In a talk with a disruptive Leader
"Leave that 'I am a woman so…' excuse at your doorstep as you go out to conquer the world."- Kalyani Narayanan, Managing Director – Pegasus Industries
They are fierce, they are smart, and they know how to make the entrance in the market by re-inventing the wheel of the extant industry. Women Entrepreneurs have today mastered the skills to create a balance between dreams and entrepreneurial freedom. Business magazines, conferences and platforms which were once saturated with men are starting to transform as more women pursue their entrepreneurial journey – and this affair is everywhere, in the bustle of New York Stock Exchange to small towns of India. Not only are women flocking to the world of entrepreneurship—they're trailblazing it. Be it retail, technology, education or social enterprise sector, women are trooping out of their comfort zones and emerging as leaders and change makers. And Ms Kalyani Narayanan is the perfect reflection of India's leading leaders.
Not everyone secures a well-cushioned position and a family business; some invest their dreams, visions and sweat to drive their entrepreneurial realm. Ms Narayanan is the Managing Director and the leading lady who is successfully chartering the journey of Pegasus Industries Pvt Ltd., a best-in-class partner for the leading insurance intermediaries. The insurance industry has been around for a while, but Ms Narayanan set out to do something revolutionary for the insurance leaders. Ms Narayanan was hired by Pennzoil, a Fortune 100 oil and gas leader, fresh out of University Of Houston, Texas. The youngest blood in the organization, she infused her skills there for two years and then moved to Sprint, another Fortune 100 telecom company before relocating to the homeland.
After coming back to India, Kalyani looks forward to the consulting horizon. Ms Narayanan entered into the phase of her second career by joining Covansys (now a CSC company). Everything was smooth as velvet and she didn't really look at becoming an entrepreneur thereafter. Little did she know that a phone call from her previous company was about to change her role. A director from the US Company where Kalyani has worked approached her knowing her impressive tenure at the organization. He asked her to partner him in incepting a software firm in India to undertake projects for the clients he would source from the US. And she wore her entrepreneur coat again and has it since then. She laid the bedrock of Allfon Systems which she nurtured into a 180 people company during the tough "post 9/11" years, built a 100000 sq ft brick and mortar presence for the company and completed other strategic initiatives for the company before cashing out at the end of 5 years. This was followed by a break during which she went to IIMB for a one-year Exec Management degree. Afterwards, she took over Pegasus Industries and renovated it by merging all her existing technology businesses into this company. Under her leadership, Pegasus reached to a new pinnacle by building the first online site for insurance in India in 2008. The move was discouraged by some, also the regulators didn't know how to regulate online business, but fortune had other plans and the first online sale was made the very first day of launch itself. Soon, Pegasus expanded its expertise and created an entire gamut of end-to-end solutions for insurance intermediaries called Ez-quote, Ez-CRM, and Ez-Back.
How did she do it? What has been the secret ingredient behind this phenomenal leader's endeavor? Let's hear from the leader herself.
What problems are you solving with your entrepreneurial venture?
Since our inception, we have been lending hands to variety of industries: Insurance, banking, Oil and gas, manufacturing, telecom, e-learning, e-commerce, NGOs and associations, shipping, government, call center, etc in providing holistic solutions to solve our client problems rather than just thinking of IT solution as a silo. We help customers with legacy systems to reach out to the clients using mobile and other latest technology. We partner with other technology companies (say cloud service providers) so that we can provide a total solution to the client Our suite of products in Bancassurance solutions, and e-commerce portals offer a ready solution to Large public sector banks, leading software companies across the world and the government.
What do you think are the keys to professional and business success for women in India?
Throughout my career, both in India and the US, I never really felt that I was being discriminated against because being a woman. I know some form of discrimination is there wherever we go – because of your race, religion, caste, gender, age, and much more. It is going to be there in the future also. What is the point of hiding behind this for your own failure? It would just be an excuse. So, first, I would say leave that 'I am a woman so..' excuse at your doorstep as you go out to conquer the world.
Second, no matter what you do, there will always be people to criticize – you can never win the game of trying to please others. So, as long as you have the support of the most important people in your life, forget about pleasing others. It is your life and your destiny.
