International Women’s Month is coming to a close, and we’re ending with an incredible interview with businesswoman and powerhouse, Vasanthi Chandrasekaram!
Chandrasekaram has more than 18 years of experience leading major Fortune 100 companies like Amazon and Apple. She has lead several teams in engineering, marketing, product strategy and P&L growth in the enterprise and consumer sectors. She relentlessly pursues her passion for driving groundbreaking technology to create impactful products throughout the world. Vasanthi is an entrepreneur and founder of RewardsPay, an e-commerce consumer payment and rewards company. Her key expertise in entrepreneurship has helped her scale start-ups and venture capitalist funds such as Ahalogy and VGV, and transform multiple sectors of business. A Harvard MBA alumna, she served on the business school’s IOT Investment Forum, bringing together investors and start-ups with key leaders in the IOT space. Her interests in the product life cycle, go-to-market, and sales- enablement strategies has shaped her experiences leading teams of all sizes to create great impact for companies across the nation. In her free time, she enjoys refining her leadership skills with her nine-year old twins.
VGV: Why do you believe it’s important to see women in C-level positions and as business owners?
Chandrasekaram: It’s absolutely important because many studies have shown the tremendous impact of women’s leadership to businesses, yet only about 25 percent are in C-level positions. There are missed opportunities when we deny women access to these leadership positions as women are known to have many leadership skills such as emotional intelligence, inspiring teams, wearing many hats and tackling challenges head on. These qualities are great assets that businesses can utilize. In addition, having diversity in leadership ranks makes good business sense as these various perspectives will offer sound, visionary leadership that is critical for maintaining a competitive edge. If you increase that diverse pool of leaders, your likelihood of having a solid, profitable business tremendously increases.
VGV: Discuss your journey as a woman in your industry. What challenges as a woman did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Chandrasekaram: Some of the challenges that I encountered were at the early part of my career. When I joined Apple, I was the first female engineer in a male-dominated division. My style of communication and working was very different to the others in the team. By listening and observing the culture, I was able to keep my calm and confident style but learn the communication styles that were effective in the team. I also learnt the value of preparation and backing up my arguments with data. This experience taught me the importance of building connections with my colleagues outside of our work environment, being pro active and to accept challenges that normally people would shy away from.
VGV: What are the advantages of having a calm and confidence leadership style?
Chandrasekaram: If you’re calm and confident whether in a board room or in the office, people will listen to you because it shows your ability to think deeply and solve problems. If you can combine this style with a consistent track record of success along the way, it can be very powerful.I also am a visionary with the ability to see the forest as well as the trees. When you can do this, you can guide your team to go from a big strategic idea to concrete execution.
VGV: How do you work to identify the strength of your team?
Chandrasekaram: My management style is strength based. It’s a form of a portfolio strategy where I crate teams that combine and compliment each other’s strengths. To identify the strengths of my managers,I observe, listen and listen. I work hard to understand each and everyone in my team, what they do well, why they do well and what are they intrinsically motivated by. I also tremendously enjoy getting to know my team leaders and mentoring them.
VGV: What advice would you give to the next generation of women business owners and leaders?
Chandrasekaram: Be prepared to embrace change and accept risks. Only if you are prepared to take risks, you will see the biggest upside. Never stop learning, the curiosity to learn new things will enable you to try new things and take on more responsibilities. I would also encourage the next generation of women to trust themselves, dream big and take on tough assignments.
VGV: How have you found balance in motherhood and your work?
Chandrasekaram: It’s a challenge that I don’t think I have fully figured it out. It’s a journey and one needs to have a long-term view of their career. There will be times, career will take priority and times we have to put our children first. I think this is one of the reasons why women make great leaders because we know how to prioritize, delegate and manage many facets of our family without taking our eyes off the prize. I also get as much support and help as possible. It is important to keep in mind that while you can outsource some parts of your family life, you cannot outsource the emotional well being of your children.
Amongst all other things, Vasanthi is an excellent leader and asset to any team she guides. Like many of the businesswomen we’ve highlighted this month, Vasanthi is intelligent, proactive, is constantly learning, and constantly shaping today’s business for a better tomorrow. If you haven’t done so yet, check out the businesswomen we interviewed earlier this month for International Women’s Month.
People can create history with a simple idea combined with great passion and effort. Women across the world are continually impacting society, and every March, we have another opportunity to honor the forward momentum they create. Here are five exceptional women, both past and present, that made history and significantly impacted business for the better.
