Sudha Mahajan: Reaching the New Milestones of Leadership

It is certain that ‘Initial struggles often lead to Success’. The success story of Sudha Mahajan, the Sr. Director Product Management (Principal Group PM), aptly exemplifies this line. Sudha came to the United States from India in 1999 for her master’s in computer science with her two suitcases and lots of dreams. She did not have a support system in the U.S, but all she knew was that the U.S. is a land of opportunities.

With little money in the pocket, her first struggle was to pay the bills and maintain high grades to continue teaching assistantship, which was granted on a merit only basis. As a student, money to buy a mattress was a luxury, so she decided to live without one for the entire first year and slept on the carpet instead. She spent many nights in the lab since she had no access to a PC at home and every assignment needed to be completed in the lab.

She graduated in 2001 with a Master of Science degree in computer science but struggled a lot in getting a job where she lived in Texas. The recent dot com burst, a weak economy, and hurdles due to visa requirements, all added to her fight to get into the job market. Suddenly all the opportunities in this dreamland seemed impossible, but the struggle was far from over. During this time, she met her husband and after their marriage they moved to San Francisco Bay area in California. Every morning after her husband left for work, she would pick up the car and drive to every office with positions listed online or in newspaper hoping her resume will make it to right hands and not sit in a database.

During one such day, she handed her resume to Lynne Kelly, HR lead at Macrovision. After few rounds of interviews in January, she was offered her first role as a tech support engineer in Macrovision (which became Rovi Corp. and is now known as TiVo). Forher, this meant the world as it was her first real opportunity and her only shot at proving herself. She started volunteering for any extra projects coming to her team. During one of her projects working in a cross-functional tiger team, she was offered a role in Product Management (PM). Her journey in PM started from there. This is exactly what she was meant to do. Her MBA from India complimented with a MS from the U.S. was a great combination to understand business and technology.

From Struggles to Opportunities 

Having started as tech support gave Sudha a new fond respect for the customer experience. Her outlook towards building any product changed and is fundamentally based on three principles even to this date, which include three questions; Is it simple? Can it be explained to a 10-year-old?

What problem does it solve? A problem well understood is half solved.

Is this the right solution? Do we have data that supports it?

Thereon, the journey of Sudha started reaching new heights. She has led various managerial roles and has now become passionate in building new products and solving complex problems. She served almost 8 years at Yahoo! as a director of product leading its largest display advertising and data platforms. She also held an important role of Head of Product-Customer Experience at Flipkart, where she managed product management, design and product operations. Currently, she leads a Product team in Microsoft Azure heading Customer excellence and cloud security.

It’s not about the Limitations of Technology 

Sudha has accumulated an enriching experience in tech sector. According to her, every technology has limitations but it’s the limitations that spark the next opportunity for innovation. Over the last decade, many new expansions are been witnessed people never thought of before. Examples like Uber, Airbnb, Waymo, VR, Vimeo, Square are just few that filled an important gap. Uber connected people to transportation like no one else. Self-driving cars are becoming a reality. Mixed reality is close to real world experience that it is opening new markets in areas like travel, healthcare and retail.

Many of the above are not perfect but improving every day. The fear of new technology failing due to unpredictable embracement by masses can impact the next big thing to be invented.

Sudha believes that it is not limitations of the technology that impacts the markets, but that fixed mindsets to not try out new things which impacts growth. An organization should embrace a growth mind set without the fear of outcome and continue the path of change.

Women in Leadership Positions 

Women are now seen coming into the limelight with their exceptional talents. Even Sudha believes that the corporate world is changing and is much more receptive to change than it was about 15 years ago. In her opinion, companies are being far more open to hear diverse perspectives and promote diversity. Microsoft, for example, has women in 19.7% of its leadership positions as reported in its annual comprehensive workforce demographic report released in November. Sometimes it becomes difficult for female executives to find their voices in leadership forums. “To make a true difference – we need more men who support women. Men that are willing to create opportunities for women, willing to give them a voice and have them heard. This is not “him” vs. “her”- this is “us”. We are in this together to make a change!” says Sudha. While there is still a lot of work that need to be done in this area, many companies have started to recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce. They are offering platforms like WIT (Women in technology), support groups, better maternity and paternity benefits to encourage women and help them become future leaders.

Many companies have made it a requirement to have diversity training before conducting hiring interviews, some companies have requirements like including at least one woman in interview panels, and now many companies are considering having at least one women sitting on the board. These are positive changes that will hopefully encourage more women to grow their careers in technology.

Being Fearless is the Key 

According to Sudha, a business leader should be fearless and a risk taker. The data says that majority of the businesses are unsuccessful, not the business leaders. A true leader is one, who tried and never gave up and the one who either succeeded or learnt. “Fear no one, seek solutions, find a mentor and be decisive. It’s ok to fail, its ok to accept failures, its ok to try again and again. There is no single person who knows it all – so reach out deep and wide. And lastly help others who are in need,” advises Sudha.

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