Leaders Q&A: Anupama Jha

Post by: Anna Johansson Kacey Canning
Published: 18 January 2023

Tell us a bit about yourself and your career so far. 

I was brought up in a small town in India; it was a very humble and traditional upbringing. I was exposed to a lot of traditional careers, like becoming a doctor or an engineer. I didn’t have any understanding of a corporate job. 

Gradually, I started to meet more people who were in the corporate world with a whole range of different educations. India itself was going through a tech boom at the time, but I never thought it was something I would personally be a part of. When I graduated, I got married, and I started working after marriage in a sales role, but in media sales at the biggest publishing company in India at the time.  

I took it as a challenge to see myself as confident, independent, and the kind of person I wanted to be. I think the industry survives on two kinds of people: the creators and sellers, two types of people who are never out of a job. I learned everything quickly because I wanted to prove myself to myself. I learned that men have a bit more of an upper hand than women, who have to constantly keep proving themselves.

Have you noticed any differences in selling from a female to a male, taking into account the fact that you must prove yourself as a female in the industry? Do you believe the female flare contributed something unique to the company’s sales success?

I think it is always important to talk about business. I wouldn’t say that the feminine side of you shouldn’t be very prominent, but when you are talking business, it has to come across through your approach and communication. I am very caring and friendly, and this doesn’t always work in all aspects, especially when you are trying to be result-driven. However, there always needs to be empathy and compassion, especially for your teammates and your leadership. 

How did you make your first jump into a leadership role? 

For me, I think that when you are in a sales role, you are doing a role very similar to leadership; you are leading an account, and it helps you understand how to take on the onus of a complete project. You need to coordinate with the billing team and the client itself to achieve the same goal. I think sales helps you develop so many holistic skills, and by and large, if you look at most businesses, the top manager usually constitutes a salesperson, as they have the skills of coordinating across multiple departments.  

What do you think are the most important qualities for a leader to have? 

For me personally, I think it’s important to be involved at the ground level. I would like to be able to personally sell the product and continue to use the skills that I have developed. The second thing is to, of course, guide the team, which for me means that you are equal to your teammates and equally involved and invested in their progress and results. As a leader, you are responsible for the team’s performance, and if the team isn’t performing, you have to take a step back to understand what the bottleneck might be and what needs to change to be successful. I feel that the result will not be great if you aren’t involved in motivating, driving the team, being part of the whole process, and meeting the team’s needs.

Do you have to adapt your leadership and/or sales styles to different regions and demographics?

Very much! That is definitely something you need to work on developing, but when you move around a bit, I think it comes pretty naturally and you realise what the right questions are to ask the client and team. I think it is important to read between the lines to try and understand what the client wants to hear to figure out the right product fit. To keep the client’s attention, I believe you must constantly adjust the conversation to what they want. You should find a good balance between talking about their business and selling your product or solution. 

Selling approaches vary a lot across geography; I have noticed that a lot across the differences in India and Southeast Asia. While there are some similarities, there are many differences in how people communicate (softly spoken or directly, for example) and define success around the world. For example, I have found that when talking to Japanese clients, they are extremely detail-oriented, so you need to consider this when creating a presentation for clients from Japan and consider all possibilities and use strong convincing skills. 

What have been your biggest challenges as a female leader?

I wouldn’t say challenge, but I feel that as a woman in the corporate world, given the opportunities that men get, there is no such rule as such on percentages of opportunity for women. I strongly feel that there needs to be a law to help balance this out in the workplace. I say this because, biologically, men and women are so different, and career growth often clashes with family growth. It’s so hard to balance becoming a mum and taking maternity leave, as you might miss out on some opportunities at this time.

I think a mandatory structure would help to maintain a balance (about 40–60%) in the workplace and help more women succeed in every role, from entry-level to leadership roles. I see a lot of women return to work so soon after having a baby, especially in Southeast Asia, but the ratio is still so low. In India, a lot of women give up their careers altogether once they start a family. I think we need to create awareness that women shouldn’t give up. I have personally gone through the experience, I left my job for sometime when I had my first daughter to realise after that this was one of my biggest mistakes

What have you been reading or watching lately?

I have recently been reading a book written by the founder of Sony, Masaru Ibuka, Kindergarten is Too Late, along with books on software sales as well as Inner Engineering : A Yogi’s Guide to Joy by Sadhguru