Leadership lessons from one of India's most influential technology leaders

Debjani Ghosh​ is the President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM)​ and one of India's most influential technology and business executives. Ghosh spoke to us about the transformation of the IT industry during the pandemic and leadership lessons learned in a crisis.

Debjani Ghosh is the President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM) since April 2018.  NASSCOM, a not-for-profit industry association, is the apex body for the 180 billion dollar IT BPM industry in India, an industry that had made a phenomenal contribution to India's GDP, exports, employment, infrastructure and global visibility. In India, this industry provides the highest employment in the private sector. NASSCOM's members, 2800+, constitute 90% of the industry's revenue and have enabled the association to spearhead initiatives at local, national and global levels. In turn, the IT BPM industry has gained recognition as a global powerhouse.

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Debjani Ghosh is the President of the National Association of Software & Services Companies (NASSCOM)

A veteran of the technology industry, Ghosh is the fifth president of NASSCOM and the first woman at the helm in its three-decade history. Ghosh is a firm believer in the power of technology in enhancing lives and livelihoods, and leveraging it for societal good. Ghosh was instrumental in developing the 'Think Digital, Think India' strategy aimed at establishing India as a hub for digital talent and innovation. As the NASSCOM President, Ghosh actively works with the industry and government to accelerate the growth of the Industry and strengthen India's position as hub for Innovation and Digital Talent. Before joining NASSCOM, Ghosh was the first woman to lead Intel India and the Manufacturers' Association for Information Technology (MAIT). In 2018, Ghosh was felicitated by the President of India under the auspices of the 'First Ladies' program, which honors exceptional women pioneers in their respective fields. In 2020, Ghosh was honored by Vogue as the Tech Leader of the year 2020. Ghosh has also been listed among India's most powerful women in tech by Business Today. 

To learn more about the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the IT industry, future of work in the new norm, and what skills are most important at times of uncertainty and crisis, Ray Wang, CEO and founder of a Silicon Valley-based advisory firm Constellation Research, and I invited Debjani Ghosh to our weekly show DisrupTV. Ray and I have delivered keynotes at NASSCOM events and we are both great admirers of Ghosh. The NASSCOM conferences are truly incredible with representation from the most influential CEOs of the biggest and fastest growing technology companies in the world, as well as government technology and innovation officials at the highest levels. Here are the key takeaways from our conversation with one of the most influential CEOs in India, Debjani Ghosh. 

  1. The smartest person in the room, is the room. Ghosh spoke to us about the history of NASSCOM and the incredible vision of their pioneer founders to invite competitors to gather and collaborate. Together, these fierce business competitors connect at NASSCOM and define and share IT industry best practices in order to co-create value for all stakeholders. The vision of holistic success is shared amongst all members, enabling India to serve as a global IT superpower. Real leadership is about putting your ego aside. NASSCOM started with 40 IT leaders with a simple goal of making India an IT global leader. The power of collaboration is real and impactful. Ghosh reminds us that India is the best place to innovate and deploy technology. After talking to Ghosh, I am reminded of the African proverb: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together." 

  2. In times of crisis, leadership must be flexible, empathetic and deliberate about change. A shift from an on-campus to a remote work model required strong partnerships with NASSCOM, the government and businesses. IT employees in India were recognized as essential employees, providing the flexibility needed to shift the IT industry to a remote and work from home model. In less than 10 days, the central government, state and local governments collaborated with businesses to quickly respond to the pandemic. Ghosh spoke about the prime minister of India sharing on Twitter that India's government is fully committed to the IT industry. Employee engagement and mental health were also real issues that the industry needed to recognize and address. These issues were faced by large companies and the startup community. It is my belief that NASSCOM played a significant role in connecting the key stakeholders to make informed decisions, and take positive action, as quickly as possible.


  3. Leadership in a crisis starts with establishing trust with stakeholders. In a crisis, great leaders share a set of common traits. Leadership in crisis requires trust. Another important trait is forward-looking vision and pragmatic optimism. Ghosh spoke about strong leaders that quickly recognized that the pandemic was an opportunity for the IT industry to re-invent itself. And lastly, Ghosh spoke about humility and intellectual curiosity. Many leaders practiced radical transparency by openly speaking about having uncertainties and not having the answers. The resiliency and optimism allowed these leaders to collaborate and together find answers to how to stabilize, re-open and grow the industry. Ghosh noted that during the pandemic, business leaders viewed the response to the crisis, and their stakeholders' (employees, customers, partners and communities) safety and success, as a bigger purpose than their own companies priorities. Ghosh shared examples of companies that used their campuses to feed people, provide PPE, build end-to-end hospital usage and contact tracing solutions, and covert office spaces to hospitals. 

  4. The technology industry has the opportunity to be a leader in shaping the future of business and work in the next normal. Ghosh believes that we can build a more sustainable and a more inclusive future. The tech industry is well positioned to help shape the future of work and business. What does hybrid work look like? How can hybrid models be more secure, accessible and inclusive? Ghosh believes that the industry needs to develop a framework for responsible build and use of tech. We cannot leave the regulations just to government, but rather a joint effort with business leaders to co-create the framework for ethical build and use of technology. 

I encourage you to watch our entire conversation with Debjani Ghosh for additional insights about the transformation of the IT industry and important leadership skills needed in the next normal.