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Season 2, Episode 9: Transcript

Season 2, Episode 9 Transcript: Inspiration Through Innovation


Veanne Smith:  Hello and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. We are your hosts, Veanne Smith and Sarah Lodato. We’re excited to have our listeners join us for another episode of season two, where our theme is “Growing careers and building businesses”.

In today’s podcast, we’ll be discussing the importance of communication, facing challenges and how anyone can work their way towards a leadership role with the right attitude. I’m excited to welcome Prakash Muthukrishnan as our guest today to talk on this topic.

Sarah Lodato:    Prakash is a CIO at Purchasing Power, where he manages the e-commerce and Oracle e-business development, project management, business analysis, architecture, quality assurance, information security and infrastructure teams. A jack of all trades, if you will. Prakash has always worked with industry influencers, where he learned first-hand what being a leader should look like.

Veanne:           It’s really interesting because Prakash has his own inspiring story and is eager to guide others on their path to leadership. He encourages folks to take control of their destiny and position themselves to be successful leaders.

Sarah:             Alright. Well, let’s get to it. Hello Prakash, and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio.

Prakash:          Sarah and Veanne, thank you so much for having me here today. I’m looking forward to the conversation. Again, thank you for having me on the show.

Building A Brand New Team

Veanne:           Well, let’s get to it. I’d love to start talking about your most recent challenges. I’ve known you here at Purchasing Power. It’s kind of a multi-part question. Tell us what it’s been like to build a new team.

I know you had a lot of success getting a really instrumental technology team together for a large e-commerce project you had to do when you first got there. Tell us what it was like to build the team. Do you have any advice for leaders who are in maybe a similar situation and a similar position?

Prakash:          Well, building a team at Purchasing Power has been extremely, extremely, I would say, beneficial and also a learning experience for me. It has been a very rewarding experience because the team I built has also driven a lot of business value. We see our business growing on a double digit for the last three plus years.

Now, what kind of experience and what kind of advice can I give? The first one would be, you need to have a very clear vision for the team that you want to build. That is very important. Have a very clear point of view, what kind of teammates you want, what kind of culture your team is going to have. That is very, very important.

Then the second one I would say is, you’ve got to assess your current teammates, their strengths and weaknesses, right? Obviously, not everybody would fit your definition of what the team culture should look like. Make some small bets. You have to manage a few of them, but you’ve got to hire a lot of new people as well.

The other one I would say is, you have to introduce new lingo into the team, right? Make the team think things a little differently. For example —

Veanne:           I would like to hear, what do you mean by lingo?

Prakash:          Yes, for example, when I went first to Purchasing Power, the team which was there, we were trying to implement a new e-commerce system from a company called SAP. They would tell me always, “It’s pretty complex. Everything is very complicated”, right? This was a constant conversation whenever I went to any team meetings. I had this—

Veanne:           Everybody kept telling you how complex it was.

Prakash:          Everything, right? I used to tell them, “No FUD”. The FUD stands for let’s not create any fear, uncertainty or doubt without understanding what is a complex problem. I wanted them to simplify complex problems. That was the first thing, no FUD, right?

Veanne:           I like it.

Prakash:          Don’t be generic about anything. Let’s be very prescriptive what the problem is because when you state things in very general terms, it is very overwhelming, right?

Veanne:           Right.

Sarah:             Instills panic, almost.

Prakash:          Exactly. What we wanted was something, simplification of the complex things, right? Create no fear, uncertainty or doubt. This is the new lingo I’m talking about.

Veanne:           I like FUD.

Sarah:             Me too.

Prakash:          The other one was, well, we don’t know what we don’t know about this new software. It was a constant reminder in every meeting. I told them, “What does that even mean?” right? “Let’s simplify that, let’s abstract that”. What that meant was a lack of awareness of the product. We did not know anything about the product. You know what? You can call up the company which sold the software, ask them to come and teach us about the software.

That is one thing I’ve made sure nobody repeated, “We don’t know what we don’t know” because that caused a lot of uncertainty and doubt in people’s minds, which I didn’t want to have, right? Lack of awareness, let’s get the software company to come teach us and help us. That’s what we did.

Trust me, all these things change the culture of the team and also the way we talk to each other about the project. I would say any leader, when they walk into a new company and are building their own team, they have to bring their own lingo to inspire the team that is existing there.

Veanne:           Don’t forget about the culture piece.

