Speaking to an Achiever – Sai Kavitha Krishna Iyengar

Swapna Narayanan

dscijWhenever I think of the word ‘Achieve’ in my professional network, one name comes to my mind immediately, Sai Kavitha. I have known her for about 15+ years now, and in all these years, she has always been doing things differently and breaking the norms. And today, as the world sees her as a highly successful women leader, I want to delve deep and show you the facets that have gone in making her. As they say, while everybody admires the beautiful butterfly, very few take a moment and stop to think about the difficult, and at times yucky, journey that the butterfly had to go through when it was still a moth!

Here are snippets of our conversation with her.​​

Swapna: Hi Kavitha!  Let me first begin with saying that I am so glad you chose to share your time and views with us in our maiden edition of Eyra. My first question to you would be, you chose a career in IT during a time when it was common to see women in banking, teaching or as government servants. How did IT happen?

Sai Kavitha: First, my heartfelt gratitude and thank you for this opportunity. Well, I had a working parent in manufacturing & public sector, while across my extended family, I have seen educators, government employees, and doctors.  My dream was to be part of technology industry spanned out of my Computer Science Engineering degree. India saw growth in 80s and 90s in technology sector and Bangalore had opportunity. As I look back to my last 24+ years of productive career, I was fortunate to be part of several great IT companies like Wipro, DEC, Cisco, Symphony Services, Dell, and now with Innovatia India. If I had to think how it happened, I would say – “I was there at the right time and chose the right opportunity …”

Swapna: You began your career at the grass root level and are today leading large businesses and unique initiatives. My observation has been that you are very passionate about anything you do. Whether it is running a small documentation team or a large technology change, you do it with all your heart in it. How important is being passionate about your work? More so for women?

Sai Kavitha: I believe that being passionate about what you want to do is gender independent. Yes, it is true, I started my professional journey like any other Computer Science Engineer and within a year, I made the decision to move into technical writing. This was my first decision in building a career driven by my passion. I would like to add here that every woman is gifted with an inner voice and instinct that always helps her make right decisions. When I retrospect, at every phase of my career I always had the vision and the passionate drive to translate whatever I wanted to do into reality.

Every role charter needs preparation, not when you are in the role but before you take up the role. Nothing comes easy and I advocate strongly we put our heart and soul into what we do to deliver success and results. I always worked as an entrepreneur in every role charter and owned every role with highest accountability. To re-iterate, this happens when you are passionate.

In my experience, I always worked towards preparing for a role, being ready, and when the opportunity comes along, you transition into the role seamlessly.  For instance, when I was a technical writer in my formative years, I added several adjacent skillsets like localization, user experience, customer centric documentation, etc. And as I moved into People Management role, I followed a learning model – learn, apply, and learn – as a cycle with high aspirational quotient.

Swapna: But being passionate also makes folks emotionally involved, which is also not a good idea? Again, especially for women.  So how does one stand engaged, yet keep a distance.

Sai Kavitha: We are human first and emotions are part of our DNA. As women, we demonstrate emotions much faster. In every professional ecosystem, we work with different individuals having varied emotional quotients. Without being judgmental, if one practices how to understand our ecosystem and pro-actively work through leveraging the emotional gift that we have, with maturity and objectivity and to the extent the situation requires, we are good. That is where intelligence and application of mind converges to deliver expected engagement.

Swapna: I know you are a single mother to a specially abled child. And in my so many years of association with you, I have never seen that come in your way in any form. But I am sure it must have been challenging, and probably is challenging even today. Tell us something about it. And I am sure a lot of our readers will benefit from that.

Sai Kavitha: As a single mother, I have experienced challenges ten times more, happiness three times more. Society is not inclusive for single mom (that is a stigma even today), and with a special needs child, I work towards leading life normal, by telling myself, everything is positive and life is beautiful with a new sunrise every morning.

Easier said than done, wiser with practice over time is how I would conclude my experience. Honestly, it is my sense of purpose and responsibility to do my best for my son, and strong optimism & positivity that navigates my life. Anyone stepping into my ecosystem will experience positivity and optimism.  Success is important to me at every milestone of my journey – personal and professional, and learning from failure has always been my stepping stone for my success.

Swapna: It is so encouraging to hear that. And yes, I have always experienced positivism when with you. Well, we all need anchors in our life. And these anchors keep on changing with time and circumstances. Who has been your anchor who has enabled you to come this far in life?

Sai Kavitha: On personal front, my mother is my role-model and the strong woman who holds my hand at every phase of my life. She is standing tall at 77. She always tells me – “Learn from your success and be grounded, as humility is the most important virtue. Learn from your failures as those will take you closer to your goals.” A true sense of empathy and empowerment is what I have imbibed from her. My brother is my pillar of strength and my son is my guiding star. In my professional journey, I am very blessed to have several mentors at different phases of my career. I follow footprints of successful leaders, read a lot, and never stop learning.

Swapna: What next Kavitha? Where are you headed? And what would you advise all the women out there who are marching ahead in their lives? Many of them without really understanding their own power within?

Sai Kavitha: I am working through my next always – learning, and preparing for the next tough phase in my career.  The management journey upwards is tough and my experience – as one goes higher up in career, you are alone and every action demonstrates how you take the teams along with you with high integrity, resilience, and credibility.

My advice to all women – I strongly advocate that every woman is gifted with an inner voice and instinct that needs to be leveraged. From my experience, I would definitely like to add that every woman needs to build a strong discipline and structure in her life, as we are care-takers and custodians of heterogeneous role- plays – both personal and professional.

I also believe we cannot have it all. Be selective about organizations you work for as you would need flexibility and support from employers at various important phases in your lives. It is important to have mentors in your professional journey as it accelerates your learning and prepares you for next role.

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