Before Suman Mishra became one of the youngest Senior Vice Presidents at Mahindra Group—before she was selected for this year’s Economic Times ‘Women Ahead’ honor, and, most recently, the ‘40 under 40’ list—she was an MBA student at the Ross School of Business.
“I received an email one day that read, Congratulations, you got into ‘ET 40 under 40’,” Mishra said. She was one of just seven women on the list, which honors 40 of India’s brightest corporate leaders, entrepreneurs and owner-professionals under the age of forty. The winners are selected by an eminent jury.
Mishra’s description of success—to “always give it your best, in everything that you do, without being too worried about outcome”—has been a key mantra in her life. As Senior Vice President of Group Strategy, Mishra partners with CEOs across Mahindra Group Companies to help shape strategic direction and support implementation of strategies and transformations, evaluating investments across the Group to develop a board-ready perspective.
Driven by the belief that it is imperative to set the bar high, Mishra keeps an impact-focused mindset. Data-driven decision making, she believes, is the best practice for an unbiased approach in her line of work.
“In order to drive real impact, you also need a deep understanding of the people and culture of an organization,” she said. “The relationships you foster are very important.”
After a seven-year stint at McKinsey, Mishra began working as Head of Project Management at a pharmaceutical company called Cipla. At Cipla, she was able to catalyze the largest product launch the company had ever seen—a generic drug on the US market. She also gave birth to her first child.
“Several months later, I joined Mahindra Group. The Group was restructuring its strategy office when I was approached about the position, and I interviewed because I had high regard for their businesses.”
“It turns out I really liked the people I met at Mahindra and thought I would fit there culturally. It’s amazing to be able to work with a visionary like [Chairman] Anand Mahindra,” she said, adding that Mahindra Group has given her freedom to drive change and express her convictions with courage.
As is typical in most Indian conglomerates, only four-to-five percent of the top positions at Mahindra Group are held by women. Mishra, however, has much experience navigating a male-dominated business space, and is passionate about creating an environment where women excel.
A working mother, she understands and appreciates the multiple hats her team members wear. She strives to create a work culture where they can balance both their professional and personal lives.
“Any work environment comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages; it’s important to be cognizant of those. As a woman in these spaces, it’s possible you’re surrounded by people who have made significantly fewer trade-offs in their professional lives,” she said.
Mishra’s hire at Mahindra Group marked a return to her original specialty: the industrial sector. She said her operations concentration through the Tauber Manufacturing Institute provided her with an interdisciplinary background in supply chain and manufacturing.
“I loved that, at Ross, I didn’t have to become a specialist in one field and become impervious to others. I have worked across pharmaceutical, banking, automotive, real estate, logistics, and power sectors. I wouldn’t have been successful in these different functions if I didn’t have such a broad management capability,” said Mishra.
Because of her involvement in Mahindra Group’s Global Program for Management Development, Mishra remains in contact with many of the U-M faculty members who inspired her. Through GPMD, the company collaborates with Ross to deliver nine days of training in strategic leadership.
Mishra’s professional choices have often been determined by her personal choices. She and her husband, who she met in a graduate business course at Michigan, had always planned to return to India to be close to their families and make an impact in their home country. They officially decided to relocate in 2010, while Mishra was working as an Engagement Manager at McKinsey.
When she needed a little less travel in order to start a family and manage life with a young child, Mishra transitioned from consulting to a corporate role. While she believes she still has a long way to go, she’s proud of her professional journey and has a wealth of advice to offer emerging business professionals.
“Always be clear about your priorities and don’t sweat the small stuff,” she said. “Don’t procrastinate, and be sure to ask for help when you need it.”