Prakash:          Very important.

The Traits of a Leader

Sarah:             I think it takes a specific mindset, right? To be able to guide that kind of change in a team. Something I’m curious about is, I’m sure that you’ve worked with a lot of industry leaders and influencers that have probably taught you a lot about your approach, specifically maybe in Purchasing Power or other endeavors. I’d like to know, in your opinion, what a leader should look like. It doesn’t just take anybody, maybe, to change the entire lingo of an organization, right?

Prakash:          Right. Again, from my experience and working with a lot of leaders, I would say there are a few traits any leader should have. The first one is, leaders should be able to think from different boxes. That is very, very critical. Specifically technology leaders. They have to be bilingual. That is, they should speak tech and they should also speak business. That is very important, right? Working at what I call the intersection of business and technology. That’s a very important skill for a technology leader.

The other one I would say is, you have to be able to work in ambiguity. Not everything will be very clear. You should be able to assume things from your experience. Assume certain constraints and then come up with a solution or do some forecasting. That is very critical, how to work in ambiguity.

The third one I would say is, you have to build relationships across your team and also upward and other teams as well. That is a very critical leadership skill. You have to build trust. Relentlessly, you have to build trust. Personally, I would say, any great leader must have a great work ethic. You have to exhibit that you’re a great leader. You have to have a very good work ethic.

I would also say that great leaders should be great storytellers. You have to be a very good storyteller. That is, you should know how to articulate the problem or the solution or whatever, based on the audience you have. Finally, this is very important. A great leader should be able to identify with the purpose of the company they’re working for. That is very critical because only then can you inspire and influence your teammates.

Veanne:           Those are all great challenges as a leader that you’ve got to overcome. I understand you had another challenge you faced earlier in your career, where you changed your career path, something that I think many humans are afraid to do but we see a lot of people pivoting today.

Making a Pivot in Your Career

Veanne:           I’d love to hear what your perspective is on what that experience looked like for you, any lessons you learned as you went through that, for those out there who are contemplating changing, making a pivot, becoming something different.

Prakash:          Yes. I think the essence of that is, don’t be afraid to disrupt yourself. Let me explain what that means. Right after my undergraduate degree, I started working for a consulting company in India, Tata Consulting. What they do is they put you through this huge COBOL programming for three months, 90 days. Literally how to do programming in real life, right?

I went through that and I realized at the end of that, I really did not want to do COBOL programming. It didn’t appeal to me, structured programming. I was pretty young. I thought, “Man, this is really not what I really wanted to do”.

The future for COBOL programmers, this is like late 1989, was very bright in India. You’re sent to assignments in foreign countries and you go learn new stuff, learn new cultures. That was exciting, but from a career perspective I did not see myself as a COBOL programmer.

It so happened Tata Consultancy also had a research department. They were writing compilers for a language called C++ which was just coming up. It so happened the head of the research group was set to lead where I was training. He asked me, “What do you want to do?” I told him that I know what I don’t want to do. I told him that I don’t want to do COBOL programming. He jokingly said, “So we wasted our money on you”. Then I said, “Well —

Veanne:           You probably weren’t in favor at that moment.

Prakash:          Exactly.

Veanne:           You’re going to have to really prove yourself now.

Prakash:          Right. It so happened he had a research center in Pune, which is far away from the city I come from. He said, “There’s an opportunity. We’re building compilers. If you’re interested, come work for me”. I said, “Absolutely. I’m going there”, right?

To me, at that stage, that was an important decision. I’ll tell you why. It’s very, very far from where I come from in India. It’s a long way to go, right? I made the decision and went there. That particular state, they speak a very different language. I won’t understand that, but I went there, took the chance and learned quite a bit there.

Then I came to the U.S. to do my Ph.D. in Computer Science. I did a lot of research for six plus years at the University of Alabama and Birmingham. Then I was a very poor graduate student. Ph.D. is a pretty long haul. When I was looking for a job I started working for software companies, right? Remember, if you had talked to me in 1991 I would have told you that I want to be a professor. That’s all my goal was, to be a professor teaching graduate students. That was my dream, right? In 199—

Veanne:           You were so immersed in education at that point.

Prakash:          Absolutely, Both my parents are teachers. My older sister is a professor. I wanted to be a professor as well. Anyway, 1996, I pivoted and went to a software company, creating software. I thought not everything has gone wasted in the sense that the software company I worked for, we created a lot of very cool software and supply chain. I worked there for a long time, until 2004.

