B.TECH, CHEM ENGG, 1992
CHIEF PRODUCT OFFICER, CCC INTELLIGENT SOLUTIONS
One of my favorite things, when I was little, was to watch a cartoon show called ‘The Jetsons’. It was about this future age where you had flying cars and robots doing all the work. I dreamt that at some point, this would become a reality. The way technology can transform our world has always fascinated me and I am interested in work of this type even today. I grew up in a very scientific environment. Education was a high priority in my family. My father was a famous scientist while my mom was very artistic, very creative. I loved my math and science, I also loved my art and doing different types of creative things. When I had to choose after 12th standard, I was debating whether to take up medicine or engineering. My older brother Anurag and sister Shalini had both joined IIT Bombay and were great role models. Seeing how happy they were at IIT, I too decided to choose this path.
The IIT years were an amazing four years of my life. I really enjoyed the classes. I was not the kind who would stay up late and study all night. I valued having a very balanced time in terms of studying, building close friendships, philosophizing about the future of the world as we knew it then and taking part in different activities on campus. I was part of the institute’s table tennis team, as well as several other activities. We were a small group of women. As a result, we formed closer, deeper relationships. It was hard for some of the women, as in some branches there was just one girl in the class. So, if she wanted to study, there was no support system in the hostel. Fortunately, for me, in chemical engineering, we had six other women so we had a good support group. Being a small group of women had its pros and cons. We often got targeted for pranks. One in particular, I remember, was when I was working really hard on my B.Tech. project and somebody played a prank on me and deleted all my data. It was the end of the semester so I was quite panicked. But I was able to get the data restored, and it taught me that no problem in life is so difficult that it can’t be solved. I met my husband Joe at IITB. We were both in the same department and got to know each other well.
After graduating, I went to Princeton University for my Master’s in Chemical Engineering. I found myself fascinated by both engineering and public policy topics. Although the subject was not offered by my department, when I spoke to the Dean, he was supportive. He created a research project so that I could work on environmental policies impacting electric utilities - a topic that I think is so relevant to what we see in the world today. That was the start of the journey where I realized that you don’t always have to follow a certain path. If you start dreaming, people will come together to support you, to make your dreams happen. While working in environmental policy I got fascinated by strategy and how businesses think and operate. And that led me to my career in management consulting with Andersen. After a few years of being in the US, I felt very strongly about giving back to India. I wanted to quit my job in the US to go and work with the Environmental Ministry in India, to help reduce emissions. When I shared that with a partner in my firm, Barbara, she said, “I’m going to support you”. She created that opportunity for me. And working through a big company, I was able to drive a bigger impact than what I would have been able to do by myself. This again underlined for me that if you dream big, things can happen. We moved to Silicon Valley in the late 90s and being in the Valley, I wanted to experience working in a startup. I worked in two Silicon Valley startups and that’s where I truly started to appreciate the power of combining technology and customer insight, to build great products. I moved to SAP in 2007, where my focus was on how to apply technology and innovation to solve people’s pain points – to build the future that you want to see. That is what I continue to do, even today.
As Chief Product Officer at CCC Intelligent Solutions, I’m responsible for our entire product strategy and portfolio – we build AI driven products for the automotive industry. I also wear a dual hat of being the Chief Marketing Officer at the company. This allows me to use my left brain and my right brain - my technology skills, as well as my creativity - as we build and design these products. Getting into an automotive accident is very stressful. The key question we solve is - how can we use technology to resolve the adverse incident? The goal is to help you move on with your life, as seamlessly as possible. Whether it is repairing your car, buying a new car or anything else, you don’t have to figure it out. The technology will do it for you. I am proud of our entire product portfolio. One of the new products that we launched last year was an innovative new product called ‘Estimate STP’. If you get into an accident, all you need to do is take a picture. Using AI, we can immediately tell you what’s the extent of the damage, how much it will cost to fix it (based on the year, make, model, etc) and where you can take the vehicle for repair. This product was featured as one of the ten coolest innovations of 2021, alongside products from NASA and MIT. My experience in consulting really helped me look at a new industry and quickly come to an understanding of what’s important and then how do you solve for that.
In the early part of my career, I would often be the only woman in a meeting. But coming from the almost-all male IIT campus, I never felt uncomfortable or awkward speaking up. I remember being in a meeting with a leading tech company in the Bay Area and found that even though I was the seniormost person from my company, the other company personnel were just talking to the men in my team. I had to assert myself and ‘lean in’ to be part of the discussion. A big challenge we all face is balancing across all the different parts of life – our families (children, parents, extended family), our career, and also making time for ourselves. What I have found is that it’s not an either/ or. You have to develop a system that allows you to flow with what is most important at that phase of your life. Also, you need a support network, to help you along the way. I believe that in everything you do, people are at the heart of it. How you treat others and how you make them feel is so important - relationships define how much people are willing to support each other.
My husband has been my strong partner, throughout my journey. We have both taken turns to make family life work. At different times, one of us would have to put more emphasis on work and the other would pick up the slack on other fronts. He’s been my rock and anchor throughout. He’s also a very jovial person. He brings joy and fun to the family and makes me laugh a lot, which is hugely important, given all the stress that we go through in life. My daughters, Megan and Ria, inspire me to do so much and think differently. When I was working in the mobile field, Megan was a teenager. She would show me apps she came across and tell me how I could apply them to my work. My younger daughter, Ria, is also extremely talented, both academically and creatively. I remember, once we were painting together and I wasn’t happy with my brushstrokes and asked her to do it for me. She said, “It’s no big deal. If you spoil it, you can just do it again. It’s okay to make mistakes. You can always fix them and move on.” That day, she taught me a very important lesson! Also, our dog Goldie provides constant love that keeps us laughing and smiling – no matter how bad the weather may be.
I am so excited for what the future holds for young women today. There are so many more opportunities! I encourage women to dream big and embrace the life they want to choose. People think of STEM as very binary – that you have to be analytical, you have to be very technical and you have to do hard, quantitative things. But I think that to truly succeed you need to be multidimensional. My advice to young women is, do not feel intimidated by anyone. Bring your whole self and set of passions, and take time to explore how you can fit all of that together to do what gives you joy. You will find that the world is vast and that each person has a unique set of skills that add value in a different way. Diverse teams are the most successful and you as an individual bring a lot of value to any team, with your unique combination of skills and interests.