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Robert Walters Leadership Podcast E2: Conversation with Parag Arora, Citrix

In this episode of our Robert Walters Leadership Podcast in South East Asia, Joanne Chua, Regional Client Development Director – Asia of Robert Walters, engages Parag Arora, Area Vice President Networking, Asia Pacific & Japan at Citrix, to understand how he transited to a new role amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, lessons learned on communications, agility, innovation and customer success, and his advice to both experienced and younger leaders. 

From balancing topline results and business outcomes with your teams' needs to connect and experiment, to actively fostering a sense of community and a personal impetus to never start thinking you are already good enough, hear Parag's personal sharing on what leading in the front means in a post COVID-19 environment.

Our Robert Walters Leadership Podcast is part of our Powering Potential series, where we feature different leaders from diverse industries and the sharing of their experience, advice, and insights in the world of work. Watch the videocast here.

Interested in gaining more insights on how top business leaders are tackling the challenge of COVID-19 and the future of work? Download our ‘Redefining the Future Business Leader’ e-guide, or watch our on-demand webinar.

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Joanne Chua:
 Hello. Welcome to the Robert Walters Powering Potential. I'm Joanne Chua, Regional Client Development Director at Robert Walters, and I'm your host for this episode in our leadership series. This series features leaders from around Asia Pacific with them sharing their experiences, advice and insights.

Today we are joined by Parag Arora, Area Vice President Networking, Asia Pacific and Japan of Citrix Systems. Citrix is an enterprise software company that provides technology, empowering organisations to unlock potential and deliver a better employee experience. Thank you Parag for making time for us.

Parag Arora: Absolutely. Look forward to it.

Joanne Chua: Great. Fantastic. So Parag, we understand that in the midst of the pandemic, you took on a new role in the form of Area Vice President Networking where companies were really rapidly making arrangements to transition their employees to work from home with the various lockdowns across the region.

Now what this means to your teams at Citrix would be they really had to find ways to help the customer scale up very swiftly. Must have been a stressful or challenging transition for you into this new role. How has the experience been like for yourself?

Parag Arora: I would say the last two to four months have felt like two years.

The amount of learning we went through is just amazing as a team. And I think in these times, it's so important that you have the entire team communicating and talking more frequently. So one of the big things for me, in the new role, was having a bigger team, more cross functional roles to work with, and then I'm hiring people across Asia Pacific and Japan. So how do you onboard people at this point of time was extremely important as well.

So I think one of the key things which really work for me was what I call overcommunication, and it's so important that you really communicate authentically and more thoughtfully, and make sure you understand the team, what they're doing. And especially in Asia Pacific with such a diverse culture, it's so important that you really create those one-on-one connections to the team as well.

And I think from a market standpoint, you're right. As in this has been an interesting time because I think every technology vendor - you need to really redefine how do you kind of position your solutions with the customers because customers have very specific demands in terms of how they make their employees productive, how do they secure their employees, their assets, and still be agile and keep on growing. So I think one of the key things for our business was to redefine our value proposition, how do we kind of position our solutions, and how do we talk to our customers, to our partners, because partners were extremely important to our success because they do form a very integral part of our success as well. So I think the key was about change, and whether externally with customers and partners and again internally with their employees, how do you react as soon as possible.

Joanne Chua: Right. And you mentioned earlier that you had to take on a larger team, you had new relationships within the organisation which you needed to build up. And on top of that you were also hiring.

How do you go about, and you talk about the key to this is really overcommunicating. How do you do that? I mean, yes, we talked about the use of the platforms, like Zoom, MS Teams, etc. But quite frankly, is there a limitation or, do you find that using such tools really help you in building new relationships that you will probably not have the privilege of doing prior to COVID-19?

Parag Arora: Absolutely. I think with the new tools, of course, we use Teams extensively within Citrix. And I think video generally is a very powerful tool as I figured out, as we've always thought video as not a very old tech tool, but now I think clearly in the last six months or five months, video has become our kind of de facto. And especially in a small group meetings, one-on-one meetings, video is extremely important.

And like in all my one-on-one Teams discussions or reviews with my direct reports or my cross functional team members, I generally make sure I connect with them on video, talk to them, and I felt that it’s more authentic and it's more genuine communication.

So absolutely, tools are really important. But again, as a leader, I think it's so important that you take the initiative because it's not always easy to find the time to do these things because A, you're dealing with business, your quarterly results, your weekly outcomes, at the same time, how do you make sure that people are aligned, you're really able to talk to them.

So really taking the time out every day on the calendar to make sure that you have time to talk to people, connect with them, and really kind of be able to communicate a more consistent framework across the business. I think it needs work, it needs proactivity, and it needs the good intent to make it happen.

Joanne Chua: Wow, not easy I must say. Besides just delivering topline results, the conversations have to go beyond business and to create authenticity, and personal conversations that must have been a challenge. How then did you go about maintaining a positive and forward-thinking mindset? How do you build up that sort of resilience that's needed in this crisis?

Parag Arora: Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. And I think, absolutely and not only us. I think, even with the kids, my own kids and with family, you talk about this right? I think this is the time and I think it’s so important that positivity was in the centre, in the front, right?