Then, when I was working for software companies I realized that we’re creating these products but I don’t know how that is being used by the customers. I never saw the other part of it, right? I was spitting out all these products. How is it being utilized? I didn’t know that.

There was a guy at the company I worked for. He used to be the front face of the products. He would go talk about the products, position the products within our existing customers and new prospects, and bring back feedback. I wanted to be that person at that point, right? He had great storytelling capabilities.

He could articulate the business value of technology investment and the technology impact on business. Very, very smart guy, right? He’s what I would call a guy who can go deep and broad, right? That is, he can design a tree but can also think from the context of a forest, right? That kind of a guy.

In 2004, I did one more small switch. I went to work for an IT shop, for a company called Blockbuster. Literally, I didn’t have my laptop for a week in Blockbuster. I thought, “Man, I made a mistake”, right? In software companies, you’re a programmer, you’re an architect, you’re working. Here, for a week, I didn’t have my laptop.

Veanne:           You didn’t have anything to even touch.

Prakash:          Exactly.

Veanne:           You were nervous. [Laughs]

Prakash:          I was panicked.

Veanne:           We get shaky, right? [Laughs]

Prakash:          This is a true story. I told my wife, “Maybe I made a mistake. I should go back to software developing companies, not IT”. Then I stuck with that because the role was an advisor role. Truly an advisor to the CIO and the AVP of operations. Literally the kind of job I wanted, working at the intersection of business and technology, right?

I could look at the business investments and tell them, “Use these new technologies to unlock some new business values. Are there any issues with the business?” Suggesting them emerging technologies that they could use, right?

Fantastic ride. You all know the story about Blockbuster. Not a week passes where I don’t see any posters or listen to somebody tell me, “Disruption, Netflix replacing Blockbuster”. I had a great ringside view the last two years of my career in Blockbuster, how a $6.7 billion company can go to a $200 million auction in less than four or five years, right?

Sarah:             Wow.

Prakash:          Change in that.

Veanne:           Quite a run.

Prakash:          I was never afraid to disrupt myself, but more importantly, I kind of had an idea what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the guy who understands technology, but he can also talk to the customers and articulate the value. I kept on building my skills in different areas. I didn’t just want to be a chief architect or a developer. I wanted to do other things, right?

Veanne:           The thing you did well is you kept self-assessing of what you saw yourself doing and you kept pivoting to get there.

Prakash:          Absolutely.

Veanne:           I think a lot of people maybe hear that in the back of their heads but they just ignore it maybe. They can’t face the fear and feel confident of making the change.

Sarah:             It’s the quality of ambiguity that you mentioned previously as a leader, right? It’s like, “I’ve got my touch points. I know what I want to do”, but you have to be able to dive in. I think that’s where a lot of people fall short, maybe.

Prakash:          You’re absolutely right. Then when you pivot from one to another role, sometimes you have to take a lower role.

Veanne:           You have to be willing to step back, right?

Prakash:          Exactly. As long as it services towards your final ultimate goal and you’re willing to disrupt yourself, it’ll pay off at the end. I must say I’m very lucky. It paid me off. I’m very happy to do what I’m doing right now as the leader of the technology team at Purchasing Power. I think anybody can do that. I’m not special. I can tell you that anybody can do that.

Veanne:           Well, I think you’re special bud [laughs].

Prakash:          Thank you Veanne.

Is Leadership For Everyone?

Sarah:             That’s actually perfect because I was about to ask you something. You say everyone can do it, right? I think that some people don’t see themselves in a position of leadership but some of them do. I actually was watching this commercial. I’m going to get a little off into a story here. A commercial about, a little girl essentially asked her father why he wasn’t the boss or something. I was like, “Well, he doesn’t have to be the boss. Everyone doesn’t have to be the boss”.

Anyway, I think about that a lot. I’m curious about your perspective. Is everyone set up to be in a position of leadership or should they be? Is leadership for everyone?

Prakash:          Well, it depends upon the person. If you position yourself to be a leader, you can become a leader, right? Leaders, as I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of traits. You should be able to embrace those things. One of the things I always tell to my technology teammates and leaders is this. It’s a very simple question you have to ask yourself. Do I want to be a technical guy who’s a manager or do I want to be a leader who has technical skills?

