Intelligent Platform Services lead, and Inclusion & Diversity sponsor at Accenture in India.
She’s been breaking conventions left, right and center. In her phenomenal Accenture journey, Sailaja Bhagavatula has braved every sweeping change in the IT industry to keep Accenture and our clients at the forefront of innovation with cloud and Software-as-a-Service solutions such as Salesforce. As she scaled new heights in her career, she has inspired many other women along the way to break barriers, stay relevant and bolster their careers.
Sailaja talks about her childhood, her thriving career and why she’s so passionate about building an inclusive work environment for our people in India.
Accenture: Sixteen glorious years at Accenture and still counting! How has the journey been so far?
Sailaja Bhagavatula: It still doesn’t feel like I’ve been here for such a long time. Each day at Accenture has challenged me to do more, experiment in new areas and with new technologies, and build amazing relationships with colleagues from all over the world. In my initial days, Accenture was still setting up its operations in India. And I was probably among the first 100 people to join our Bengaluru office. Over the years, I have seen us grow from 100 to 100,000 people. During my career, I have also witnessed rapid changes in the IT industry—from Y2K and mainframe to Internet, cloud and now the digital and post-digital eras. Taking full control of the wheel, I went on to play diverse roles—setting up centers of excellence for emerging software-as-a-service technologies, managing delivery for large-scale projects and driving client-centric innovation programs.
Today, I am enjoying the most exciting phase of my career. As the CloudFirst practice lead in India, I am responsible for all the exciting work we do for our global clients using cutting-edge platforms such as Salesforce, Workday and Pega. And, as the I&D sponsor for India, I am passionate about driving our market leading Inclusion and Diversity programs that help Accenture in its mission to create and foster a ‘culture of equality’ driving innovation.
A: How has your leadership style evolved over the years?
SB: The more I grew in my career, the more I got thrown into new and sometimes very uncomfortable situations. At times like these, I have never been afraid to challenge the status quo, take risks and make bold decisions. For instance, I was already working on a mature technology when I decided to take on a new role—delivery lead for our Salesforce programs in 2011. At this point, I knew that I was taking a big risk. But the thrill of exploring a completely new area and constantly challenging myself helped me rise and emerge as a more well-rounded leader. Over the years this has been one of our fastest growing business and has given me a lot of opportunities to expand my role and contribute in different dimensions. In fact, I would say that I like taking risks, and that’s also my advice to all the women out there.
During a recent SWOT analysis, my teammates pointed out that they admire how focused I am—always asking the right questions at the right times. Honestly, I was pleasantly surprised with this revelation. Taking charge of a situation and asking the right questions has not only helped me understand our clients’ needs better but also made my team confident about my leadership.
A: What role has your childhood played in shaping your career choices today?
SB: I was born in Vishakhapatnam, a quaint coastal city in Andhra Pradesh. I lived in a joint family with three generations under the same roof—a constant source of happiness and valuable life lessons. My grandmother once told me something that will stay with me forever—"Be independent and courageous to take on any situation in life”. I remember being at a crossroad where my parents asked if I wanted to take on some area which is academically less intense or study engineering which is quite intense. Since I was good at math and chemistry, I chose the path to study Engineering and that has helped me build a fantastic career. I have taken some difficult decisions in life and these have also helped me become more independent and confident.
A: What does work-life balance mean to you?
SB: I believe everyone must define their own rules for striking a perfect work-life balance. To me, balance is when I can completely focus on work without being worried about my home duties and on the other hand get flexibility at work when some things at home demand my attention. At home, I make it a point to keep work aside and give priority to my husband and two lovely sons. And there are plenty of things we do as a family. From playing badminton and going for a swim to traveling the world, everything we do together helps me stay energized and bring my best to work, each day.
A: An advice for fresh grads and young professionals…
SB: Time is really precious, so don’t let it slip through your hands. One lesson I learnt early in life is that you can gain a lot of things back in life but time once gone will never come back, so everyone must realize the value of this precious commodity and use it wisely. Stay curious, ask a lot of questions and keep learning. There are countless online courses today that you can take up in your free time. Frankly, that’s the only way you can stay relevant in today’s fast-changing technology landscape. And, as you learn and grow, don’t forget to have some fun along the way. Pick up a new hobby or go back to something you loved doing in your childhood. It will help you focus on yourself, become a well-rounded individual and stand out.