Ramdas Shenoyy in tête-à-tête with Jessie, CEO, Paul Writers ( the EX CMO, Wipro)
You have been the face and inspiration to a lot of marketing professionals, what made you pursue a career in marketing?
I actually wanted to be a computer engineer. I got a degree in computer science and joined Tata Elxsi. I happened to sit next to the marketing person – there was just one in those days – and thought what she was doing was so much more fun than my job! I volunteered to help out and participated in my first trade show as her ‘assistant’. I loved the creativity, the ability to see results almost immediately and the wide variety of tasks in marketing. I signed up for an MBA to help me switch from engineering to marketing and things have worked out well for me.
How is it different to be part of giants like Infosys, Wipro and leading as an entrepreneur at Paul Writers? What is the Unique value that you offer your clientele?
Firstly, every company is different. Infosys, when I worked there, was like a startup – when I joined they had 2000+ employees and when I left five years later nearly 1 lakh! So there was lots of room for experimentation and growth. Almost everything we did in marketing was a ‘first”. Mr. Murthy, Nandan Nilekani, and Phaneesh Murthy were Board Members but very actively involved in marketing, as was Rama Bijapurkar. It was a phenomenal opportunity to be mentored by these gurus. I also got a chance to travel to exotic locations either to support marketing events or to host customer conferences. My childhood dream was to be an airline stewardess as I wanted to see the world – luckily marketing delivered that for me!
Wipro was already a billion-dollar enterprise when I joined as Chief Marketing Officer. The industry had also matured and the hectic growth rates and profit margins of the Y2K era were over. So my role there had more to do with creating a structure for the marketing organization and putting in place programs that could be scaled and were repeatable. As CMO of a Fortune 1000 organization opportunities for me was different too – I got to go to the World Economic Forum in Davos, attend the first (and only) TED in India and interact with the Board through structured presentations.
I wanted to try my hand at being an entrepreneur as I feel you have far more control over your life as one. You can be far more selective about the kind of work you take up, your time commitment and how and if you travel. You control more of your destiny, which one of my mentors impressed upon me is very important. The skillsets I bring to the table are marketing and positioning strategy and being an excellent communicator.
Can you recall any challenging event in your professional career which created a huge impact and how did you handle it?
One year there was a lot of churn in the marketing team at Infosys, where I was Global Brand Manager. I really wanted to be considered for the Head of Marketing role after my boss quit but I was told I didn’t have the requisite number of years. I felt that capability mattered more than the number of years and decided to join a startup where I could head marketing instead. This meant leaving behind my Infosys ESOPs which was a big financial loss. But two years later I became CMO of Wipro and my decision to leave Infosys when I did was key to that. My learning from this is to always follow the path to better work or life and not to chase money.
You have been named as the most influential woman in IT in India? How do you see the new IT industry in this new decade? To what extent will AI and ML play a role? Will it impact both the B2B and B2C marketing alike?
The era of low-cost cookie-cutter IT is over. That work is easily automated. There is a lot of demand for smart coders and architects and product designers. Those who can apply technology to business problems are in huge demand. AI is already mainstream and it is a necessity to manage the huge volumes of data we all deal with. Low-end marketing work is already automated or should be. However, the creative insights of how to apply this knowledge to create something of relevance to the customer – that skill is required more than ever with the explosion of opportunity and cannot be automated.
Zero Money marketing is every marketer’s dream – what are the key principles of No Money Marketing?
The crucial aspect of good marketing is clarity – to understand who you are, why people buy you, and why they do not buy other products. Then, in order to keep costs low, you have to understand your target market extremely clearly and identify the most efficient way to reach them. If you can then throw in an element of self-diffusion, then you’re on to a winner!
I’m working on my second book – No Money Marketing: Reducing Friction to Sales and I find that digital has changed a lot of things though not the basic principles of good marketing.
How do you rate the Indian marketing professional vis-à-vis their global counterparts?
Generally speaking professionals in mature economies tend to be more structured and rule-based than their growth economy peers. Even with India, MNC marketers tend to be more structured than those working with startups or promoter-led organizations. This is because growth economies and organizations have to be able to handle and even benefit from frequent, unplanned changes. Marketers in India have to deal with strikes, bandhs, boycotts, legislative changes, tax changes far more frequently and this puts an onus on being resilient and resourceful in addition to the regular marketing skills. It’s a process of evolution – marketers adapt to their environment and the aim should be to be the “best-fit” for your organization.
What makes a marketing professional click in a dynamic environment? What will be 5 things critical for any marketing professional?
1. Ability to understand what the company needs
2. Ability to understand what the key decision-maker(s) need
3. Grasping what the customer wants and clubbing that with (1) and (2)
4. Always ready to change plans to accommodate the reality
5. Being hands-on – having the ability to perform, not just manage, the core elements of marketing
Your quote for life?
Be financially independent and control your destiny as much as possible