To me it’s literally a binary decision. That is, you either want to be a highly technical person who manages people or you’re a leader who’s technical. If you choose option A, that means you’re in your office all day long, not building relationships, not mentoring people, not advising your own teammates. You’re more worried about the latest and the greatest in the software out there.

Option B is, you are a leader. You’re mentoring folks, you’re guiding them, you’re building relationships. You’re learning more about business and advising business leaders how technology can be used, right? I think it depends upon who you are.

The other thing I would say is, very good leaders, they build relationships across the teams. You’re not a leader just for your team. You’ve got to establish yourself as a leader for multiple teams. Everybody should be able to look up to you and consider you as a leader. That goes to even technology leaders, right? I may be the CIO, but I would like our other teams, marketing team or the operations team, also to look at me as a leader of the company, right? That goes across the organization.

The other one I would say is, you have to become a very good advisor, right? To your peer group and also to your senior management team. It depends upon you. What do you want to do in life, right? Finally, you should be able to stand in front of people and tell good stories. That is, I think, a very critical aspect of any leader. Most of the leaders I know and who inspire me are great storytellers who can inspire people with their stories. I do like that.

Sarah:             I love that piece of storytelling. I think it’s good for the highs and lows of being a leader, right? When people kind of need you the most. I want to dive into that a little bit more. I want to know, from your perspective, what is the importance of being able to tell that engaging story as a leader? How does being a good listener balance with that, right? If you’re in a leadership position, you’re sort of soaking in. How does that balance with the storyteller part of it?

Prakash:          I would say anybody, not just leaders, should be great listeners, right? That is critical.

Sarah:             Sure.

Being a Storyteller and a Listener

Prakash:          Not just listening when somebody talks. That is important as well, but when you are watching something, let’s say you go and look at an exhibition or go to a museum. You learn a lot of things there, right? You need to be able to absorb all these things when you’re telling a story.

I’ll tell you a simple example. Last year, we went to the beach in South Walton beaches. My boys, both of them like the Blue Angels. There is a naval airspace museum in Pensacola. We did a day trip there. I took my boys there, we were watching that. There were very nice 3D exhibitions where you can go sit on almost like on an aircraft carrier.

You know the aircraft carriers from where we launch all these fighter planes? It’s a pretty intense operation, launching fighter planes from aircraft carriers. Now, it’s an extremely complex operation. Remember one of the things I mentioned earlier, simplifying complex operations is very important. There was a great example there.

If you ever watch a fighter aircraft taking off from an aircraft carrier, you’ll see hundreds of people on the platform there. They wear different colored shirts. There are the purple ones, the yellow ones, the white ones, the reds. Every color has a specific duty. Some of them are just to refuel the jet planes. Some of them are there to operate the catapult. Everybody has a specific duty.

By looking across, because remember, it’s windy, it’s noisy. Without talking, they can look at their teammates and know what they’re doing. Second, they don’t yell at each other. They have developed their own hand signals to communicate. Think about this. It’s a pretty complex operation. By following certain simple principles they have simplified this.

I saw this. I was very impressed with it, right? I come back and we have a town hall meeting. They ask me to talk about one of the things I want to tell my teammates in Purchasing Power. I told this story, right? It is easy to complicate things. Everybody can do that. What is difficult is to simplify complex things.

I told them a good example. The example was what I saw in Pensacola’s airspace museum. Again, is it a great story? Probably not, but I could relate to the story when I was watching it. I can internalize it. When I told it to my teammates, to this day a lot of people come and tell me, “Hey, I still like the story you told about how we launch aircraft carriers”.

Veanne:           What I want to know, is everybody wearing a different colored shirt now in all the departments at Purchasing Power? [Laughs]

Sarah:             Do they really get it?

Prakash:          That’s a good one. No, no, they don’t. The idea is—

Veanne:           In case you don’t know who does what around here, we’ve got the red shirts, the purple shirts.

Prakash:          It’s amazing because they launch like, what, every 20 seconds they can launch a fighter plane. That’s amazing, in my opinion.

Veanne:           Imagine the adrenaline of watching that. I’d like to do that sometime.

Prakash:          It’s great. Storytelling is critical. Trust me, it has to be an intentional exercise. I was not like this before I can tell you that. One of my leaders in a company called NextGen Technologies, the CTO was not the best storyteller and a great listener. It’s a very small startup, 50 offers.

