Ep. 206: Aparna Iyer – Learning and Leading at Wipro

Today we welcome Aparna Iyer, Vice President and Treasurer of Wipro (NYSE: WIT), a leading global technology and engineering services consultancy with over 250,000 employees. Aparna joins IMA’s Neha Ratnakar to discuss her fascinating career and her empowering approach to leadership in good and tough times.

Welcome back to Count Me In,

the podcast for management accountants
making an impact in the business world.

I'm Neha Lagoo Ratnakar from IMA.
Today I'm speaking with Aparna Iyer,

the treasurer and head of
investor relations at vPro.

Aparna's career.

Got off to quite a promising start when
she earned a gold medal for the highest

score on the exams by the Institute
of Chartered Accountants of India.

She's gone on to hold many roles across
the accounting and finance function at

vPro, and along the way,

she has constantly pushed herself out
of a comfort zone to keep learning new

skills and developing her
empowering approach to leadership.

We cover a lot of ground in
this fascinating conversation
from robotic process

automation to the benefits of ambition
to how we might be working in the

Metaverse sooner than you
think. Let's get started.

Welcome to Count Me in, Aparna.

It's such a pleasure to finally
meet you for this conversation.

Thank you, Neha. It's
an absolute pleasure,

and I'm looking forward to
this conversation, actually.


So let's start with an obvious question
that's been on my mind ever since I'm

knew about you. You joined
vPro more than 19 years ago,

and our generation is infamous
for job hopping, right?

Tell us more about your long
and successful journey at vPro.

You know Neha, I'll just tell
you briefly about myself.

You know my father worked in a
nationalized banking in India,

and I in, you know, all the way
up to 23 years when I joined vPro.

I have not stayed in a city more than
two years because we've been always

hopping schools, colleges,
you know, so for me, also,

I'm quite taken by surprise that I
actually managed to spend 20 years

you know, in one place.

And I think the credit actually needs
to go to the organization. Because,

you know, when I joined vPro, I
was very impressionable, you know,

rearing to go. I think what vPro
really does well is, you know,

it paces your career for you, right?

I don't spend more than about
three years in a role give or take.

And every three years there is always
something that's in the works for,

you know, what next, how can things
get better, bigger? So in some sense,

I've been truly you know,

privileged and lucky that you know,

I got an opportunity to work through
multiple roles, multiple leaders,

and the sector itself has evolved
so much through these last

you know, 20 years. So much more
complexity. So much more M & A. You know,

we've had you know in the
last 10 years, you know,

we've had so many new leaders join in.

So the organization itself keeps changing.
There's so much to learn and there's,

it's such a growing
sector that I, you know,

I didn't even realize
that I had spent 20 years.

The other thing that we
project does well, and,

and is perhaps one of the bigger
reasons for me staying back is

in vPro finance, we really build you know,

we hire people from campuses and
then we build careers for them.

So all my peers are pretty
much tenured in vPro,

and we have like a shared
history. So the camaraderie,

the collaboration is just you
know, off a very different level,

which all of us thoroughly enjoy.
So I would say that you know,

other than what the organization puts in,

it's what my peers put in both in terms
of the kind of benchmark they set,

how you know, enriching
it is to work with them,

how it is to learn from them and, you
know, really contribute in the process,

right? Like, work becomes fun when,
you know, it's just extended family.

So I would say these are, you know,
two reasons why you know, it just work.

And like they say, why fix
something that's not broken?

Wow. And that's been quite a journey.
Thanks for sharing it with us,

and I hope other companies are taking
note of these excellent practices.

Yeah. Yeah.

So what has been your biggest
challenge in your career so far?

Neha? You know, I think every time
you take up a new role, you feel that,

oh my God, this is just so much
more challenging than you know,

what I've ever done. But, you know,

truly I was most apprehensive about
was coming back to work after I had

my daughter.

And that I think would have been
perhaps the most challenging phase of

my career, because I was just coming
back from a six month long break

at where I was doing something
completely different, right?

And somehow when I joined back, and I
never thought I would feel like that.

I felt very low on confidence,

and I wasn't sure whether this is what
I wanted to do. Is this the purpose?

You know, I felt so overwhelmed you know,

taking care of a young baby and coming
back to something very intensive at

you know, in the vPro finance,
it was perhaps one of the,

you know, phases where I really needed
help, right? From all my mentors,

from the organization, from my peers,
from my reports. And thankfully,

you know, that that phase, you know,

lasted for about nine months
to a year where you know,

I was just wanted to find my
confidence again. And, you know,

once that happened, right? And
time, with time every quarter,

it kept getting better. You know, all
us finance professionals live quarter,

quarter, say quarter,
like they say, right?

