The story starts when the world was in the throes of an internet boom in the late 1990s, opening up vistas of boundless opportunities. Inspired by the IT boom, Vandana and her husband launched a software company. Tides were favourable, and it was time to expand the business further and farther. Vandana set up a second base in Canada where she incorporated her company in 2000. The unfettered flow of VC funds in the market ensured she hit the ground running, bagging a lucrative e-commerce website deal within weeks of founding her company. She closely witnessed the rip-roaring rise of internet start-ups as also their resounding crash when the dot com bubble burst. For a technologist like Vandana, the entrepreneurial experience of doing business development in the hyper-competitive Vancouver and Silicon Valley markets was a rewarding learning experience of immense proportions, the lessons of which still hold true.
Vandana, PGPMAX Co’2013, is a Principal with Milliman, one of the top actuarial consulting firms globally. She leads tech ops, digital transformation, and health insurtech solutions in India. She was instrumental in forming and building the technology team in India, starting in 2005.
‘Witnessing the boom and the bust from so close was one of life’s valuable entrepreneurial experiences. Not only did some of my clients vanish into thin air but so did my revenue from them. The ones who survived were practical enough to course correct. That’s probably the best lesson I learned,’ she says. Setting up a business and running it through all the challenges did not mean she had mastered all the finer points of business. Some skills still needed to be sharpened. Life continued to show her the path. She returned to India after the birth of her daughter. ‘I became a full-time mom and part-time entrepreneur for a while. My husband took on the additional load on himself.’ A couple of years later, with her husband co-founding Milliman in India, they transitioned to Milliman. ‘Eventually, I reached a point where I wanted to enhance my learning in a structured manner. I wanted to understand the formal theory of business.’
‘I chose ISB among other options because of its high standard of course structure, content, and faculty. I was very clear about my choice. I have studied and worked internationally, so I realised ISB was the real deal.’ The like-mindedness among her peers and their zeal to get back to the classroom on the campus every month was very encouraging. ‘The incredible feeling of camaraderie, collaborative learning from my brilliant classmates, and the variety of perspectives we got from each other has enriched me a great deal. All my peers were successful professionals in their own right, yet they were driven to study and gain knowledge.’ A healthy detachment from routine and results while focussing on understanding the core lessons worked splendidly well for Vandana.
ISB has been a major turning point in Vandana’s life in more ways than one. She has grown into a thinking leader. ‘I think the PGPMAX experience made me more introspective. I can engage in business discussions on a range of topics because I understand its multi-dimensional nature a bit more.’ Vandana attributes this to her ability to consolidate and elucidate her learnings. ‘From my global exposure of conducting business I intuitively understood the elements but the case studies and discussions revealed other paradigms.’
Vandana’s Milliman team has seen a stupendous growth since 2005. ‘Our business is complex, competitive, and ever-evolving. For it to run like well-oiled machinery, every member of the team has a crucial role to play.’ She believes a leader has to have a vision, lead by example, and be there to guide and inspire people into doing what is needed to be done. More importantly, be a mentor and a channel for the team to grow. Empathy, humility, openness to learning and resilience are some key qualities for leadership success. ‘As a leader, it’s my responsibility to honour the position because it’s always about the team and the organisation, not about an individual.’
‘In our business, if you are not ahead of the curve, you will lose the edge rapidly. Technological advances happen in much shorter bursts of time. An attitude of a change agent has to be your second nature, which means you must accept change, learn, and adapt according to the environment.’ It was at ISB she learned the significance of unlearning more than learning, and that helped her formulate new concepts and frameworks with an open mind. ‘Even in life, I am a learner. It’s important to be open and recondition oneself from self-limitations. And so, as a leader, a high degree of self-awareness is mandatory,’ she says.
Vandana is proud to be part of the ISB alumni fraternity. ‘I have received help from alumni even if they haven’t known me very well and, I have done the same.’ She is active in the PGPMAX forums and supports several ISB initiatives viz. info sessions, CEO Story, Masterclass, student selection interviews, etc. ‘I am happy to contribute in any way that might help others, for instance, mentoring professionals or start-up entrepreneurs.’
‘Be boundless, be curious, be rigorous, and be open to learning. Base it all on perseverance and hard work. You will achieve more by giving more, be it your time or knowledge.’
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A technologist who loves to push the boundaries of innovation to architect impactful software solutions. And when I am not doing this, I can be found doing some outdoor activity, reading, travelling, cooking, or teaching yoga. Global Executive MBA from the Indian School of Business.