South Asian professionals get tips on leadership

Indian CG Dr Ausaf Sayeed addressing a meeting of  IACS Networking event. Sitting on dais are L to R Toby Chaudhuri, Nageshwaran Vaidyanathan, Terry Friel, Sri Donthi, Manu Bhardwaj  and Sundaram Nagarajan
Indian CG Dr Ausaf Sayeed addressing a meeting of IACS Networking event. Sitting on dais are L to R Toby Chaudhuri, Nageshwaran Vaidyanathan, Terry Friel, Sri Donthi, Manu Bhardwaj and Sundaram Nagarajan

CHICAGO: South Asian professionals who want to move ahead in their careers should not be afraid to take risks. This was the message at a Professional Development and Leadership Networking event organized by Indo American Community Services (IACS) here recently. .

The event, sponsored in part by Agateia, Dynamic Enterprise Solutions and Grainger, was designed to provide a unique networking and professional development opportunity for South Asian professionals from the Chicago area. It featured several senior executives from private industry, the public sector and academia.

Notable speakers at the event included Sri Donthi, senior vice president and CIO of Pepsico; Sundaram Nagarajan, executive vice president at Illinois Tool Works; Nageshwaran Vaidyanathan, senior director Allstate, Manu Bhardwaj, senior advisor, U.S. Department of State; Toby Chaudhuri, co-founder SocialxDesign; and Terry Friel, Dean of the Walter E. Heller College of Business at Roosevelt University.

Also present was Dr. Ausaf Sayeed, Counsel General at the Consulate General of India in Chicago who talked about the role the Indian consulate can play in facilitating business arrangements and economic partnerships between entrepreneurs in the U.S and their counterparts in India. Over 100 South Asian professionals and college students from the Chicago area attended the networking reception and dinner at the Marriot Schaumburg.

At a panel discussion on leadership skills during the event, several of the speakers urged members of the South Asian community not to let cultural differences and a fear of making mistakes stand in the way of career advancement.

Those who want to succeed in their careers should be willing to “rock the boat,” said Chaudhuri, a recent entrepreneur and an Obama Administration appointee on race-based initiatives. Leaders need to have the courage to be pioneers and not be afraid to ask questions when necessary, he said.

Donthi, who has been at the helm of Pepsico’s technology initiatives for the past several years spoke about the professional qualities and attributes it takes to be a leader in private industry. Two of the characteristics essential for a leader are curiosity and passion, according to Donthi.

“It is okay for a leader to say, ‘I don’t know’ to their team. Do not try to master everything. Be yourself and build on,” Donthi said. He urged students and those starting out in their careers to try and learn from mentors on how to succeed in their careers. “Being an introvert should not stop you from aspiring to be a leader.”

Nagarajan attributed his career advancement at Illinois Tool Works to a combination of strategic planning and patience. “You have to be patient towards your long term goals and impatient about your short term goals” Nagarajan said. He likened the effort to preparing for a marathon. To succeed in a marathon a runner needs to have long term planning. But to train for it, the runner has to work hard every day.

Professionals of South Asian origin should be careful not to let cultural differences hinder professional growth, said Vaidyanathan, a technology veteran at Allstate. One important attribute that leaders should have is getting to know people in their organizations better, he said. The ability to manage non-verbal communications is a crucial attribute as well, he noted.

In an address at the event, IACS President Sreenivas Katragadda remarked on the strong support for the event from sponsors and from South Asian professionals in the Chicago area.

The community response to the event underscores the continuing demand for such targeted professional networking opportunities within the Indian Diaspora, he said.

The Professional Development and Leadership Networking program is one of several initiatives for the South Asian community launched by the IACS since its inception in 2010. The group’s flagship event is the IACS Diversity Job Fair held annually in Chicago in October.

Other IACS community building initiatives include a South Asian Woman’s Conference, a Leadership Intern program for college students and a Business and Entrepreneur Conference.

Surendra Ullal

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