AGSM graduate Sujeet Rana, named one of this year's Boss Young Executives 2015 shares his vision on what the future of Leadership looks like

Q - You are Head of Digital at Woolworths Limited, Australia's biggest retailer. Tell us what you do?

I'm lucky to have one of the best jobs in the world. I have end to end accountability for the technology that runs all our digital assets across Woolworths Limited. Our Apps have been downloaded over 5 million times and our recent Apple Watch App was shown on the keynote presentation in Cupertino! I look after a fantastically talented bunch of teams whose energy and passion for making things better for our customers is inspiring.

My role in a nutshell involves developing and constantly re-evaluating the digital strategy in tight alignment with our different trading divisions. Digital is fundamentally changing the way customers shop as not only do they have more choices than ever before, but their expectations of the experience they have whilst shopping has lifted substantially. Planning, strategising and equipping the team to compete in this new age is what takes up much of my day.

Q - What are some of the challenges of being the Head of Digital and how do you overcome these?

My biggest challenge is how quickly technology is modifying our customers behaviour and trying to remain one step ahead of the curve. The digital environment provides a level of connectivity that makes the world a smaller place, meaning you now have to compete on a global scale. To manage this, I often get out to as many conferences and presentations as possible across a number of industries to ensure I'm keeping abreast of all opportunities. I love to meet and chat to start ups as they don't necessarily have the constraints of a large corporate allowing for some very creative ideas and concepts.

From a day to day perspective, my challenges revolve around ensuring the team are constantly striving to push the boundaries on how fast we release products to our customers whilst maintaining a high level of quality and cost consciousness. Being a well-known set of brands we often receive thousands of feature requests from our customers, suppliers and even internally and working out where the teams should be focusing their attention can be difficult. I've found that being able to step back and prioritise based on a set of clear principles around creating exciting, seamless interactions for our customers provides a great way to level set and evaluate features against each other.


Q - What's the most important thing you learned during your MBA and how has this helped you get to where you are today?

My biggest take out from the MBA was a deeper understanding of the many factors involved in making an organisation successful and how interrelated they are. This has provided me a new level of flexibility in how I approach problems today knowing that there are a lot more levers to pull to accomplish a result.

The other key take out comes from the way the program challenges the way you think. In the early stages of the MBA I was amazed at how frequently I would see fellow cohort members present an opinion or view that was vastly different to my own and oftentimes more compelling! This only helps to expand the way you see the world and provides a different set of perspectives that can help create a more insightful position on which to base a decision.

Q - Why did you decide to do an MBA?

My background was in IT and the early part of my career was spent building strong technical capabilities in this field. As I progressed further in my career, it became apparent I wasn't as strong as I needed to be in the areas of Finance, Accounting and Marketing. In my opinion, regardless of the industry you are in, having a base understanding of multiple facets of an organisation provides a set of skills that allow you to add more value across a wide variety of situations. The MBA was a perfect vehicle to give me great insight into these areas and help round out my professional skill set and as the AGSM was the clear leader in this field across Australia, it was the natural choice.

Q - If you could give one piece of advice to someone considering embarking on an MBA what would it be?

Don't wait for the stars to align just do it - the rewards far outweigh the time and effort put in. Since the completion of my MBA I have never looked back. I have increased my professional network immeasurably and made some lifelong friends along the way.

As a hiring manager, I now appreciate both the hard and soft skills that students learn throughout the process of an MBA which provides me a better insight into their motivations, knowledge and ability to handle diverse situations providing a strong differentiator that helps them stand out from the pack.

Q- As we enter a new decade of technological disruption, what does the future of leadership look like?

In my opinion the future of leadership will be based around a few key attributes:

  • The ability to lead cross generational teams. There are now four generations represented in the workforce (Baby Boomer, Gen X, Gen Y & Gen Z) all of whom are motivated and driven by different factors. Being able to create a culture that unites the strengths of each of these generations will be a key component to success in the future
  • The ability to lead geographically dispersed teams. As technology makes the world smaller the chances that your team(s) won't be physically located in the same place will present challenges around creating team harmony, fostering professional networks and working efficiently.
  • An ability to be comfortable dealing with the abstract. Today there are more sources of information than ever and being able to quickly and clearly draw conclusions from what may appear to be unrelated pieces will be a key skill.
  • Getting comfortable with change. The technological disruption we have seen to date will pale in comparison to the exponential changes that will occur over the next 10-15 years. With this constant disruption, a focus on creating an environment where change is embraced will ensure better longevity for the organisation

Find out more about Sujeet Rana and this year's Six BOSS Young Executives 2015