Cruising Thru Alternate Lanes

“What do you want to be when you grow up child?” he asked. “I’m going to wear high heels and stride across polished floors so that my heels click-clack when I walk,” she replied.

This was the response innocuously countered by a six year old. Three decades later, she was a successful executive rolling out strategic actions plan that had potentially raised her company’s visibility and brand equity in the region’s reputation index. The resultant merger, a year later, was a very deal far more lucrative than the stakeholders would have assumed. Of course there were many other factors at play however her contribution could not be undermined either. She smiled with pride when some called her a revolution.

Six years ago, she’d moved to a new country, leaving behind a home, a family and a career she had struggled hard to make…. Married immediately after graduating, she was a mother of two even before she knew the world. Additionally balancing a career with two toddlers, financial naivety, societal demands and relations made life weigh heavy on her shoulders. Her initial two jobs mainly revealed the divide of the real world viz-a-vie the academic training. The third assignment henceforth was meaningful.  Nonetheless,they say perseverance and hard work pay. It was not long before she bought her first house, her first car and secured her kids admission into a reputable school. To streamline household finances, her spouse ventured to the Middle East in pursuit of worthwhile business propositions.

As luck would have played straight into her hands she was offered a job whose office was located within the same vicinity. The company was an offshore business process start-up. She was fortunate to be part of the pilot team migrating business functions, calibrating quality and service levels, inculcating client relations, performance optimization and other administrative functions including recruitment, hiring, policy formation and reporting. Post two years of positive delivery, the company was faced with an internal crisis. Petty office politics infiltrating corporate pipelines forced an operational freeze. Several high return processes across various time zones that could potentially affect the viability of the organisation were at stake. It was not only the company but also the parallels of her life pitted against the odds that led her to the door of opportunity.

Since stepping up her role, the turnaround strategy brought the reigns of control into her hands. From then on her job was a twenty-four hour activity. While the offshore upper management echelons were sceptical, she succeeded in winning their support. Several flew down to personally back her initiatives and provide the hands-on know-how of fundamental business practices. Whilst the subsequent year was loaded with challenges, including reinstating trust and loyalty within employees, in-house cross-functional trainings, hiring, updating policies and business etiquettes; she also discovered how addictive the highs of addressing challenges could be.

Life resorted to normal with additional managers, organisational restructuring, specialised performance leaders, expanding verticals and horizontals, formal roles and responsibilities and several other change management tactics in place. At the helm of corporate success, a curved ball came speeding her way, shuttering the peace of her home. She needed to wind up her activities and join her husband la familia, in the Gulf region.

Whilst a delightful thought nonetheless it meant unearthing the roots she had so persistently nurtured to acquire. The children were doing very well in school. Despite their tender years her son excelled in academics and literary events while her daughter made a mark in cultural activities. After reasoning with her partner, the decision was forestalled for a while. She balanced her professional and personal life by building a support system around her.

For reasons undefined, differences began to creep in her relationship with her partner. Each felt the other did not value the sacrifices and achievements of the other, eventually leading to an ultimatum she could not afford to ignore. In a patriarchal society that still prevailed, the pressures finally pushed her to give in.  Leaving back everything she had worked so hard for, she boarded the plane for Dubai.

A new country, a new culture, a new beginning, life was back to square one. The first few months went into scouting schools, houses and job portals. Not only was it depressing there was a lot of subdued angst waiting to erupt. However a busy mind thwarts unnecessary emotions enabling better sense to prevail.

One of the most striking features of the land was the utmost perfection the Rulers strived to attain. The roads were well maintained four to six lane streets. The commercial and residential planning were probably some of the best in the world. The locals have a penchant for high life, which meant the streets were lined with the most sophisticated and high-end models of cars that she’d only flicked through glossy automobile journals. Office interiors seem to jump straight out of Hollywood projects.

Suddenly she found herself wanting to cross those professional boardrooms that she’d glimpsed through during her job-hunting spate and interview schedules. The high of corporate life began to seep through her nerves again. Determination leads you to your goals. The offer she got changed the course of her career forever. She was hired as the deputy to the Corporate Affairs director of one of the largest engineering and project management organisations of the region.

They say your place is predestined in this world and destiny will lead you to it, nothing could better substantiate it, than the days that were to come. Reflecting back, her immediate prior experience was potentially a training ground to up her capabilities. They provided her with strategic insights to elements of leadership and control. From a 400-member organisation to a 40,000 member strong conglomerate, it was a wide leap. Every action and decision would be far more critical with potentially no time to retrace should it not be right. The implication of the position took a while to settle.

As her first task, she analysed the components of her job description and tried to gauge her department’s maturity level. While it scored very high in certain areas, numerous key activities were assumed to be not critical to the bottom line. She realised that she would have to get her act together. Together with her boss, they redefined the verticals of the department. These were then placed on a continuum in accordance to priority and maturity.  The verticals were further layered with horizontals as key performance areas. Each horizontal listed monthly tasks, goals and deliverables as projects.

Together they also attended external training programmes to develop technical expertise, benchmark with global standards and rate their organisation on performance index. They also succeeded in employing and nurturing a lean team to support their goals.

After a year and half, her boss took a sabbatical for marriage and travel, pushing her to the driver seat. The year that followed saw her creating systems, drafting procedures, setting year on year targets, raising the performance bar and pushing her team to deliver. She partnered with cross-functional business leaders for shared services, sitting through steering committees to monitor performance. She also found a seat in the boardroom that kept her in the loop towards strategic business objectives, emerging markets and business expansion plans. Other opportunities ensured she familiarised with business partners, associates, clients and other stakeholders.

Five years done the line, the organisation had successfully undergone a major merger and acquisition, prepped up for a potential public offering and undergone a massive change in the organisational set-up including restructuring their business model, management structure and standards of operation.

On the personal front, her kids needed more guidance with academics and school projects. Time became dear. Weekend leisure was gradually reducing and being replaced with school work. The city did not provide good maths or science tutors and it was becoming imperative that the kids be given extra attention in these subjects. The next academic season would seal their fates should performance be hit. While on the one hand she’d sit through leadership summits and high-end corporate dinners, simultaneously she’d be texting explanatory solutions to the academic needs of the kids.

Nature knows when to signal alternate lanes. Ruminating through a career trajectory spanning a decade and half, she knew she arrived. She’d achieved what she had set out to do. The question was her career or the children’s future. The answer wasn’t too difficult for anyone to scale.

Was it time for a reverse gear? India is a country that fosters an educational environment. It is marked by a competitive excellence, a killer spirit and opportunities that shape ones personality beyond academia.  Yes it definitely the right time to return.

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