JDA Senior Product Manager Shwati Mohapatra has been inspired by some strong women in her life and has a husband who has supported her throughout her career journey. That’s made risk-taking and investments in her personal growth easier – and pay dividends. We are delighted to share her career story in this week’s Wednesdays for Women blog.
Shwati and her husband enjoying time together in Delhi at the iconic Red Fort
SCN: Where did your career journey begin?
SM: I finished engineering school in 2006 and entered the enterprise software space working at Infosys as a consultant in SAP’s business intelligence suite of products. I worked in the industry for about seven years helping manufacturing and energy utility customers across the world solve their complex business problems through business intelligence and data analytics solutions. Then I decided to take a break and get back to school to pursue MBA from Indian Institute of Management, Lucknow. It was a risk I’m glad I took because it was indeed a turning point in my career.
SCN: Why is that?
SM: I earned my executive MBA and then was hired right from campus to JDA as a product manager, in 2014. Until then, I had been part of different phases of the software lifecycle such as software development, consulting, support, project management; so this brought with it an amazing opportunity to explore the exciting space of product management where you get to shape the product roadmap, bring value to customers by solving their complex business problems through the product feature functions, and see the product through its entire lifecycle. And it is an exciting time to be at JDA when we are increasing our focus on product strategy, making decisions around the future roadmap, solving very interesting customer problems to not just get ahead of the competition, but ahead of where our customers want to be five or 10 years from now.
SCN: What products did you work on?
SM: I had the opportunity to work on JDA Connect and Intelligent Fulfillment integrations at a very strategic time for the company. There was a lot on our shoulders – to deliver the right things on time, on spec, working with multiple stakeholders. We had to make sure everyone understood the vision and was aligned on it. It was challenging, but that’s what made it fun. I must say the learnings through this journey have been phenomenal. I consider relationship building and stakeholder management as my key strengths and I believe that has come in handy when delivering on projects that are cross-functional, cross-product, and cross-team.
SCN: How do you encourage collaboration on your team?
SM: I think it is important to bond and engage with each other outside of a specific task or project. Teams that do that are going to be better at collaboration. It is important for teams to have fun and get to know each other and bond. You can really get a good understanding of where someone is coming from, or what experience they bring to a situation, when you get to know them better.
SCN: When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?
SM: I wanted to be a cop! I was inspired by Kiran Bedi, the first women to join the Indian Police Service. When I was growing up there was a series on television that covered her story. Back in those days, for a woman to not only have a career, but one in a field that was all men, was inspiring. I was a little girl with an impressionable mind – that’s what made me want to be a cop. As I grew I realized that I didn’t have the physical abilities to do that, so that dream went by the wayside! J
SCN: How old were you when you realized that?
SM: When I was in the 8th or the 9th grade I had a kind of reality check. My parents really stressed academics as the way to make a good career. That made a big impact on me, needing to understand ‘what does a good score get you?’ in the context of the education system and how it led to a good job, good career, good professional growth, and all of that. I eventually ended up in an engineering school.
SCN: When did you discover supply chain?
SM: When I started working in the enterprise software space. I was getting exposure to customers, and understanding what was happening behind the scenes in their companies made me realize the power of supply chain and the impact it has on both the topline and bottom-line of a business. The supply chain space is full of opportunities for practitioners who have analytical and problem-solving skills.
SCN: You talked about working for a while, stopping and leaving the workforce to go back to school, and then re-entering the workforce. How did you make that decision?
SM: I always wanted to go back and learn more on the academic side. I had about seven years of experience working with different customers, getting exposed to different cultures, etc. That was great, but I always felt like I would make a stronger impact if I moved to the business side of things. So, I decided to take a break and invest in myself without worrying about where I would land next. My husband was a rock-solid support all during this journey. He said, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back! Make the best of this year and do what you can and we’ll see what happens on the other side.”
SCN: Do you feel like the combination of learning – technical and business, both academic and hands-on – makes you the best you can be?
SM: Absolutely it does. Of all of it, the exposure I got working with customers is the best thing I have working for me. Learning how to manage expectations, pressure, solving problems – it taught me a lot.
SCN: What are the keys to a good customer relationship?
SM: You need to be honest in your communications. Things are never perfect, but when you are absolutely honest about your intent and vision, what you’re working towards, and the commitment that if something goes wrong, you can fix it, always win customers’ trust! It takes time, but once they see the honesty followed by action, they have faith in you and it becomes much easier. I’ve never seen this approach not work, ever!
SCN: Are there any women leaders you admire?
SM: I have taken a lot of inspiration from my mother and mother-in-law, who did not get distracted or frustrated during different phases of their careers, especially at a time when it was much harder for a woman to have a career. I am inspired by women leaders from organizations across the world; one of them is Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo. What really inspires me is when she says, “women must help women” and “you must find the right life partner to support your career.” These are things that you don’t hear very often, but are so very immensely important in shaping someone’s career.
SCN: What is your proudest achievement?
SM: There have been achievements and milestones of different kinds. In hindsight, I feel proud to have chosen the right life partner! We are equal partners in every single way and he’s such a rock-solid support in whatever I do. He is someone who is passionate, not just for how he wants to shape his career, but is equally or rather more passionate about how I should shape mine. That balanced approach in life is hard to find!!
SCN: How do you and your husband help each other find balance?
SM: It was much easier before our son was born. He is a 2 ½ year old toddler who doesn’t stay in one place for more than 30 seconds! I look back to before he was born and think that we should have taken so many more vacations before he came because we had so much time! We don’t get as much time alone as we wish to, but we promised that if we were bringing a child into this world with two working parents, we will never make him feel like his parents were never around. It takes a lot of planning – we both have late night calls so we plan our days in advance so that one of us is always around. That way there is one of us always playing with him, teaching him, and him teaching us.
SCN: What kind of employer is JDA for working parents?
SM: All of my managers have been immensely supportive, especially right after my son was born and I was coming off maternity leave. I have lots of flexibility at JDA. My managers and co-workers have been a constant support as I juggle work and family with equal passion and rigor. The one thing that absolutely works is that I have been evaluated on the actual work I deliver, and not on where or when that work gets delivered. I have a schedule that works for me, and that is very powerful. I understand that I am very lucky to be in a work environment like that.
SCN: How do you motivate yourself and others?
SM: By encouraging myself and others to not lose sight of the common goal and objective, no matter how challenging the journey. I try to always stay focused on the bigger picture – my motivation is achieving a successful outcome.
SCN: What qualities do you admire in a leader?
SM: I admire vision and the ability to articulate that vision to your team with clarity. Also compassion – understanding that each person is different and brings a different perspective, such as education, country, culture, and experience to the table, is extremely important and that will help a leader tap into the diversity of thought each individual brings.
SCN: What advice do you have for women building a career in supply chain or tech?
SM: Have faith in your abilities, work on your content, and be the best in what you do. Be fearless and never be afraid to take risks. And most importantly build and invest in your support system.