If destiny had had its say, she would have been a practising doctor today. Instead, she chose to move away from the conventional path of certainty, to do something completely different, even if that meant walking away from what her parents always aspired for her.
Though, Anuranjita Kumar had enrolled for a degree in medicine, in a few months’ time, she realised that this wasn’t meant for her. Kumar, who is now MD, CHRO, Citi South Asia chose to pursue industrial psychology, instead. Like they say- ‘If you don’t like the road you’re walking, start paving another one.’
Letting go of a seat in a medical college to pursue psychology was nothing less of a disastrous decision in the late 1980s – a ‘blunder’ as many would choose to term it.
However, driven and firm as she is, Kumar paved her own path, and her perseverance led to success.
“We all start with the same drive and emotions when we are born, but what’s truly important is what we manage to make of ourselves as we traverse through our life’s journey. I truly believe that all of us are a result of our choices made with courage and conviction,” she asserts.
One thing led to another, and she finally landed at XLRI for her master’s.
“Post my graduation, the choice of next step was a critical one. On the advice of my mentors, I chose to join XLRI, to connect psychology to the corporate world,” she adds.
Kumar’s career kick-started with a large FMCG major, Procter & Gamble, in 1994, but she quit within a year to join Citi in 1995, her current employer.
Kumar had made an early shift from FMCG to BFSI. However, her short stint with the FMCG sector also had its share of learning as each industry and company is unique in its own terms with respect to the culture, people and processes.
“The basic difference between the two sectors was in the role and stage of maturity of the HR function in each. While the people practices in FMCG are stable, the BFSI sector allows more experimentation with the role of HR, thus paving the way for new ideas and techniques,” Kumar opines.
Though, Kumar has worked with only two companies in her entire career, she has had the good fortune to work across markets, be it in the US, Europe, Middle East, or Asia.
“Each culture or geography comes with its own work ethics and practices, and while you may not like all of it all the time, it’s yet another opportunity to expand yourself as a professional and an individual,” she observes.
In each role, there were challenges as well. Each experience and situation has played a part in shaping her career and life. She feels that though the decision to work across the globe was tough, it has really defined her as a professional.
“Working with one company for long helps one understand the system, workplace politics and become more adept at navigating one’s way through all of this, yet build a circle of trusted advisors and mentors."
Exposure to diversity has taught her to be open and flexible, yet retain the core of her own identity. “It has also defined the values and ideas that I bring to the workplace,” Kumar says.
She recalls how she broke the ice with a group of male colleagues in London.
“I was in a newly appointed role in London during the financial meltdown, and the business I was managing was a boys’ club. They had a fortress around them, and it was not easy to break through. As I entered the boardroom, I saw it was full of white men in their mid-40s. Post a formal introduction, I smiled politely and said, “Gentlemen, I add colour from every perspective here—be it my gender, colour of my skin, the way I talk. And also I don’t always wear black or grey... so this will be a hell of a ride!”
In the last 20 years with the company, her climb was fast. Opportunities poured in; diverse roles across geographies and markets beckoned and it all helped her evolve further.
Working with one company for two decades is as rare as a unicorn in current times. While it has become more of a norm to move around, Kumar believes that hanging on does have its pros and cons.
“Working with one company for long helps one understand the system, workplace politics and become more adept at navigating one’s way through all of this, yet build a circle of trusted advisors and mentors,” she asserts.
On the flip side, the disadvantages include “succumbing to complacency that might arise out of knowing the system too well and inflexibility to new things and approaches,” she adds.
However, one can always keep these at bay by taking on new roles at regular intervals and working in different geographies and cultures, as Kumar did.
Feisty and self- reliant by nature, Kumar’s professional growth has been fuelled by her drive to tread newer pastures.
In fact, she has fluidly shared this experiences in the book she has authored — Can I have it all? — where she writes how it is really important to constantly challenge and push oneself out of the comfort zone each day.
Through her journey, spanning 20 years as an HR professional, she has been witness to women struggling to juggle their families, life and work. Most of them get caught up in the web of marriage, maternity and mobility and often give up their careers due to societal pressure and expected gender roles.
Her book is a reflection of her personal and professional life and the learnings that have helped shape her. It draws from her personal experiences as a corporate professional, mother, wife, and daughter and hopes to leave the readers with a sense of hope.
Like any other individual and professional, her journey is fraught with crests and troughs of successes and failures. However, her inner strength, courage and conviction pushed her to make clear choices. “As for any woman, marriage, maternity and mobility have been challenging crossroads in my career. However, they have shaped me as an individual, as well as a professional,” she affirms.
Her journey has been influenced by her parents who provided her the best of education, even though, she grew up in a small town.
“I was moulded by the trust my family put in me when I made choices contrary to conventions and studied in the best educational institutions in the country,” she concludes.