Changing negatives to her advantage

`OUTSIDE MY window, a new day I see, And only I can determine What kind of a day it will be.'

It's a karmic calling for her where there's no room for doubt. As senior vice president and chief operating officer of AVT McCormick Private Limited, Sushma Srikandath knows she has to play out the script with panache. Her understated, no-nonsense office is a reflection of her personality where she doesn't fight shy to say what she means and do what is needed. Yet when she storms the boardroom she's armed with all her womanly charms and uses her innate nurturing capabilities to diffuse uncomfortable situations.

So how does she walk the tightrope, balancing the two? Always quick on the uptake, Sushma never doubted her intellectual competence. When she followed her husband to U.S.A., opportunities sprang up around her. She enrolled into the MBA programme and refused to feel vulnerable in an alien environment. "I wore saris during my presentations and flaunted my Indian-ness. I looked different, I dressed different and even my name sounded different. In fact it was there that I learnt to convert negatives into an advantage." It is this philosophy that has guided her ever since.

When she stepped into the rough and tumble of business, an export company producing natural ingredients and food extracts, not many believed in her. She had to put in that extra twenty per cent to show her worth.

Within AVT, she has moved from raw material purchasing, to exports, to marketing, so that at the end of the day she is confident of understanding the nitty-gritty of her establishment. It's been hard work, but now when it comes to the crunch, the management turns to her for advice. At one time when things had started to hot up, Sushma introduced what she calls the cross functional training programme. Every one of the 193 employees in the company were taken to different departments and trained in their functioning. That was a clincher. Thereafter productivity increased with employees appreciating each other's tasks and feeling a part of the larger family. And all was hunky-dory.

Sushma carries with her an aura of respect, which comes from her hands-on personality. Never one to sit on a high horse and expect things to roll, she doesn't shy from going to the lowest of workers and lend 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 a family day celebration. There is no union amongst the workers; instead the company offers an employee council where problems are resolved. Sushma Srikandath is the recipient of this year's Manager of the Year Award from Kerala Management Association. She says the unstinted support from her husband and family has contributed to her success. Not one to make any gasps for repentance she says she may not have been there for her daughter all the time but gave her "quality time" and ensured that she grew up to be an independent and confident girl. Kudos to a woman of substance.