Three or four quarters under the belt,
I was feeling a lot more confident,

again. So that I think was one of the
most challenging phases because, you know,

I needed to find that balance and make
sure, you know, I was getting it right.

So that was one point
where I felt you know,

I really needed the
support of the ecosystem.

The other part was when I, you know,

took on something like treasury
and IR, you know, invest relations,

the current role that I did,

that I'm doing I took this on
three years back and you know,

I'd not done treasury at all in the first,

you know 18 years or first
17 years of my career,

knew nothing about markets,
hedging investments, and, you know,

we all are exposed to it as finance
professionals, but I've not done it,

you know, with a KRI to
exceed a certain benchmark.

Coming in and knowing when you know
that you are the person who's perhaps

knows the least about that subject in
the team, and yet you are the leader,

I think it poses very
different challenges. So,

pushing myself out of the comfort zone,
being okay with the fact that, you know,

for another six months,

I'm going to be the person who's
gonna be least informed in a room,

and yet I had to lead it, yet I
had to bring my perspective to it,

yet I had to understand and
learn and, and work with people.

So I think that was also another
challenging phase, right?

But it's only a matter of time, you
know? You just need to apply yourself.

So that's the other myth I busted, right?

So a lot of them say they don't wanna
try different things because they're just

so concerned that, you know,
how will they add value?

What I really understood
about adding value is

you, your, your vantage
point can be so different,

and the value that you bring to the team
or you bring to a function can be so

different. It may not always come
from the tried and tested path,

You know the vantage point that
you'll have is very different,

and you bring way different perspectives,

and you can always add
value no matter what you do.

Cause everything else is
just adjacent. So, you know,

those are very good learnings for me.

And it was challenging and I was
very unsure and anxious many times,

but I think you had to give it some
time and, you know, you lace it.

Wow. Thank, thank you for sharing your
personal story so close to your heart,

and also finding your feet after
motherhood, but also in new functions,

adding value with your
diverse perspective.

Let's take a minute to talk about growing.

We talk a lot about
future-proofing our careers.

What do you think are the competencies
of future for the people in both

leadership positions and also for our
listeners from accounting and finance


You know it isn't easy to future
proof your career, right? I think,

and it is getting increasingly
difficult. You know,

at least the first 10 years
of my career, it, you know,

the world around me was not changing
at the pace at which it is right now.

I think there is just so
much more information.

There's so much more that some
a professional can do today.

There are different ways
of learning but, you know,

I think you know, to
each their own. But if,

you know, I had a method
to this whole madness,

it would be to just say that
you must allocate a dedicated

time every week where you are reading.

And it could be a finance journal.

It could be something that
you've signed up as a course for,

or it could be just
reading a very you know,

it could be a newspaper that you
subscribe to, which you must absolutely,

you know, absorb newer things, newer
perspectives, newer point of view.

You must understand what's
happening in the world around you,

in the world of finance. You know,

you can pick up a topic like
mergers and acquisitions.

You could look at corporate actions, you
could look at macroeconomics. You can,

you know, taxation, You know,

take a subject that's close to
your heart and make sure you read

everything about it. Right. Other
than that, like I said, you know,

so take out dedicated time. It could be,
you know, a Saturday morning, 10 to 12,

or a Sunday morning, 10 to 12,

when you really will just read you know,

a good quality journal or
a good quality magazine,

so that's something that's very, very
fundamental. And other than that,

I think it's, you know,

learning has become far
easier than it ever was.

So you must get yourself
into online courses,

right? And, you know, for
example you know my CFO,

just in the lab, he's
constantly studying, you know,

every year he adds a
course to his resume. Now,

that's something that I'm
inspired by. I haven't done that.

But there's so much you can learn. You
can take up a course on cybersecurity,

you can learn what's
happening in the world of AI,

what's happening in the
world of blockchain. There's
several courses available.

So, you know, I would say that, you know,

just like the way we
take care of, you know,

ourselves every day by setting
aside, you know, time for, you know,

walking or gyming or physical like
that, you have to find dedicated time,

which you will put in honing
your professional skills.

And nothing substitutes reading,

nothing substitutes you know,

keeping yourself informed of what's
happening in the world around you.

