VISIBLE, transformational projects for Fortune 500 clients that were long-term.


In the first 2-3 projects, I observed a unique aspect: senior Accenture Partners were actively engaged and co-located with the project team. Initially, I assumed this was standard practice, only to later discover that it was quite uncommon. Notably, in one project, a Senior Partner went above and beyond by rolling up his sleeves and personally working on the project floor alongside the developers for an entire week. This occurred during a period of intense challenges, with the project facing the imminent risk of missing a crucial deadline. The Senior Partner's hands-on involvement played a pivotal role in turning the project around. It not only addressed complex issues but also significantly boosted the morale of the project team, which was already fatigued from working long hours. This firsthand experience provided me with valuable insights into genuine leadership and underscored the immense importance and value of being a hands-on leader. These lessons have since influenced my approach to leadership in both my professional and personal life.


Additionally, I was also extremely fortunate to get selected for very critical roles. In my second client project, I was a Configuration Management Analyst, serving as a gatekeeper to the code going into Production. Alongside this, I administered various Configuration Management (CM) Tools, ensuring version control for all project deliverables, as mandated by the project. To fulfill my responsibilities, I had to create a training curriculum on these tools and deliver it to the entire 1000-person project team within a month. Despite being an analyst role, its direct impact on the project's success allowed me to quickly acquire leadership skills such as communication management and audience-specific content development. It also helped me develop my presentation delivery skills and eliminated my fear of addressing larger audiences with higher-ranking roles. Recognizing the fact that I would be extremely nervous initially, I strategically scheduled the training sessions, beginning with analysts and consultants, and gradually progressing to team leads and beyond. And rightly as I had anticipated, for the first few sessions, I was nervous but I gradually eased into it. So, essentially the task also taught me effective strategizing for success. Ultimately, my achievements in this project led to a promotion within a year of joining Accenture, significantly boosting my confidence.


During my tenure at Accenture, there was another significant project that played a pivotal role in shaping me into a confident leader. Once again, this was a high-profile endeavor, where I served as the end-to-end Test Manager for a Program with a particularly tight deadline, encompassing five projects. When I onboarded the project, all five projects were already underway but at different phases. Two were in the planning phase, one in development, and two in late development, ready for testing soon. With limited time to assemble and mobilize the team, I faced the challenge of a shortage of consulting resources. Consequently, I had to recruit resources externally and quickly bring them on board. Given the time constraints, I couldn't afford to meticulously select the best resources. Instead, I had to onboard contractors from various firms, focusing on individuals with a grasp of testing basics, quick learning abilities, and coachability. Managing five projects simultaneously was a new experience for me, further complicated by the diverse motivation levels of the team members. At the peak, I led a team of 14 testers, working nearly 12 to 14-hour days. The team composition was diverse, including three Accenture consulting testers, three from Accenture's non-consulting outsourcing group, six contractors from three different companies, and the remaining two from the client team. Leading such a varied team for extended hours posed a massive challenge, especially as many team members lacked incentives for overtime. Innovation became crucial in keeping the team motivated and engaged. Since our work revolved around testing, we were dependent on the development team for code fixes, often requiring us to wait during after-hours. All work was onsite with no option for remote work, making it challenging to manage the team effectively. It was so hard to hold back the team on the ground in the late evenings, waiting around for the code fixes to come in for re-testing. Once the code came in the testing team needed to have a quick turnaround time to ensure that the offshore development team was provided timely feedback on the testing results. Adding to the complexity, I was pregnant during this period, making it even more challenging to navigate the long days and motivate the team. The experience and insights gained from managing such a diversified team are invaluable, typically taking years to acquire. However, necessity compelled me to develop these skills swiftly, enabling me to not only survive but succeed in my role.


Having obtained a master's degree in mathematics before pursuing my MBA, I entered Accenture with a few additional years of experience compared to those fresh out of the Bachelor's program. My background was further enriched by witnessing my father establish his consulting business after a 17-year tenure at IBM, coupled with my own two years of work experience in India before immigrating to the US.


This unique journey contributed to my maturity, instilling in me a holistic perspective and a penchant for information gathering beyond the requirements of my project roles. I consistently aimed to grasp the bigger picture and absorb as much knowledge as possible. In essence, my consulting background, particularly the years spent at Accenture, a prominent player in the industry offering unparalleled exposure, played a pivotal role in shaping me into a leader early in my career. It laid the foundation for my ability to navigate complex global landscapes and undertake subsequent global, corporate leadership roles in my professional journey. I seamlessly led cross-functional projects with teams spanning multiple continents and time zones.


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


I am a night owl and work until very late in the night until the wee hours of the morning. Hence start my morning a little late around 8-8:30 am. The first thing I do is, check my emails and calendar for around 30 minutes to get organized for the day and ready for work. Almost all my meetings are pre-scheduled with meeting objectives and agendas listed. Although I do work with global teams, I try to get done with all my meetings by 4 pm (with some exceptions) to ensure that I have the evenings completely to myself to get the actual work done, family time, etc. To my advantage, 4 – 5 hours of sleep is enough for me. So, during the weekdays I usually sleep around 4 hours and over the weekend catch up on 1-2 hours of extra sleep. The other thing I highly exercise in my life is multi-tasking to the optimum – even when I am physically engaged in routine family chores like cooking, cleaning up, laundry, etc. my mind is completely occupied and racing through formulating responses to my work emails, thinking through different solutions and options for either continual improvement or any complex work issues, problems, challenges that I might be facing. In that way, when I am back at my computer, it takes up much less time than it actually would if I had not thought through ahead of time. This is something I learnt early on in my life from my dad, who is no more but I follow through as a tribute to him for his excellent time management skillset and his teachings. It may sound weird, but it also helps me stay connected with my dad as my guiding light in life.