Every once in a while, all the developers, you know how developers are. We get all upset and we just go and start yelling. After an hour he’d come back from his office all smiling like the world is great, right? He was fantastic in listening and absorbing anxieties as well as mentoring and giving us good guidance.

I’ve seen him in front of Fortune 500 clients when he was selling our software. Not the best storyteller, right? He inspired me. It was intentional, from that point, for me to be a good storyteller, listening and articulating ideas. I listen to a lot of podcasts. One of my favorite podcasts is called Moth podcast. Moth podcast, you literally stand up in front of an audience, unscripted storytelling.

Sarah:             Yes, I listen to that.

Prakash:          One of my goals, Sarah, is this, okay? I want to be able to do that one day. I’ve got two simple goals in life. One is to write an article, publish a fiction or a non-fiction in New Yorker magazine. The second one is to tell a story in a local Moth podcast. Simple goals.

Sarah:             I love it. I think you hit the nail on the head. Before I asked you, “Is leadership for everybody?” and you’ve named these qualities. It’s really about practicing those things. If it is an endeavor that you want to sort of embark on, you do have to. I think that that might be the thing that deters people from doing that. “Well, I’m not a good storyteller, therefore I can’t”. Read those articles, “Five things to make you a great blah blah blah” [laughs].

Veanne:           Right. That’s compelling. I don’t know. I like the storytelling piece personally, because I think putting things in context is how we learn when we’re children. From a very core age and time in our lives, that’s what makes everything stick the best, right? It’s what makes you feel comforted. It’s only natural that that’s a way that, even as adults, we grasp concepts or routes that we’re going to take as a company or whatever might be the best.

Growth Leads to Opportunities

Prakash:          I totally agree. I’ll give a simple example. Two of my leaders, they’re no longer with me. I’m glad because they could have gone on to assume senior leadership roles.

Veanne:           Senior opportunities.

Prakash:          Better opportunities.

Veanne:           We want everybody to grow as a leader. We like to see people underneath us grow and move on, right? It’s hard but that’s another sign of your success, right?

Sarah:             Exactly.

Prakash:          There’s one guy. He’s now a deputy CIO. A very smart guy when he joined as a manager, became a director and built all the right skill sets. Storytelling and understanding the business, how to manage his own team, understanding P&L. All the leadership skills, not just being technical, as I said. Being a leader, mentoring his teammates, managing their careers. Now he’s a deputy CIO here in Atlanta.

One of my directors, he came in as a manager. Now he’s a director managing close to 100 people in a multibillion-dollar company here in Atlanta. I feel happy about that. If you look at those two guys, literally, they became good leaders.

They managed their people very well, gave them full autonomy, as any good leader should do, became good storytellers and understood the business very well and hired really good people. I’m very pleased by that. It hurts me when people leave. As you know, we are a very small team, but at the same time it makes me very happy and I feel very grateful that we, Purchasing Power, can create leaders like that.

Sarah:             That’s great.

Transparency and Communication In the Workplace and How It Builds Trust

Veanne:           Well, you brought up something that makes me think about transparency. I think we probably all would agree that an effective leader has transparency. I’m curious what your perspective is. Do you think everybody in the organization, no matter what their position, should be educated and updated in hearing about the P&L of the company? How important do you think that is?

Prakash:          I think it is very important. Purchasing Power, we are a small company, a mid-size company. We are on 220 employees here in Atlanta. Pretty much, we used to have, every month, a town hall meeting where our CEO and our CFO and the senior leaders would get up in front of our employees.

We used to pretty much tell them the state of the business, right? How did we do the month before, financially speaking? What is on the horizon? Some of the clients we launched, some of the strategic initiatives that are coming up and what we’re doing for holidays. That transparency helped our employees quite a bit.

Obviously, the details or the level of information you give, it varies, right? Does everybody understand P&L? Probably not, right? You have to control the noise and work from there, right? Transparency does help. Now we do quarterly for the entire company. For the senior leaders we do monthly meetings.

I think transparency is extremely important. You need to make sure that your leaders understand the impact of what they did, right? Technology or otherwise. The business impact, right? From a revenue perspective and profitability perspective, and how they’re investing their money, their P&L, right?

Am I investing the right resources in the right project, which delivers the right value to the end customers, which is extremely important? Also, related, does it generate revenue and profitability to the organization? Transparency is very, very critical. I think that any good leader must be very transparent, right?

