Breaking Stereotypes: Stuti Shukla
Oct 23, 2017 | Barnali Priyadarshini
A true strategist, Stuti Shukla defines her personality as hard-working and strongly determined. Along with a passion for working with tech start-ups, she is believed to bring deep expertise in market strategy, product management, and in entrepreneurial environments. With fourteen years at Microsoft, she is described by her colleagues as “extremely sharp, reliable and a valuable leader and contributor to any organization”. Currently serving as the Chief Marketing Officer at GE Healthcare, Team Monday Morning caught her over a tete-e-tete. The following conversation provides insight into her story.
Monday Morning: Tell us something about your days before joining REC. Was engineering a conscious choice or a compulsion?
Stuti Shukla: Growing up, I was a ‘geek’, one of those kids who would sit on the first bench and take in everything that dropped out of the teacher’s mouth. Academic excellence was important to me and I grew up aspiring to do big things in life and be a successful professional.
I was the state topper in my 12th grade in Maharashtra board with 97+% marks in both PCB (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) and PCM (Physics, Chemistry, Maths), and had a choice to either study Medicine or Engineering. I chose Engineering. We did not have as many options of professions or awareness around these options in those days, so making the choice was easier. I did not write any entrance exam though, and assumed my marks would take me through!
MM: Share with us your experiences in the erstwhile REC Rourkela. How important do you think were the four years at REC for your career?
SS: Crucial, ...REC got me my first job from campus at INDAL in Mumbai, and I subsequently jumped to Reliance in 6 months, to get into a more engineering/technical domain. Some of the fundamentals I learned in college were helpful in the interviews at Reliance and my stint there in chemical engineering. The qualification/degree from a premier institute like REC is a brand that stays with you throughout your career, it is a great “door-opener”.
I believe college is also as much about shaping personality and developing maturity and confidence. I was the secretary of the ladies hostel during 2 years of my stint at REC Rourkela, was an active Rotary club contributor, and was in several positions where I had the opportunity to represent women in the batch, which were all very enriching experiences.
MM: How did Reliance Industries happen? How would you describe your job at Reliance?
SS: When INDAL came to interview at REC, they were very keen that I join the organization. I had good grades, and hence they tried convincing me to take a role at their R&D center in Belgaum. However, I wanted to go back to Mumbai (my hometown) and asked for a marketing assignment in Mumbai. Believe it or not, they made an exception and offered me a marketing role in Mumbai!
Six months in the role, I felt a compelling need to go back to engineering. I didn’t feel I had a significant advantage being a chemical engineer doing marketing at the start of my career.
This was the time when Reliance was looking to grow their “New Projects” team. I interviewed for it and got an offer the next day. In this role, I got to work on the world’s largest refinery in Jamnagar, Gujarat!
MM: What prompted your decision of pursuing MBA? How important do you think MBA was for your career?
SS: During the 2nd half of my Reliance stint, I was asked to join Mukesh Ambani’s office. I was doing ‘due diligence’ for new investments the company wanted to make and began to feel the need to get a formal degree in business administration to further boost my career. My fiancé at that time (who was my colleague at Reliance) decided to take up a job in the US. I took this opportunity to apply to US business schools, got into Carnegie Mellon, and decided to take the jump.
MM: There is a common perception among students nowadays that they need a management degree simply to increase their job packages, but what according to you is the actual need for an MBA?
SS: MBA provides you the versatility and platform to switch industries and functions if you desire to do that. It also provides broader business perspectives that groom you for general management and functional leader roles. Having said that, if your passion is in engineering, you could grow up to take on roles of high seniority on the technical side. In fact, the IT industry is ruled by techies, and a strong computer science engineer could make as much (and sometimes more) money than MBA grads, a few years out. I have been out of Chemical engineering for 20 years now, and cannot comment on the relative prospects in this segment.
The choice is really about the track that you are most passionate about – technical vs. business. I would also recommend getting a few years of experience under your belt before considering an MBA.
Beyond 10 years out of college, your career/package/progression will likely be defined more by your skills, expertise and the perceived value you can deliver to an organization, so the early years are all about learning and growing no matter what path you choose.
