‘Stay true and believe in yourself as no one will believe in you more’
Starting your own company is a brave decision, and the road to success is fraught with difficulty. So, why do business leaders start their own companies and what are they aiming to achieve when all is said and done? We spoke to Sandeep Chennakeshu, author, business transformation veteran & technologist, about their journey in business.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenges, as I surmounted them, became by biggest strengths. These challenges were:
- Regularly moving out of my comfort zone.
- Acting decisively.
- Dealing with adversity.
I consciously moved out of jobs where I was considered an expert into roles where I could grow further. Each time I had to recalibrate my mindset and rebuild my knowledgebase with a voracious appetite to learn. It is hard but you soon get the formula. I took comfort in the fact that steel is forged by repeatedly heating, beating, and cooling. The breadth and depth of this experience was irreplaceable and recognized by senior leaders who gave me more responsibility.
When you lead you must act decisively. Early in my career I tried to please those who could influence my career path. The result was I made bad decisions and lost a lot of money for my business. Listening and learning are essential, but when you are accountable, you must have the courage and conviction to act on your assessment and not on the opinions of others.
You—not the myriad of people who gave you their opinions—will be held accountable for the outcome. In this regard stay true and believe in yourself as no one will believe in you more.
To use a baseball term, you will face many curveballs in your life. Curveballs can embarrass you, freeze you in place or make you look foolish. They may get you out, but it is important to focus on your next inning and your next at-bat. I remember the wisdom in the words of a professor friend of mine when dealing with disappointment.
He told me: “When your plate is full of sandwiches, it is okay if someone takes a couple. You need to get upset if you only had one sandwich on your plate and someone took it.” I translated this as: in life you are going to create and get many opportunities; chase them, and don’t dwell on what you lost.
Is there anything you wish you knew before you first started out?
I got promoted rather rapidly because my bosses thought I was technically and operationally adept. Even though I had a management diploma I did not know how a business ran. Businesses are complex with many interlocked elements — I would have loved a comprehensive book or training that gave me a framework of principles on this topic.
It took years of learning via the school of hard knocks, mentors and reading until I created my framework. In the meanwhile, I made tons of mistakes. This was the biggest motivation to write my book “Your Company Is Your Castle: Proven Methods to Build a Resilient Business” to help aspiring business leaders have such a framework and hopefully avoid the pitfalls and mistakes I made.
Did you always want to be a business leader or did the desire develop over time?
I really did not have a plan. I just seized opportunities that came my way and made the most of each one. I began my career as a research engineer, then migrated to build products, ran R&D, got promoted to being a general manager, was shipped off to fix a struggling business in a foreign country, earned a reputation for transforming businesses, did this a few times, and then transitioned to the world of consulting and start-ups.
Along the way I worked with terrific teams across the globe and in three industries building exciting products that have transformed our lives (cellphones, semiconductors, and software) and really did not think of what was next. I lived in the moment and tried to contribute as much as I could in each job.
What is your top tip for other business leaders?
I have four tips:
- Believe in yourself.
- Do things you enjoy.
- Work with people you respect.
- Focus on the bright hope the future always brings.
What are your plans for the future?
I am 65 and work at an advanced start-up building digital radar chips and software for automobiles and industrial applications. In my spare time I write on finance, economics, and technology. I aim to continue helping companies convert their innovative ideas into sellable products with high capital efficiency.
I will continue to write and mentor to share knowledge that can hopefully help others achieve their dreams.
What would you like your legacy to be?
To be remembered as someone eternally curious to evolve, who built cool products and shared his knowledge widely.
What makes a great business leader?
The leaders I admired and learned the most from had the following five qualities:
- Vision with conviction.
- Led by example.
- Had managerial courage.
- Communicated with clarity.
- Exhibited a continuous curiosity to evolve.