If you kind of step down one level lower, as the leader of the IT team, I’m very transparent with my teammates about any issue, right? Let’s say, if somebody is leaving the organization, you have to be very transparent why they left the organization, right? Transparency is very critical to being a good leader. It helps everybody, in my opinion.

Sarah:                  It helps build that trust

Veanne:           They develop the trust again.

Prakash:          As we talked earlier, good leaders, they’re relentless. They have to build trust, right? You have to build trust. That’s very important. If you look at the U.S. Army, trust is the bedrock of the U.S. Army foundation. Trust, right? Good leaders, great leaders should build trust relentlessly.

Sarah:             Beyond that, then, thinking about the storytelling. Often that’s an avenue for let’s say transparency, right? You’re giving people information. I think, also as a leader, perhaps inspiration is part of what your end goal should be, right? You want those people to own that story and own that mission.

A little birdie told me that you like reading a lot of books and articles. You’ve mentioned some of the podcasts that you listen to. Any specific resources that you recommend that kind of help keep you inspired, that can inspire others?

Prakash:          I’ll tell you one more story before I answer your question. In 2003, for my birthday, one of my very good friends, I used to live in Dallas, Texas. His name is Topol. He’s still my best friend. He gave me a book. It’s on an explorer called Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Ernest Shackleton, he led an unsuccessful exploration to the Antarctic, right? The great part of the whole exploration or the expedition is that he didn’t lose one person in that expedition. It was one of the best books I ever read. Sir Ernest Shackleton is my most favorite leader. He doesn’t talk explicitly but if you read about his life story and that particular expedition, you’ll see what kind of a leader he was.

He built a team that was highly respectful to each other. Now remember, Sir Ernest Shackleton and the team, they’re from England where there is kind of that class hierarchy, right? He built a team that was highly respectful to each other. High camaraderie, fantastic collaboration, high levels of communication, right?

That’s the kind of team he built. This is a book I read in 2003. I’ve wanted to be that kind of leader. Books always help me. That’s one of my most favorite books. I always give those books to my leaders in my team so that they can read about Sir Ernest Shackleton. Not just the one book, rather, multiple books.

Sarah:             Sure.

Inspiration through Innovation

Prakash:          I encourage my teammates to be highly innovative. I’m big on innovation in the sense that I think innovation is everybody’s job. Not the IT department, not the business, everybody in the organization has to be innovative.

I voraciously read about innovation. I’m reading a book right now. It’s called ‘The Three-Box Solution’ about innovation, by a guy called Dr. Vijay Govindarajan who always writes about innovation. I inspire my team to be innovative. I talk about books like this. Even sometimes, my own senior leadership team, we get like five or six books. We read one book a month and we discuss.

Sarah:             I love that.

Prakash:          The thing is, what is fascinating to me is everybody’s opinion about that particular book. These are non-fiction and management books. Very fascinating, everybody’s views on certain books, right? I recently finished reading a book called ‘Yes, And’. It’s about the whole improv thing, right? Fascinating book. I took my whole team to Village Theater here in Atlanta. My entire team, we did an improv session one afternoon.

Sarah:             That’s awesome. [Laughs]

Prakash:          It’s amazing, all these little things, right? Again, you read something, you need to apply that, right? It’s inspirational. It should be intentional. The other thing I try to inspire in my team is design thinking, thinking about designs.

I was in MODA, the Museum of Design and Architecture, a couple of weeks ago. They had this fantastic exhibition on wearables. It so happened they also had another exhibition on beautiful users designing for people. It was a great exhibition about “How do you design things to fit everybody?” The whole emotional aspect of designing and designing for everybody, not just for one particular set or average person. Now…

Veanne:           Sounds impossible to me. [Laughs]

Prakash:          It is difficult, but if you think about it, it’s a great concept, right?

Veanne:           It is a great concept.

Prakash:          I told my UI architect to go see that exhibition, right?

Veanne:           That’s a great idea.

Prakash:          He may get some inspiration from that. What I would say is, whenever I come across a very good book, I tell them. I’m constantly listening to a lot of podcasts. Some of my favorites are Moth podcast, there’s a show called 99-Percent Invisible, another fantastic podcast, This American Life. I can just go on and on, TED Radio Hour. A lot of these podcasts give a lot of information. I read a lot of books and try to read as much as I can. I love reading

Veanne:           Read, get inspired, innovate, but then share. It sounds like the thing not to forget is to share and to try to help motivate people to collaborate around the ideas because that’s always a better result in the end, the group think, right?