And I think that's
something that's a basic.

And apart from that, if you're
able to take out time and,

you know, go ahead and enroll
yourselves in, you know,

courses where you can keep yourself
abreast of, you know, all the changes in,

in technology, nothing like that.

Because everything today comes
with a package in a package with


Right? And although you called it basic,

but it's such a powerful insight
that you just shared. I love it.

Yeah. Yeah, you know, yeah,
it's basic, but, you know,

getting basics right is often
the most difficult thing.

Absolutely. Getting it
right and making it a habit,

that's what eventually adds up.


Awesome. You used a few words,
like the technology related words,

something that your company is great at,

vPro works in the field of cloud
computing, cyber security, AI,

all these hot topics, these
buzzwords that we keep hearing about.

How can accounting finance people make
sense of these new technologies coming up

every day so they can just let go of
the noise and focus on what's important

and how can they best use
it in their functions?

You know, all of them pretty
much start like buzzwords.

And you know, it's very, you
know, when you look at it,

it sounds vague at first,

and you are really
wondering how can this ever,

you know substitute what you're doing
today in your Excel sheets or in your ERP.

But you know, as finance
professionals over the last 10 years,

we've witnessed certain technology trends
that have proved us wrong. You know,

life is no longer about, you
know, knowing Excel and ERP.

Those are things of the
past, right? Today you know,

let me take a simple example,
like data dissemination, right?

Having a single source of truth,

making sure the data that you have at
the central level becomes accessible to

people who need it the
most in the business.

Empowering business leaders rather than,
you know, having approvals come to you.

How do you empower business by
setting aside budgets, right?

So that people can decide where they
would like to spend rather than have every

approval come to finance. So a lot of the,

there has been a subtle shift in mindset.

People expect you not
to be the controller,

not just to be that person
who approves your bills,

but they want finance to really move
the needle and actually participate

wholeheartedly in
enablement and empowerment.

And you know, for example,

how do you like run a company
which is to lack 50,000

insights like us. It's almost
like running a country.

You can't do it using Excel
sheets and ERPs. Yeah,

you need to democratize data.

You need to make sure insights are
available for business leaders,

as in when they need them. How do
you really go through that part?

And what is a technology cycle?

And the only way you can make
this happiness through technology,

and I think we've all learned it,
and everything that we spoke about,

whether it's robotic process
automation, whether it's AI,

you know,

all of that has really changed our
life today in the way we operate in

vPro finance. And I'm sure it's true
for, you know, any organization,

everybody's looking at
digitization, right? You know,

we've done, you know, what
started as a pilot, you know,

we started using artificial
intelligence for,

you know forecasting
revenues. And you know, when,

when that work, we grew in confidence
and we then extended it to other areas,

right? How do you use you know,

data analysis for fraud detection?

How do you look at patterns and
learn from those patterns and

identify payment behaviors
and therefore, you know,

what could potentially be a
credit risk? So, you know,

these are all things that, you know,
we've used very effectively. You know,

how do you, you know, like, you know,
lot of shared services that we, run,

whether it's for vendor payments or
it's for employee reimbursements,

you know, we extensively use chat
bots, right? Simple things, right?

How to improve both the efficiency,

effectiveness and the experience
at the same time in a large

organization. Like, you know,

we have to go back to using
technologies like this.

So what is buzzword today?
Like, maybe Metaverse.

I'm sure five years down the line,
Neha, when you and I are talking,

we will be using Metaverse
for training. I mean,

very clearly that's one place where
we will all learn, right? Maybe,

you know, you know,

we all meet in the metaverse and
we have our conferences there,

we collaborate there, we've
got breakout rooms. You know,

I think the technology is there,

and I think the proof point
of the technology is clear.

How do you use it is what I think
all of us are grappling with.

And a lot of us have made
several strides in using

blockchain for reporting in using,

let's say RPA for ever
so many items including,

let's say, reconciliations. You
know, anything that's you know,

routine standard can be
easily automated using RPA.

We've all used bots
extensively, so, yeah. You know,

all these things that look like it
was far fetched are reality now.

And we are adopting technology
at a pace because, you know,

we've all seen the benefits it
has. So I'm very confident that,

you know, we will continue to,

you know adopt some of these
things that are buzzwords today

in a big way. Again, five years
down the line, we will, like I said,

we will be talking about technologies
like Metaverse, digital, how do you work?

We are all working in a hybrid world.

How do you work half in physical world
and how half in the digital world

and I think some of those answers
will be provided by some of these


So true.