Sales in the Past: Madam C.J. Walker
Born in 1867 formerly as Sarah Breedlove, Madam C.J. Walker was a businesswoman, philanthropist, activist, and the first American woman to become a self-made millionaire. After her early years of hard labor, orphanage, relationship challenges, and physical stress, she moved to Denver, Colorado, to start a new life. Walker launched her own African American hair care line that aimed to grow and straighten African Americans' hair while equipping black women with economic independence. She opened the "Walker System" training programs and owned a national team of licensed sales agents for her brand. In addition to her savvy business skills, Walker donated to several charities, educational institutes, and other initiatives to help propel civil rights and education forward. When she passed in 1919, her business sales topped $500,000, and her total net worth was over $1 million.
Tech in the Present: Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg inspires women in more ways than one. From a career perspective, she is the chief operating officer at Facebook and has previously held several corporate leadership positions. During her time in corporate America, Sandberg has faced adversity, controversy, and success, including her achievement as the first appointed woman on Facebook's board of directors in 2012. She has also been nationally recognized as one of corporate America's top executives. From a relatable aspect, Sheryl is the best-selling author of 'Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.' Her book inspired her to create an online community for women, LeanIn.org, to encourage women to follow their dreams and provide support to other members.
Marketing in the Past: Estée Lauder
Estée Lauder's uncle sparked her interest in cosmetics when he taught her how to make velvety skin cream for women. In partnership with her husband, Lauder built one of the largest and most successful beauty empires ever. Dubbed a fantastic marketer, she combined her love for reaching the customer and her skills to create the "gift with purchase" selling point that many brands use in their marketing and sales tactics today. Estée Lauder is an iconic American entrepreneur and is still one of the top beauty companies in the world.
Retail in the Present: Carol M. Meyrowitz
Carol M. Meyrowitz is the Executive Chairman of the Board and the Chairman of the Executive Committee of TJX Companies. From clothing to home goods, this leading retailer and $21 billion business includes T.J. Maxx, Home Goods, and Marshalls, and is built around affordable options. Meyrowitz started her career as an assistant buyer at Saks and steadily climbed the ladder, leading TJX as the Executive Vice President, President, Senior Executive Vice President, and CEO until she stepped down in 2016.
Healthcare in the Past: Kadambini Ganguly
Kadambini Ganguly was the first female practitioner in South Asia to earn a degree and practice western medicine. She was born in 1860 in modern-day Bangladesh and was known to push for women's freedom in India during a time when women were heavily oppressed. Ganguly also served as one of the first women to vote in the Indian National Congress and was noted as a powerhouse and voice for women's rights until her passing at the age of 63.
As you can see, there’s never been a moment in history without a woman impacting it. Each day, the world is guided by the insight, dedication, and intelligence women provide. While this post is only reflective of a few, there are thousands of women worldwide that may go unmentioned, and we appreciate all of you. Happy International Women’s Month!
This week we’re highlighting a trailblazer in the automotive industry: Diane Sauer of Coldwater, Ohio. A talented businesswoman and community philanthropist, Diane took an interest in the industry when she joined Martin Chevrolet’s accounting team in 1976. Her savvy and financial capabilities helped her shape a career through several promotions, providing her with an indispensable skill set for the company. In 2003 she purchased the dealership she learned to love and changed the name to her very own - Diane Sauer Chevrolet, Inc.
VGV: Why do you believe it’s important to see women in C-level positions and as business owners?
D. Sauer: It’s absolutely important for women to know they’re capable of serving in business, and it’s important to all employees and people to see the inclusiveness of women in management.
VGV: Discuss your own journey in your industry. What challenges did you face as a woman in business? How did you overcome those challenges?
D. Sauer: I started out at the dealership at a very entry-level position. I had a B.A. in Accounting and had a difficult time finding a job, so I took a clerk position at the dealership and worked my way up in. I ended up buying the entire business. It was initially called Martin Chevrolet. As I worked my way through the positions I took over for a man in every position, so there were challenges early on in my career, naturally. In some cases, you just had to bear down and be strong and keep fighting. At times, frustrations bubbled up but the most important thing I learned was to be yourself. If I try to be someone else, it doesn’t work. I stay true to myself and let my talents speak for me.
VGV: What advice do you have for women entering the business world?
D. Sauer: Women should be grateful to their mothers and aunts who paved the way for them. They should also stay true to themselves. Be the woman you are. Use your talents and instincts and draw upon them when you need to.
VGV: What unique leadership style do you bring to the table as a woman? How does it impact your business?
D. Sauer: I believe in gaining consensus from my team rather than saying I’m the boss and being forceful. I love this style of leadership because I am able to garner my team’s support and trust through inclusivity.
A graduate of The Ohio State University, Diane’s community-oriented characteristics combined with her strong leadership and business mindset has set her apart as a trailblazer, as well as a valuable asset to the business world. Diane is a role model to not just women, but the community surrounding her.