Prakash:          Absolutely.

Veanne:           Don’t just read and keep it to yourself, share.

Prakash:          Sharing is caring, right? You have to share. One thing I do, maybe this is something I learned from my dad, I have a notebook. I keep track of notes, some quotes from a notebook, from the book I’m reading or some inspiring passages, sort of a collection of them.

Whenever I buy a book, I put the date on that so I know when I bought the book, right? Little things I do to keep myself motivated. It helps others as well, but I totally agree with you, Veanne. You have to share what you’re reading with others. Also listen to what others are reading and listening to, which is equally important.

Never Stop Learning

Veanne:           Well, we’ve covered a lot of ground. This has been really, really exciting and to get to know you a little bit better. Is there anything that we haven’t covered? Any other advice or anything else that we haven’t given you a chance to talk about that you wanted to share today about helping people be successful in leadership? I think we’ve covered everything.

Prakash:          I hope that this is not advice, more like what I’ve learnt in my last 20 plus years working in this industry. Nothing much to add. I’ll finish with one small story. When I was a graduate student I was renting a room from a lady. She was 77 years old. One of the greatest things I ever learnt in my life is from her.

I was a typical graduate student. I was doing my research. I used to be up until like 4 a.m. in the night and sleep. I’ll probably, at 10, 10.30 in the morning, I’ll waltz into the kitchen to make some tea. She’ll be waiting there sitting because she was by herself and we will chat. The one thing I remember about her is, she used to listen to NPR, read morning news every morning, all these things.

One day we were sitting right outside her kitchen. There was a bird feed literally for her hummingbirds, right? The colorful with the liquid filled in, the sugary fluid for the hummingbirds. The hummingbirds, a couple of them were there.

I told her, her name was Mrs. Miller. I said, “Mrs. Miller, I love hummingbirds”. She said, “Why? Why hummingbirds?” I told her that they’re very unique birds. They’re like helicopters, right? All the other birds are like airplanes. They kind of glide and land. Hummingbirds are like helicopters. They can take off. They can go front, they can go back. They’re pretty unique, so I like them.

I didn’t think much of that conversation, right? You won’t think much of that conversation. That weekend, her grandkids and her son and daughter-in-law were visiting her. The grandkids came and told me, “Wow, we love hummingbirds. We heard what you told our grandma”. I’m like, “Really?” “Yes, she told us about that”.

I asked her the following day, “What was so important about what I told you about hummingbirds?” She told me, “The day you stop learning something, that is the day you’ll start dying”. She never ever stopped learning about anything.

I like to learn all the time. That’s what I would say to anybody. Learning could be reading, listening, observing, going to museums or hearing podcasts like this. We’re always learning stuff, right? I learn stuff from my kids all the time. That’s the only thing I’ll say. Never stop learning.

Sarah:             I love that.

Veanne:           Keep moving forward.

Sarah:             I think it takes a certain sense of humility to keep your mind open to that.

Prakash:          Absolutely.

Contact Prakash Muthukrishnan

Sarah:             Cool. Thank you so much for sharing so much. If our listeners would like to reach out to you, where can they get to see some more information on the things that you’re doing or what you’re doing at Purchasing Power?

Prakash:          Obviously known, my LinkedIn profile. I also have a Twitter handle. It’s @Prakashm, m as in Mary. Then at Purchasing Power website. Obviously, you can reach out to me directly if you want to contact me.

Sarah:             Awesome. We’ll be sure to share that in our post.

Prakash:          Thank you.


Veanne:           Prakash, thanks so much. It’s been great having you here. Really has been a deep conversation, genuine. Again, I always like to get to learn more about folks. Even though I’ve known you for so long, I learned more today. Thanks so much for joining us today.

Prakash:          Thank you, thank you.

Sarah:                  The Atlanta Business Impact Radio is a project developed by SOLTECH, a software consultancy located in Atlanta, Georgia. Our host, Veanne Smith, co-founded the firm 18 years ago with her husband Tim Smith. Together, they strive to bring education to the community about technology leaders to improve the path to innovation for all.

For more information about the podcast and to learn about the work we do at SOLTECH, visit or find episodes of the podcast on iTunes. Also, if you’re interested in joining us as a guest for an upcoming show, send us an email at Thanks for listening. Stay tuned for more insight into the tech community on our next episode.

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