And I love your take that it's not let's
not get carried away by the buzzwords

and thanks for sharing
some of the application,

part of these new technologies
and how people can be using them.


All right,

So let's pivot from these learning
resources to actually learning from you,

your leadership experience.

Tell us about your experience of building
and managing teams over the years.

How do you make sure your team
is not just performing well,

but also feeling well that
they're actively engaged?


I must confess that it was much easier
when we were all only in the physical

world, it was much easier to lead a team.

It was much easier to know
the person because, you know,

you make an eye contact, you
shake hands with someone.

I think it makes a big
different difference, you know?

Today when I pick up the
phone and I talk to someone,

and when I cannot make that eye contact,
when I can't gauge the body language,

I think the conversations become very
transactional. Very quickly, you move to,

you know, how are you, okay, fine.
Now this is what we need to get done.

How do we go about it? As opposed
to, let's say if I'd met the person,

I would have perhaps realized
that the person's looking tired.

I may have asked a follow up question.

We may have had an opportunity to
know something just beyond work,

because I always feel that if you
really have to be a leader of a team,

you need to know your team in
and out, right, inside-out.

You need to know what's
happening with them,

around them and how they're
feeling, Right? You spoke
about how they're feeling.

I think that's very, very critical. We
are very challenged because, you know,

we are all working in a virtual
world. And and therefore,

I think there are some good habits
that all of us can you know, doubt.

Maybe in the current times,
I make sure I always make,

I give the person some
time to settle down.

When we are doing a call on teams or
on phone where you make the person feel

comfortable, talk a little
bit outside of work,

understand what's happening. Are you
okay? Is this is a good time to talk?

Are you fine? And
learning to trust, right?

Because it becomes very, you know,

it is anxiety even for the
manager because, you know,

you really don't know whether
your team is productive enough.

Are things happening at the
pace at which it should happen,

especially when the
outcomes are not coming.

These interventions become difficult.

So you've got to do these
things very sensitively.

You should not come across as
any time as you're not trusting.

So these times it's very
difficult, but, you know,

you've gotta check your natural
instinct and, and learn to trust,

learn to be more patient and
learn, give people more time.

But otherwise, you know managing teams,

it generally, I mean is all about,
you know, for me, setting the agenda,

reviewing, and then, you know, doing,

helping them in course
correction see if outcomes come,

then it's your team's credit.

But when outcomes don't come as
it's the job of the leader to

step in and coach and make
those interventions and do
that course correction so

that, you know, you can reach the goal.

I genuinely believe that's how
you lead. You set the goals,

you review it for how it's happening,
You give enough delegation,

and when things are not working,

that's when you step in and
you come in to help how,

you know otherwise that I'm
a pretty hands off leader.

Wow. And while you were
answering that question,

I was wishing that we were
having this interview in person,

because you're right,

there's so many things that get lost
when we can't see the non-verbals, right?

And I love your mantra of success to
lead a team to being hands off and

delegating as much as possible,
but being there when they need you.

Yeah, yeah. You know, I once heard this,

and I don't know if it's a true
incident, but that, you know,

when there was a rocket launch that
was happening, and Abdul Kalam,

Dr. A. P. J. Abdul Kalam was leading
that you know, rocket launch, and

Vikram Sarabhai was also there.
And they were all very excited.

And the press was called. And,
and when it did not go as per,

you know, schedule you know,
Vikram Sarabhai asked Dr. A. P. J.

to just step back and said,
Okay, now you leave this place.

I'll take the press conference.
And he took all the flack,

and the next time when the
launch was absolutely fine,

he just let you know, Dr. A. P. J.
do all the talking. And he said,

now my job is over, I'm flying back.

And I think that is an excellent
leadership, you know, lesson.

And that I think caught my eye.

And I truly believe that
when the chips are down,

leaders can make a huge difference,

because they need to own up and be
there and protect. If everything's fine,


you know leaders can just
take a back seat and you know,

let the team bask in their glory.

So I think that's a very
important lesson that I learned.

So true. And, and when you were
telling that story, it got,

it brought goosebumps to me.
So thanks for sharing that,

and thanks for holding that philosophy
close to your heart as you lead your

teams in vPro.


All right. You touched upon the
hybrid work life and how teams

are working in this new environment.

How has your life and work
changed in this new environment?

