Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Woman Achiever: Sridevi Koneru

Sridevi Koneru, a woman with a competitive spirit and courageous outlook, who drives the career of 120 employees as Director of Wireless Networking Business Unit at Cisco.

To succeed we first must believe we can.” Sridevi Koneru at Cisco corroborates these words of Michael Korda. “Always believe in yourself and follow your instincts, be true to yourself and you will achieve your goals.” she asserts. Today, her self-belief has paid off, as she leads the wireless technology business unit driving critical product development and business decisions at Cisco. As the Director of Wireless Networking Business Unit at Cisco India, she drives the careers of 120 employees, enhancing their performance and productivity while developing wireless networking solutions.

Her thirst to learn more motivated her to pursue a Master’s degree in Computer Science after her graduation in the same discipline. “No one pushed me to take up Computer Science. I was good at mathematics and very analytical by nature, so it came to me easily,” she says. Filled with vigour and impatient by nature, Sridevi was rearing to start her career and joined her Professor’s start-up and then later a company called ‘Compression Labs’, a video conferencing solution provider, while studying for her Master’s degree. Once out of the university she joined ‘Stratacom’.

“I view every change as an inflection point”, she says. Sridevi, who was married by the time she finished her Master’s degree, found that she needed to adapt to the demands of raising a family, after sometime. For a while she was caught in a dilemma, faced by a lot of women, on how to strike an optimum work life balance. She had begun to work part time but felt that she was not doing justice to her career. During these times, she felt she was given projects as they required less expertise and she couldn’t demonstrate her capabilities through them. The zeal to establish her career and to build her own identity dawned on her only with the birth of her daughter. “The birth of my daughter was the turning point in my life and career. I realized the need to be an individual, the need to identify with my own life and the need to manage my career. After her birth, my mere job turned into my full-fledged career,” Sridevi expresses nostalgically. With the help of her supportive family she returned to work full time. She also managed to disprove the preconceived notions of others who questioned her ability to be a good mother and managed to achieve the much desired balance in her roles as a wife, mother, and a career woman.

The acquisition of Stratacom by Cisco was the silver lining in her career. She went onto to lead Cisco’s wireless networking business space. From then onwards there was no looking back for this spirited lady.

Her competitive spirit, her courageous outlook and ability to take risks are traits that she attributes to her active interest in sports which ranges from volleyball, hiking to adventure sports.

While change is constant in most of the realms, technology is one realm where change takes the fastest, and this makes Sridevi, who welcomes change, ideally suited for this domain. Her quest for challenges and constant improvement in everything makes her a catalyst for change, for the better, in every aspect of her life and career. It didn’t take her much time to bring in changes within Cisco that helped improve the efficiency of the processes she was responsible for. Even in the regular work environment, which mainly involves customer interactions, she makes as effort to instill changes for the better, every day in small ways. Sometimes, this could be building new strategies to help the sales team with information to support their sales efforts, while at other times it could be efficient resolution of product support issues.

Her experiences have helped her analyze her team’s aspirations better and guided them well. And at times, she has even opened up opportunities for the people who showed interest in exploring territory in their respective careers. “There was a situation where one of my engineers expressed interest in customer facing projects. So when an opportunity came up, I asked her to accompany me to a customer conference and conduct the workshop and interface with the customer and partner audience. That helped her exposure and built her confidence and over time, she transitioned into a customer support engineer and now excels at it!” says Sridevi.

While Sridevi started her career in a technical role, she opted to pursue an MBA from Wharton, University of Pennsylvania to allow her to venture into the business world as a leader that would use the combination of her management experience and business skills. At Cisco she is involved in managing the different technology areas for various customer segments.

“Back in the 1990s the avenues to receive mentoring at work were limited, unlike today, where you are spoilt for choice” says Sridevi, who now ensures that her team has the mentoring opportunities that she did not have. Although customer interactions and developing product roadmaps keep her busy most of the time, employee development is always a priority for her. She spends time to understand the members of the 200 person team that she manages, each of whom has a personality different from the other and she reacts accordingly. The strength of any team lies in realizing the diverse skills of each member and using those skills for a common goal. Being honest and transparent with her employees also helps her build a better team. “I want to share more of my professional experience with the larger community. For example, every year I visit rural schools in India to talk about the benefits of education in general and Cisco certification in particular, because I know this will give students a way to help uplift their family and community, at large,” she says.

Sridevi who opted for the career she did because it did not involve much hard work for her and came to her easily, today maintains that there is no substitute for hard work. She believes that luck happens when opportunity meets preparation.

The versatility that is enabled by technology makes it a good career option for capable women and Sridevi embodies this aspect. Technology today gives her the flexibility to determine when and how she works and enhances her productivity.

Talking about work-life balance Sridevi asserts, “One could be career oriented and still maintain a work-life balance as personal life is of prime importance to any professional. An organization like Cisco also gives me the flexibility to do so”. In case an emergency at home requires her intervention she does not have to think twice about voicing her concerns and leaving office, even in the middle of an important meeting. She expects and gives the same level of understanding and flexibility to everyone in her team, without compromising on work.

It is determination that helped her achieve success in her career; but till today Sridevi owes her career to the one person who inadvertently set her on course to achieve her goals in life, her daughter. She also states that “I am always guided by the early ingrained ethical values and principles by my dear Father who has taught me everything I am today.”
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