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


The leadership lesson I am about to describe is not recent - it's way back from my early Accenture days when I was serving as a Configuration Management (CM Analyst) Analyst; however, it is such a great leadership (and life) lesson that I am reminded of it over and over again and to be honest, it has played a significant role in shaping me into the leader I became.


As mentioned previously, it was a very large and very complex transformational project for a Fortune 500 company, and in my role as a Configuration Management Analyst, I was the gatekeeper of all the code that went into Production. The stock price of the company was directly tied to the success of the company. Hence, the CEO of the Fortune 500 client and the Senior Accenture Partners were actively engaged in the day-to-day progress of the project.


On a Thursday afternoon, scheduled for a major code push to Production, my supervisor, a mid-level manager, had to urgently travel to South Carolina due to a family emergency, leaving me in charge.


While I had previously executed smaller code pushes independently, this one was different. With the green signal from the development lead, I initiated the migration process. Opting for an extra cautious approach, instead of migrating the code in packages in the CCC Harvest Tool, I chose to migrate the files individually, totaling over 1000 files. I was co-located with the Test Team in the war room on the 8th floor. There were no iPhones during that time. The entire project team used Blackberry Pagers for all communication.


Approximately 20 minutes into the process, the pagers in the war room started buzzing frenziedly. Everyone started looking at me. Only then it dawned on me that notifications were getting sent for each file entering Production, albeit with a slight delay. By then, I had already migrated around 200-250 files. Apologizing to the testing team, I thought the worst was over. However, 8-10 minutes later, the war room phone rang and my supervisor, calling from South Carolina, informed me that the notifications had reached the Client CEO, CFO, and the senior Accenture Partners, who were then in a meeting together on the 24th floor. Since my supervisor was in the hospital visiting his family member, his pager was off so he did not realize what was going on. But the senior Accenture Partner called him on his cell to check as they got anxious about so many files going into production.


Shocked by the extent of engagement, I feared the consequences. To my amazement, my supervisor, even while in the hospital with his pager off, took full responsibility for not informing me about the notifications going to senior leadership. He commended my attention to detail, lightened the situation with humor, and suggested the leadership team a coffee break until the pagers stopped. The potential disaster turned into a positive outcome, making me famous for my due diligence, with the client C-Suite and Accenture Partners praising my suitability for the role. As mentioned earlier, I was promoted within a year of me joining Accenture based on my performance in that project.


That day, I gained a profound appreciation for my supervisor, realizing that, hierarchically, he might be a mid-level manager, but he exemplified true leadership. He shielded the team in challenging times, willingly shouldering the blame. My respect for him soared, and he became my role model. This experience reshaped my perception of leadership; it's not solely about hierarchical position but about being a true leader who supports and covers the back of the team. I've since strived to embody this quality in my leadership style, drawing inspiration from that incident as I am always reminded of it and sincerely feel that as a leader, I need to pay forward the protection that I received on that day from my supervisor.


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?


‘IT WORKED FOR ME in Life and Leadership’ by Colin Powell. The compelling narratives, valuable lessons, and profound insights shared by Powell in a natural storytelling manner deeply resonated with me. Consequently, I embraced his 'Thirteen Rules' as my life mantra. While I acknowledge that I have a long journey ahead to fully embody these rules, I consistently strive to do my best within my constraints. I hold a genuine belief that if these principles worked for a world-renowned leader like Powell, they are undoubtedly applicable to everyone who follows them faithfully. As a result, I channel all my focus, energy, and efforts into integrating and practicing these rules in my life. They serve as the guiding framework in my professional life, influencing my decision-making, fostering teamwork, and cultivating a culture of excellence. I am confident that by adhering to these principles, I can contribute to creating a more effective and values-driven work environment.


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


Try to instill within yourself: 1) a highly open and growth-oriented mindset, and 2) a very high commitment to a) fairness for all, and b) ethical behavior to the extent that any instances of unfairness and/or unethical conduct in your surroundings prompt you to feel compelled to speak up and take action.


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


While serving as a leader in IT Risk Management Strategy and Governance at EY, one of my objectives was to enable risk-based investment decisions, which warranted conducting 3-4 Risk Reviews annually across various functions within different business units, in close collaboration with the risk teams in the CIO and CTO offices. However, it was not easy to convince the business leaders to allow the reviews of their business area; risk management is commonly viewed only as a threat reducer, which in their minds was already taken care of by them. Consequently, they strongly felt that the uncalled-for risk reviews were an unnecessary outside interference in their business operations, and instead of any value add, it would only invite trouble for them.


We initiated a workshop with the business leads, aiming for a comprehensive understanding. Beginning with a discussion of their business objectives and goals, we proceeded to ask them to define their success criteria, identify potential hindrances, and explore dependencies. In essence, we guided them through a process that amplified opportunities. By the end of the workshop, a significant revelation unfolded for the business leaders. They grasped that our risk assessments were powerful tools for enhancing opportunities (which would be our primary focus) and increasing the likelihood of meeting their business objectives.


The workshop proved challenging for them as they were introduced to a novel perspective. Subsequently, they recognized that our risk assessments were instrumental in directly aiding the achievement of their business goals. This realization led to a surge in requests from various business leads seeking our expertise in conducting risk assessments in their respective areas. This experience underscored the transformational power of overturning negative opinions and perceptions about partnership and collaboration. It demonstrated that highlighting the mutual benefits of collaboration can dismantle silos and foster a win-win approach.

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