It is very, very difficult.
Like I said, you know,

teams are all over the place.
And, you know having them engaged,

especially young chartered accountants,

young CMA graduates, people
who join us you know,

they are the energy, right? They are
the backbone of this organization. And

it is very tough for us that we don't
get to interact with them enough

because they're all in their homes.
And, you know, very often, you know,

people are very shy. They don't wanna
come on videos, we don't wanna push them.

So I feel that, you know, the connect,

especially with the young people
who are joining raring to go full of

energy, who are ready
to observe, right? Like,

just like how you say a kid
you know, the, you know,

when when they're growing up
to the age of, you know, eight,

they absorb everything
that's happening around them,

and that perhaps mold you know,

how their personalities are
going to be when they are late,

let's say 20 or 30 years old.

Much of that gets formed in the
first formative views of, you know,

for six years is similarly, you know,

when someone's joining you fresh from
campus, you know, they are so moldable,

right? So when they come in, we, you know,

we'll be very happy to have them in a
vPro campus, mold them in a vPro way,

instill our values, instill our culture,
let them know what we stand for.

And I think that's what
we perhaps miss the most,

because we are not able
to perhaps put that bond,

that umbilical cord of, you know,
what we stand for, right? And this,

these are the vPro values. This is
how a vPro leader is, and this is how,

you know we do business.
It has become much more,

more tougher. But, but, you know, again,

going back to technology, thankfully,
at least we have you know,

collaborative technologies.

So we are using in our workplace where
we at least able to do everything

virtually. We've all adapted
ourselves to having these, you know,

chime in, HR sessions, everybody gets
their own tea, you know, comes together.

We have more. So what has happened
is to compensate, you know,

the lack of, you know working, co-working,

we all communicating, right?

So everything gets communicated.
We have more calls, you know,

we make sure people have understood,
we make sure people have heard us.

There are more emails, there are
more calls, there are more webinars,

there are more training sessions that
people can take up at various times,

you know, whenever it's
convenient. So, yeah, you know,

there are more both pluses and
minuses. I would say for me,

because I come from a traditional
law school way of thinking,

I feel the minuses outweigh.

I would really like us to at least get
to a more effective hybrid model as

opposed to a hundred percent remote.

But I do understand that
there are pluses, you know,

there is better productivity. People
are staying with their families,

so they're far more relaxed. You know,
they're less stressed because, you know,

they have they don't have to
come here. They're not homesick.

They're not running around for
you know, to do their chores.

They looked after. I think it's a win-win,

if you look at it that way,

they're able to work with a company
like vPro and yet be with their

families, which are in smaller towns.

But I worry that sometimes the exposure
that you get when you are in the line

of sight, that'll be missed.

And I genuinely don't know
how leaders, like, I mean,

today we have a leadership
bench who've all worked in

only physical world. Now,

if we were to continue like this for
another 10 years how will you produce

leaders for tomorrow's vPro
or tomorrow's, you know,

large organizations that I
think we have not yet seen,

you know, those proof points
haven't been met, I think. Yeah.

So we'll all evolve and we'll have to
see how the future unfolds. For now,

things are good. I think we
are okay with a hybrid model.

We are asking our employees to come
in three times a week when they can,

where they can. And I think
for now, that will do. But as,

like I said you know,

time passes and hopefully we are all
with the pandemic is well behind us.

I truly hope people do come back to
physical offices because that's where you

really build culture, and you gain
exposure, you gain independence,

and you know, you truly
can, you know, wait it,

and magic can happen.


Waiting for that magic and waiting for
the world to find that equilibrium where

both remote and in office is accepted.

And we find that right balance where
people are happier, but also productive.


All right. So it, I have so much to ask
you, but then we don't have enough time.

So time for one final
question for the day.

If you wanted to leave our global
listeners with just one message,

one takeaway from our talk
today, what would that be?

Hmm. Have a burning
ambition. Never you know,

feel shy to raise your hand and go
for it, You know, chase your dreams.


I think magic happens when you really

put up your hand and say, I want
this, and I want this to happen to me.

And then, and like they say,
the universe conspires. So

I think ambition is key,

and it's important that you raise
your hand and ask for it and

make the most of it.

Wow. I can't think of better parting
words than those. Raise your hands.

Thank you so much, Aparna. This brings
us to the end of our show today.

But thank you so much for your wonderful
chat and sharing your insights with us.

Thank you, Neha. Wonderful talking to you.

This has been Count Me in imas podcast,

providing you with the latest
perspectives of thought leaders from the

accounting and finance profession.

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