Advantage Sushma

As senior vice-president and chief operating officer of AVT McCormick, Sushma Srikandath knows she has to play out the script with panache. She has an understated, no-nonsense approach to work -- she doesn't fight shy of saying what she means and do what is needed. Yet, when she storms the boardroom, she's different. She uses her innate capabilities to diffuse uncomfortable situations.

Sushma Srikandath is the recipient of this year's Manager of the Year award, instituted by the Kerala Management Association.

So how does she walk the tightrope? Sushma never doubted her intellectual abilities. When she followed her husband to the U.S., opportunities were many. She enrolled on an MBA programme and refused to feel vulnerable in an alien environment. "I wore saris during my presentations and flaunted my Indian-ness. Even my name sounded different. It was there that I learnt to convert disadvantages into advantages."

This philosophy has guided her ever since. When she stepped into an export company producing natural ingredients and food extracts, not many believed in her.

Within AVT, she has moved from its raw material purchasing wing, to handling exports and marketing, so that at the end of the day, she has understood the nitty-gritty of the functioning of almost every department. It's been hard work.

At one point, when things began to hot up, Sushma introduced what she calls cross-functional training programme. Every employee was taken to various departments for training. This was a clincher -- productivity increased with employees appreciating each other.

Never one to sit on a high horse and expect things to roll, Sushma doesn't shy away from approaching the lowest level of workers and lending them a helping hand. "It's something I learnt in the U.S. where officers and workers work in tandem, without the trappings of hierarchy."

She also ensures that her staff is cheerful and happy. "It is vital for the organisation's health."

In a bid to improve efficiency, the company regularly holds family day celebrations. There is no workers-union in the organisation; instead the company has an employee council where problems are resolved.

She says the support from her husband and family has contributed to her success.