SI: Insight of My Company and the Role I Play in it
Meena: I am the CEO of Pearson Education Services. We provide end-to-end education solutions in the K-12 segment. Since our inception in 2000, we have emerged as the brand of choice for students/parents, teachers, schools and colleges, globally, due to our innovative, technology-enabled solutions and services. With Pearsons global resources, expertise, content and reach, we provide international standard education at affordable prices to the mass market.
Pearson Education Services manages existing and new schools under the Pearson Schools brand name, provides technology-enabled solutions, retail products and learning centres under the Edurite brand name, and global online tutoring under the TutorVista brand name.
Our offerings include: Online tutoring services (TutorVista.com); ICT solution for schools and colleges (DigiClass/ DigiClass Pro); school management services (Pearson Schools); digital content value-additions (Edurite Aligned Services); self-study packs for students including CD-ROMs (Score More), online courses and worksheets; technology-aided test prep and other courses (Edurite Learning Centre) Our efforts at improving the learning process and classroom experience have won many accolades - including the President Award for IT, Manthan Award for Best E-Content Development ,Marico Innovation Award , The World Education Summit Award for best content for k-12 and the jurys choice award at the e-India Awards .
Since our business is scaling quite significantly, my role is to ensure that the organizational structures and processes are in place for this scaling. Also I work on bringing in world class resources from Pearson to the Indian education system.
SI: Decisions That Mattered
Meena: I think an important career decision which I made very early on in my career was joining a start-up like NIIT from campus. This helped shape my thinking and developed in me a comfort with the unknown, a high sense of ownership and risk taking. NIIT which was in its early days was very entrepreneurial. After NIIT, I worked with Price Waterhouse and then with Microsoft. I was lucky that in each of these companies I ended up building a new vertical or a new business line for the organization. So in effect I have been an "intrapreneur" in all my corporate stints. In 2000, while I was at Microsoft, I had this idea of building an enterprise focused on customer support for online businesses. That period was the first wave of online growth and I built the business plan along with a couple of co-founders and got it funded. That led to my first venture Customer Asset. This then grew and was acquired by ICICI and is now listed as First Source on the stock exchange.
It was exciting and extremely challenging as we were one of the pioneers in the BPO space and everything had to be literally invented! Whether it was the business process, the technology, the logistics of transporting people, the HR challenges of hiring people to work nights, training them to attend to global customers, it was all brand new for India.After moving out of Customer Asset, I joined the worlds 3rd largest retailer, TESCO, to set up their IT and back office hub in India. While this was a part of a large MNC, the fact was this too was a start up. As the CEO, I was the first employee and built it up from there to about 4000 people delivering some of the most complex IT and finance related services for operations worldwide. After spending 5 years there, I decided to join TutorVista as a co-promoter to help setup and scale our Indian operations.. Over the last three years, we built a business with three significant verticals in the education space. We provide digital classroom solutions to about 2500 schools, provide exam preparation support to about 20,000 students and manage and operate 27 schools across the country.
SI: My Vision as a Leader
Meena: To me leadership is about getting people to rally behind a cause and objective with single minded focus. This involves being able to sell your vision and dream to everyone in your team , being a coach and captain , being part of the team while being first amongst equals. Communication of your enthusiasm and passion to others is key part of leadership. Being fair , frank and honest are key hallmarks to get the respect of the team for the leader.
Learning continuously and from everybody is critical and also the ability to move from big picture to the details.
SI: Resolving Challenges Faced as a Women
Meena: On a professional front, frankly , gender is not that important. You need to see yourself as a person fulfilling a role and ensuring that you do the best possible contribution for that role, infact try and overdeliver on the expectations.However, overall, being a woman means that there are other responsibilities as a mother, as a daughter etc. These responsibilities need to be balanced such that you do justice to all aspects. Invariably a lot of women get torn by guilt and that is the biggest challenge that needs to be overcome. It helps to have a lot of support from family and friends in handling these responsibilities; however, it is also important not to attempt being a "superwoman!"
SI: Work - life Balance
Meena: I strongly feel this phrase is overused and overstated. I can never fully switch off work or life since we are emotional, thinking, living beings and not automaton or machine. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to be working on things I love and am excited about.Best work life balance is if you love your work and your life equally then you are "living your work". If this is not the case, you should change your work. I am as comfortable thinking and talking to my family during the day as being on long conference calls or traveling for work during the week ends and late night. I look forward to getting to work everyday as I enjoy what I do. But I am delighted to get back home in the evening to be with my children! That apart regular short holidays to our holiday home in the Nilgiris gives us the time to relax and refresh.
SI: Starting Over from Scratch, What I Would Like to do Differently
Meena: Almost everything! the beauty of entrepreneurship is seeing what does not exist and go about building it. As we move forward creating something that does not exist, you meander and make several mistakes and mid course corrections and keep learning.Specifically , would have had better quality and stable investors for our BPO business , focused on value added services earlier than before, looked at International expansion in our education business sooner than later
SI: Women Leaders: Driving Force for Powering Business
Meena: Women leaders are as capable as any others. Companies need to get a good mix of women across all levels.One of the key reasons for that is of course the simple fact that our workforce should reflect the customers!
The second aspect is that women bring in a different perspective to all decisions. They tend to value teamwork and consensus more. They can be very good negotiators too.Many studies have shown benefits that organizations have derived in their profitability and market capitalization by bringing in a higher level of diversity.
SI: My Learning Along the Way
Meena: In each of my corporate stints I was fortunate that I got a chance to do something new and exciting; whether it was setting up a new business or division like with NIIT, PWC and Microsoft or setting up the entire India operations like with Tesco, this has now become a part of my DNA.
Also, I was right from the beginning of my career with NIIT able to work on a variety of roles ranging from computer training to software development, IT consultancy to running a number of education centers for NIIT. After NIIT, I joined Microsoft to set up their consultancy division called MCS in India. After that, I went on to set up their Internet Business and their Application Development Customer unit. All these were new businesses that Micro Soft was setting up in India and I got the opportunity to build those businesses from a scratch. That gave me the experience of setting up and scaling businesses.
I was the founding CEO of Tescos Hindustan Service Centre in India. As the founding CEO, I was also the first employee so I actually built the center from scratch. I was involved in all activities, right from buying the land to setting up the infrastructure, hiring the team, working with teams in U.K and convincing them about off-shoring and outsourcing and helping them overcome whatever challenges they had to bring work to India. The opportunities I got at work of trying diverse roles have greatly helped in in my entrepreneurial stints.
SI: Two Years Down the Line
Meena: 2 years older and 2 kgs lighter!
SI: An Accomplishment You are Most Proud of?
Meena: We created a new industry - BPO/Call center industry as one of the earliest three or four firms that started providing third party IT enabled services.
Meena: I dont think I can give advice to fellow women leaders - I am still learning and developing and look forward to learn from them!