Third, get 100% support from your spouse and immediate family at the very beginning if you want to pursue a career or business. I urge women in colleges to ensure that if they are serious about pursuing their career, inform that to the person and get his wholehearted support before getting married to the person.
What has made you successful as an entrepreneur?
My recognition, my confidence and my successful projects gave me the guts to become an entrepreneur. Along the way, there were also mistakes in certain decisions I made that cost us dearly. But, I learned from these mistakes and continued my journey.
The continuous support of my friends and family has always inspired me. My husband has always been my support system and strength throughout all the ups and downs of my entrepreneurial journey. He is a mentor and a coach for me.
What are the major leadership qualities that helped you grow within the company during the past decade?
Sincerity, Ethical business practice, customer focus
Communication, motivation, patience
People often think "Leadership quality" means that you have to be aggressive, and flamboyant whereas I am quite opposite of this.
What advice would you give young women who want to follow a similar career path as you?
Have a solid foundation in whatever it is that you do or like to do. In this time and day, your teachers can only teach you so much. The entire world is at your fingertips. So, don't blame your college or school for your poor performance in academics.
Ask for help and support in order to get what you want, especially from your family members like your parents/spouse / in-laws / etc. Get their buy-in.
Grow your network and interact with like-minded people. Actively engage yourself in activities that interest you.
Do not hide behind your gender as an excuse if you not able to accomplish things.
Remember. Whether it is career or business, you need to be in it for a long haul. So, prepare yourself and everyone around you for the same.
What next for the company? What do you see happening in the company industry in 2018-19?
I am quite well focused on growing this business for myself and for the key employees who have been with us. Over the years, they have been with me sharing my dreams and aspirations and supporting me year after year. These employees are the pillars of the organization. I want to grow the business big enough where I am able to give them something significant for their dedication and trust in me. Like how Infosys made so many key employees Crorepatis. This means I need to grow the business.
What are the big achievements?
Though I am a techie, I built a 100000 sq ft office space for Allfon Systems in Chennai. We had to engage over 75 vendors, and interact with more than 30 regulatory agencies, etc. costing several million dollars. The project was completed within budget and on time. Learning about the construction industry was very exciting. What is more? I got all this done without paying one Rupee as a bribe.
When I was just 26, I completed our first offshore project for this US Company. It was a 10 man-year project completed in 6 months. Today, it is not a big deal. But, this was done in 1990 – 91 where the email was not there, no internet, no cell phones. Only landlines, faxes, and snail mails were the way we could communicate. We gave a one year warranty for the software against any bugs, etc. We got one call in the one year which we fixed by sending a 2-page fax. I am pretty proud of that. I consider that every project, regardless of the size, as an achievement if the client was able to accomplish the objective. Otherwise, no matter how profitable a project may be, I am not satisfied.
What are the big milestones you are looking to achieve in 2018 and beyond?
I want to grow the business to 500 people in 10 years- God willing.
A visionary who believes in women power, Ms Narayanan chairs as one of the founder members of a forum called eWIT (Empowering Women in IT) which which was formed with the support of STPI (Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, GoI) and a dozen other women leaders in the IT industry in Chennai. Ms Narayanan's contribution to the forum has been instrumental in many ways- Serving as President, General Secretary and others. She has given several guest lectures to students in Tier II and Tier III cities in Tamil Nadu. She has played a key role in helping the forum to win a big grant from the US.
Currently Ms Narayanan is driving an initiative under eWIT named 'Vaapas' to encourage companies for offering career opportunities to women who would like to return to work after a career break due to family reasons. Technology Industry keeps evolving itself every day and the women in IT with a career break of about 3 – 5 years, have to re-skill themselves in many aspects which would not be possible if the companies are not willing to offer that additional training and internship. The initiative has been well received by companies in Chennai. Ms Narayanan's company has built the technology to connect the women seeking such second career opportunity with the companies willing to offer the opportunity in the eWIT portal.
That's why it's always a delicacy to get around those women who talk about visions and ideas.