By Sunaina Narula
Contributing Author for Spark Igniting Minds
Neelam Dhawan, a mother of two children, a wife, managing director of a leading IT company Hewlett-Packard India, Neelam has played numerous roles in her journey of life. She is a tech icon who is an alumna of St. Stephens College, Delhi and did her Master’s in Business Administration from Delhi University from the Faculty of Management Studies. She faced huge challenges and fought her way up to reach the less crowded top positions. Her story is an impressionable one to the young females who, in this day and age too, think it is very difficult to survive as a woman in the tough corporate world.
Dhawan educated and honed her skills to face the pitfalls of the marketing sphere because she was convinced about her strengths. She did not plan her career path but was careful in her choices and wanted to be acknowledged for her hard work by breaking all barriers of her time. As a veteran in the industry, Dhawan liked winning and doing better than the rest was a major driving force for her. Her parents did not differentiate between their girl child and boy child, this instilled confidence in her at an early stage, making her think unconventionally, and go for things that she wanted to do relentlessly.
Back in her college days, neither Neelam nor anybody, be it her parents, teachers or mentor ever imagined that being a woman would be an obstacle in her career choice. In a way, she was blessed growing up in such an environment, but that didn't mean she didn't have her fair share of hurdles to overcome. She was reportedly refused the role in marketing in FMCG by Hindustan Lever (Hindustan Unilever of today) and Asian Paints. They thought that women were not meant to be in market-facing roles and this kind of role was typically a man’s job.
Instead of feeling dejected, she was determined to prove to the world and herself as she was sure of her choice and skill set. An unrelenting soul, a young Dhawan would not give up easily. The fire in her belly, clarity of thought to be in the field where no woman dared to step in and the unrestrained ambition to reach great heights of the then-nascent IT industry in the country, ensuring that she did what she was destined to do. In fact, one could say that she wrote her own destiny. Undeterred by rejection, she joined HCL, the hardware and IT services company, which was an unknown commodity in those days. She moved out of her comfort zone each time when she was challenged to make decisions. Her serious and responsible attitude made her noticeable resulting in awarding her with key roles.
Journey as a career-oriented woman
Neelam demonstrated leadership qualities since the very beginning of her career that spans three decades. She joined HCL as a trainee giving her the opportunity to sharpen and make the best use of her marketing skills. In 1986, she helped HCL launch "BusyBee" the first affordable PC. This was a time when no one put up hoardings and gave print ads for PCs, but Neelam did, a feat which pales in comparison to her later years. She worked hard for 14 years and as her career also progressed along with the company, Neelam knew that this is where she needed to be. Her education, skills and whatever knowledge she had were tested in resolving different kinds of marketing challenges which not only gave her career the boost but also provided her with ample opportunities to exercise her sales and marketing skills.
After spending a decade and a half at a single company that traded in an ambiguous field, Neelam could foresee the promise that lay inside the uncertainty of this industry. So, it was quite expected that she worked at Compaq for six years before she joined IBM as vice president and member of the company's board of directors. In the 1990s, distribution channels were not common, Neelam (with IBM then) set up India’s first channel network for Tier-II towns to sell IBM machines. Her progress and success in these two Companies awarded her with goodwill and repute with technology majors. She joined Hewlett Packard in 1999 for the first time as its vice president of Customer Solutions group. The new century was of the service industries. HP got its first out-sourcing contract in 2003. Her career had taken off remarkably from an unknown company to a leadership role in a multinational company.
In 2005, she took an assignment with Microsoft (India). Up until now, she had been selling hardware products. At Microsoft, however, her role changed to other aspects of the IT business. Besides learning about managing people and taking home the value of technology, she dealt with channel partners and customers alike and ultimately gave Microsoft India the recognition as Subsidiary of the Year in APAC in just a year. She soon became the face of the brand and earned her position as she returned to HP in 2008 as managing director, heading the Indian business.
While this was a powerful role, it was equally a demanding one. She steered the company through rough times when it was facing a lot of competition from rival companies like Dell and Lenovo, and through unstable market conditions during a time of the falling dollar value in the first half of 2012. But all this did not stop her and she proved herself to be a real warrior. Impressed by her work, Meg Whitman, the global leader of HP assigned her an extended portfolio of IT services and software engineering research. She worked on shaping the company’s overall business agenda and leading its strategy to make HP the most admired company in India.
Neelam is currently Head of India Advisory Board at IBM, a Board member at Royal Philips, Netherlands, ICICI Bank Limited India, and Yatra Online Inc. She is on the Governing Board of IIIT, Delhi. She also advises and mentors various organizations on business transformation.
While a career is important to her, equally important is her family. She is married to Atul Dhawan, a supportive husband who is a partner at Deloitte. Atul and Neelam Dhawan have two daughters, Naina and Nupur.
She says- “The moment you tell yourself that your family and career are equal, you will make time for both” She plays the role of being a doting mother, a supportive wife and an inspiring industry leader with equal passion.
While Neelam exudes an aura of dreams, I stand here humbled by the beauty of not only her success story but the persona of her emerging from a cocoon in vibrant colors - Colours that will inspire many young girls to dream, colors that will do our tricolor proud and most importantly colors that remind me that I still have a hope to dream.
(Featured Image from Google)