By being passionate about ensuring the sustainable long term growth of the company and following a strict discipline in every aspect of his life, Uma Pingali, business president, sales and marketing-Asia Pacific, element14, has contributed significantly to the electronics distribution and supplier ecosystem of India for nearly three decades. In an interaction with Baishakhi Dutta of Electronics Bazaar, he shares the highlights of his professional journey.
|Some lesser known facts about me:
Year of birth: 1963
Favourite music: Bollywood pop
Favourite food: Korean BBQ
Favourite film: Saptapadi
Favourite book: Future Shock
Favourite actor: Amitabh Bachchan
Favourite actress: Madhuri Dixit
Favourite singer: Kishore Kumar
I was born in a small town in South India. Although my town was well known as an education hub, whilst in school, I was very preoccupied with sports, even more than in my studies. I was a bit of a Jack of all trades as far as sports were concerned and there was no games programme in the school that I was not a part of (and I really believed I could do anything if I put my mind to it). Yet, I wasn’t really good at any one sport!
Going forward, I was the only one in my family to choose maths and engineering as subjects of study. I wanted to be a chartered accountant, but was persuaded to follow an engineering stream instead, which defined my future career path. These experiences made me a flexible person, and prepared me to contribute in uncertain and challenging situations.
I studied in the Telugu medium until middle school and switched to English when I was 17 years old (I still have the accent to prove it). Looking back on my school days, I spent more time on the playground and in outdoor activities than on studies (which was a priority too, though).
My father always encouraged me, while my mother along with my siblings always reminded me that I was not doing that well in studies! I did my BE in electronics and communications at Andhra University. This was followed by a part-time postgraduate diploma in marketing management eight years later from NMIMS (Narsi Monjee Institute of Management Studies), Mumbai.
I was the youngest of four children (two elder sisters followed by a brother). My father was a doctor (a consulting physician) and my mother a homemaker. I had a very ‘matter of fact’ upbringing with a lot of focus on values such as humbleness, simplicity and building a strong work ethic.
I met my wife while doing my postgraduate diploma at NMIMS. Within months of our marriage, I uprooted the family and moved to New Delhi. My two daughters, now 21 and 18, came along as my wife and I moved cities and/or countries seven times in the last 24 years! Without my wife supporting me to do what I wanted with my career, I wouldn’t have been able to accept the roles that came my way, and grow within them.
My journey till now
Straight after my undergraduate studies, I moved to Hyderabad and took on a teaching assignment in the evening, teaching polytechnic students to help them prepare for their engineering school exams, whilst I looked around for industry jobs during the day. I was amazed to learn that if you are open and willing to apply yourself, anything is possible and opportunities will always follow. Within a couple of months I managed to land a job with a representative of ST Microelectronics, that also had many other suppliers in its line card, and I remained in the electronics components industry for the next 30 years.
I am blessed to have been part of a fast growing industry that underwent many changes and transformations as it evolved. From the rep-oriented culture that was dominated by Japanese companies in the mid-80s to Asian mid-volume distribution in the 90s to today’s multinational supplier and distributor ecosystem, the industry’s transformation has been amazing. It is fascinating to see that we are in the midst of a digital transformation with new models of demand creation and fulfilment changing the industry for many years to come.
Major contribution to the industry
I enjoy a collegiate environment. A collaborative and inclusive workplace that fosters teamwork and is purpose driven to create value, really energises me. I wanted to put my qualifications and learning to work in a technology driven industry, but my journey took me on to the commercial and supply chain side of the technology industry. The passion came a few years later when I realised I could contribute to the commercial side of the industry with my planning and execution skills.
I have been a part of the distribution and supplier ecosystem for nearly three decades, driving value addition to customers in the supply chain, supporting value added demand creation and fulfilment models for supplier partners and, most importantly, ensuring profitable growth for the distribution business.
I believe in adding value to customers and suppliers as a distributor, and this approach supports a differentiated and profitable growth model that is sustainable for the long term health of the overall industry. What I see as a major part of my professional achievement is attracting, training and driving the business team, based on my vision of value addition for all the stakeholders in the ecosysytem.
The turning points in my life
Multiple relocations—from Singapore to Hong Kong, back to Bengaluru and on to Singapore again with a different company, before taking on a China business turnaround plan for two years with significant time in Shanghai—were the turning points in my professional life. On the personal side, the turning points were decisions made along with my wife on our children’s future and educational needs, which is still a work in progress.
The knowledge gained
The understanding that during negotiations different sides will have diverse perspectives has stayed with me and been useful throughout my career. This understanding was been acquired over many meetings and years of negotiations with suppliers and customer partners, helping me appreciate different key deliverables and perspectives. Some meetings were very bad experiences, and some turned out very good when these discussions were handled more maturely; but all of them have given me the experience to be more practical in my approach to discussions and equipped me well in how negotiations should be handled.
When setting up a management team, I look for people who are open minded, available to being coached and those who accept performance reviews in a positive manner. I focus on the delivery of results, and support the team while it works to achieve the set goals.
I try to be open and available to support my team whilst showing team members how to do what is expected of them. I also believe that to help people stay motivated, it is important to communicate the context, or the ‘how’ and ‘why’, of a job.
Qualities that attract me to people
The qualities that I admire and which attract me to people are a focus on results, aptitude and knowledge, the willingness to learn and improve, and being logical and analytical.
My father is my idol for his relentless work ethic as a doctor. His selflessness towards the family and also his approach of giving to the community as he grew older have always mesmerised me.
Ideals I live by
I like to lead by example. Connecting strategy with execution in the trenches is important. I believe this is possible by closing the communication gap between the leadership and those in the trenches. I am passionate about ensuring sustainable long term growth with disciplined delivery at every milestone.
How I spend my leisure time
I enjoy taking time out to listen to my favourite music, and also checking out and learning about the latest hits to impress my daughters (which never happens!). I believe I am good at racquet games like table tennis, tennis and badminton even though my stamina and physical abilities are not what they used to be—my daughters like to point that out as I still brag about my past!
One thing that I would like to change
I guess there are many such things! I try very hard not to be impatient and expect super quick responses from others. This is something I would like to change in myself.
Five years down the line
On the personal front, five years from now I will have almost put my daughters through their university studies and be closer to becoming a full time menace to my ever-patient wife! And yes, I would love to travel a lot. On the work front, I would have developed a succession pipeline that supports the business growth long after I am gone. I am open to continue adding value and taking on more responsibilities where my skills are in need.