4 Leadership Lessons from a Multinational Tech Executive

September 17, 2019

Originally published by CIO

Today his official title is President, Communications, Media & Entertainment Business, and CEO, Network Services at Tech Mahindra, a multinational IT company with more than 125,000 employees worldwide.

But he didn’t always want to be a tech executive. 

Growing up in a small town in central India, Manish dreamed of becoming a professional cricket player. But his “very pragmatic parents” encouraged him to focus on academics instead. 

Yet the lessons Manish learned on the cricket field are just as relevant today. “In any sport, there will always be one particular player who outshines the others,” says Manish. “But that player will never single-handedly ensure that a team wins. A team wins when each of its members perform their duties.” 

That perspective has served Manish well.

Over the course of his career, he has had a front-row seat for the turn-of-the-millennium digital revolution. Today, he’s center stage for the massive transformations yet to come. 

Here are a few vital notes from our wide-ranging conversation, and four leadership lessons learned along the way:

1. Try, try again

Cricket wasn’t the only career Manish considered before he found his calling as a business leader. 

Driven more by pragmatism than passion, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electronic engineering. In his final year at university, he had a life-changing conversation with the head of the engineering department, who said, “‘I have some advice for you,’” Manish recounts. “‘I know you’re completing your degree, and you probably are passing with good grades. But please don’t try to become a technical person.”

Manish’s heart sank, immediately thinking of his parents, who just spent so much money on his education. But thankfully, he says, his professor told him he was good with money and people, adding, “‘maybe you are meant for something else.’”

That encounter led Manish on a journey of self-discovery. 

“When I started working in Mumbai, I knew two things. One, I wanted to be on the business side of a company. Two, I had to do my MBA, to understand the technicalities of doing business,” he says.

Manish spent the first eight years of his career working for four different companies. He quickly learned to trust his gut when it came to assessing a company’s likelihood of success. 

About every eighteen months, he realized that each company wasn’t a good fit. “After I left, every one of them either closed or was folded into something else,” says Manish. 

Then he found Tech Mahindra. “I knew it was a special company,” Manish says. 

It turns out, his instincts were right: Manish spent almost 20 years at the company’s Pune, India-headquarters. Now based in Plano, a suburb of Dallas, Manish oversees Tech Mahindra’s efforts to prepare for the onset of 5G wireless technology.

“This company allows tremendous opportunities to those who want to express themselves,” he says. “I have been lucky to get those opportunities.”

2. Prepare for paradigm shifts

The introduction of the iPhone in 2007 “changed industries and humanity forever,” Manish observes. “It spawned a whole generation of innovation, habits and patterns.”

He notes that Steve Jobs named the first iPhone as a tribute to the telecom network –– the ‘iPhone 3GS.’ 

“That was a message to the industry that the device was good enough to work on 3G.”

With the arrival of Android smartphones, 3G and subsequent 4G networks –– and the applications built for them –– became even more important than the devices, says Manish. He predicts an even more profound trajectory in the next decades.

“I have a gut feeling that 5G and beyond will spawn completely new innovations. In many ways, it will be the next big seismic shift, not just in telecom, but across the world –– in every walk of life, from industries to consumers.”

5G is not just a new way of delivering faster data with less latency, Manish explains. It will create new, software-based experiences in “unconventional, nimble forms.”

This will be enabled by investments in technologies like AI/machine learning, IoT devices and blockchain. 

“All of this will feed into one big ecosystem –– a platform of innovation, for not one, but every single industry going forward,” says Manish.

3. Know your limits, embrace your independence 

As he gears up for the 5G rollout, Manish is nurturing a new generation of tech innovators. 

His own mentors are models of leadership. “My CEO often says, ‘If you believe something can be done, don’t ask. Just go do it,’” Manish says. 

He encourages young leaders on his team to do the same, based on the company’s “Freedom within Boundaries” model. 

“You have the freedom to do what you want, as long as you stay loyal to three things: our brand values, our compliance system and our HR ‘people practices.’ Aside from those, it’s pretty much an open platform for all of us.”

Tech Mahindra “isn’t a perfect company by any standard,” Manish admits. “But imperfection is our greatest story, because it’s by design. We like ‘managed chaos’. Millennials, particularly, seem to like this environment. They don’t like to be told what to do.”

However, it’s important to reiterate core values to the team — “what they represent, and what they do not,” Manish adds. “Sometimes people say, ‘Look, this is what another company is doing.’ And I remind them: ‘Yep, I agree. We’re not that company. This is who we are and what works for us. Don’t bother about anybody else. Let’s just do what’s good for us.’”

Act 4: Check your ego

Manish credits his success to constant professional development, personal growth and connection with others. 

“How do I continue to improve in what I do, in terms of delivering more value for my customers, my shareholders and my teams?” he asks.

“More often than not, it comes down to my ability to learn, to re-invent and ask questions of myself: Am I adding value today? And by today, I mean 24 hours. You should add new learnings to your balance sheet every single day.”

Manish is driven by a long-held belief in the power of unity, rather than division. And yet, he sees that “the discourse right now, not just in India, but across the world – is about me, about my. It’s about the self, rather than the concept of us. It plays out at a team and a company level, as well.”

When I asked what he’d like to be remembered for, Manish suggests a different path with characteristic humility.

“I haven’t completely defined myself in terms of what I can contribute to this world,” he says. “But I’m 100 percent sure that it will be about the impact I have on people –– not just one or two, but many people. It’s never going to be about my success or achievements.”

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