MM: How was your experience at Carnegie Mellon University as a business studies student? How different would you describe the education culture and teaching-learning process at a foreign university from that of an Indian University?
SS: First of all, MBA is less about technical skills and more about business acumen, big-picture thinking and approach to problem-solving. In most business schools in the US and at Carnegie Mellon, a big portion of the learning happened through business cases. For example, analyzing the case of Levi’s getting into “Business suits” segment, how they went about it, and why they failed. We also had access to top CEOs of US Fortune 100 companies who would deliver talks, which were extremely valuable in the learning process.
I did not do an Engineering degree in the US and hence it is hard to compare the US vs. India education system. Technical expertise and domain depth are important building blocks for technical roles. MBA develops business acumen with some specialized functional skills and is a lot more about applying concepts to real-world business situations.
MM: How did Microsoft happen? How would you sum up your fourteen years at Microsoft? What duties and responsibilities did you shoulder during your fourteen-year stint at Microsoft?
SS: Microsoft was a campus placement from Carnegie Mellon University - Tepper School of Business, and I joined their headquarters in Redmond, Washington. At Microsoft, I had a variety of roles to play across marketing, business strategy, product management and sales, leading large global teams in the US and in India. Most of who I am today is shaped by Microsoft. In addition to understanding the software industry, I learned to take ownership, rally people to make big things happen, and focus on outcomes/results.
I received several high-profile recognitions at Microsoft. I was awarded from the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer. Seeing my work appreciated and the impact it made on the business, served as a great motivator.
MM: How would you describe the work culture at the largest software company in the world?
SS: High intensity, fast-paced and very outcomes-driven. Microsoft plays in a highly competitive segment. We were always paranoid about start-ups or competitors overtaking us.
MM: How has been your experience at GE Healthcare so far? Kindly shed some light on your work at GE Healthcare.
SS: I have not seen the level of investment and active focus on talent/leadership development anywhere, as I have seen at GE, and this reflects in the maturity of senior leadership at the organization….which is a class apart. The functional leadership programs at GE are one-of-a-kind. Being with the organization has been a very enriching experience for me.
I currently am the ‘Chief Marketing Officer’ for GE Healthcare for India and South Asia. I am responsible for growing market share across our product lines, bringing customer and market insights to the organization, digital marketing, brand management and all elements of marketing execution.
MM: You have occupied numerous positions of responsibility throughout your career. How did you handle the pressure and the disappointments? What are some of the things that you had to learn along the way?
SS: Career is a marathon, there will be disappointments. These have taught me to be humble, and come back stronger.
Genuine feedback or constructive criticism is a gift... it is hard to get as you grow in your career. People most often tell you the good things. I have used disappointments as opportunities to self-reflect, work towards changing my approach, and acquire new skills.
When things don’t go my way, I have often initiated difficult conversations with relevant stakeholders and decision makers, expressed my disappointment in a balanced way, taken time to hear their perspectives, signaled that I intend to focus on personal areas that need work, and followed through. I believe this demonstrates a positive attitude, ambition, and persistence, which are critical traits for success.
No one is perfect, and we have to learn to be comfortable with that truth.
MM: How do you keep your spirits high amidst professional pressure and hectic schedule? Any long drawn out hobbies that you still indulge yourself in?
SS: Spending time with family and friends is a big stress buster. I also take time to travel with my family, to places that provide new experiences twice a year. I started doing yoga a few years ago, meditation calms me down and helps me stay centred.
MM: You have come a long way in your journey; how do you feel when you look back – do you have any regrets?
SS: Life is about ‘decisions and consequences’, and I am happy with where I am, all things considered.
Looking back, I’ve no regrets. I don’t believe in wallowing in things that have not gone well, and would much rather spend this energy looking forward and moving ahead.
MM: What does it take to be Stuti Shukla? Please enlighten our readers with a few lines of inspiration.
- Be self-aware and calibrate yourself against who you want to be. Remember that you see yourself the way you want to be. Others see you the way you are, or come across.
- Drive towards excellence in whatever you take on...your work often talks for itself.
- Invest in building relationships…these serve you well in good times and hard times
- Listen, learn, grow and invest in acquiring new skills.