So I think generally I'm a very positive person. Generally, I look at things always on the positive side, but I think the key thing to me has been really learning very quick. As in I’ve figured out that in these times, it was so important that you quickly make mistakes, you unlearn them, you learn from them, and then you move forward. I think really how rapidly you move in the business - that was the first thing.

And second, I think it’s so important to keep yourself physically fit. I think, I just felt that in this time it’s so important that people are really keeping themselves really physically fit. Because that did make a lot of impact because your mind and how you operate has a lot of impact on how you physically feel.

So I think some of these things, and again there is no shortcut to working hard, right? I’ve always believed that if you work hard, if you put the effort behind it, you start seeing results. And as results come, you become more positive about things. So I think some of these things really helped me over the last few months, I would say.

Joanne Chua: Excellent. Now, you talked earlier about the need to make quick decisions, which sometimes may lead to mistakes. And it’s about quickly learning from these mistakes, right? How do you as a leader, create that sort of environment with your people that gives them the comfort that it's okay to make mistakes because in some organisations, some leaders do not allow for mistakes to exist or happen.

Parag Arora: Yes, I think, good question. So I think, for change to happen and to embrace change, it's so important that you innovate and experiment. I am a big believer that for innovation to happen, experimentation comes first. And when you say experimentation, I use this word very cautiously because experiments don't always succeed right? So I think in the business to have that, you create an environment for the team to feel secure that what they do, their new ideas, their new suggestions, A, I think they're acceptable, and B, we give them a chance to see if it works for them or not, or for the business. So I've always encouraged new ideas.

And again, I won't say it's a pretty not thought-out strategy, as in we do spend time to brainstorm ideas before we implement things; not that every idea we take and just implement that, so we do make sure we, as a small team, look at those opportunities and see what makes sense. But again, after a quick first level qualification, we try to implement things as early as possible.

Joanne Chua: Excellent. And what would you say are some of the key leadership traits you think would be important for the leaders of the now and future?

Parag Arora: I think one of the key things for any leader, moving forward, or even now, I think there are three or four important things which is what you are looking for.

One is Growth. In every business, I think growth becomes first. The second is profitability, and third is innovation as in how quickly you innovate in the business. And finally, I think how well you manage your teams. So I think these are the key things which I've seen, which are important to any leader.

And especially personally for what's worked for me, and I would encourage others to do so as well, is to lead from the front. It’s so important for a leader that to really lead from the front, and really demonstrate to the team that what you mean by what you say. And so I think that's one of the key things I would say, is have the right energy and agility in yourself. You create an environment where people are always pepped up, they look at you as somebody who's doing things around with them, be more participative, don't make the team feel that they have failed without you failing together.

I think some of these things are extremely important. But I think for me, I would say lead from the front, have the energy, your mental energy, your emotional energy, your physical energy to make sure that you really can create an environment where speed becomes first, and you really focus on customer outcomes.

And the second thing is, I think it's very dear to my heart, is what I call customer success, and I know this word has been there for a long time. But I've always felt that everybody in the business, whether you're a leader or anybody else, every day when you wake up, you should think that what I'm doing right now in the business, how does this really help my customers, does it really bring them value or not?

And that mindset really creates a very different level of urgency, different level of thought process, and even innovative mindset in people because you start getting into the head of the customers and thinking, “Hey, how would this help my customer?" So I think some of these would be really important takeaways. And I would think these are theories of leadership which have been there forever, and they will never go off I would think in the near future.

Joanne Chua: So a lot has happened in the last six months, have you observed yourself shifting in the way you lead at all?

Parag Arora: Yeah, I would lie if I say I have not. As in, absolutely, I think being adaptive, I would say the need to adapt was so high in this time, as in I think as leaders, sometimes we do get so siloed in our ways of thinking. I think these last six months really gave time to a lot of us to go back and reflect and rethink "hey, what's working, not working", and just be more adaptive, and I think personally for me, I would say that the adaptation rate was pretty high in the last six months. And again, this was absolutely needed, if we didn't adapt, if I didn't adapt myself and the team, we wouldn't have been successful.

So yeah, again, like a great example, I tell people that as sales team, for many years, when you've been selling to customers, you go and travel around the world, you meet customers, you present to them in their offices, you meet them, you socialise with them sometimes, but in these last six months, I think pretty much everybody was selling on the phone, and what I call this is a huge global experiment of inside selling.

So this was a huge adaptation as well - how do you really make your customers understand your value proposition, how you empathise virtually, how you make yourself more relevant. So I think the way we communicate, the way we interact with customers or partners, the way we work internally, I think it had a dramatic shift, even for me personally because I was always a person who love to go out and meet people, and hang out for a drink in the evening, connect with people, socialise with them because I felt it was a very important part of the business.

For last six months, it's pretty much gone, with the little bit of that happening now in Singapore with five people coming together. So yeah, that was a big adaptation for me I would say, to really create that environment of collaboration and trust in the teams and with our customers as well.

Joanne Chua: Yeah, I empathise with you. I share that challenge as well in the last six months where we can’t go out and physically engage with our clients.

Last but not least, there are some among our listeners who are the younger leaders, up-and-coming leaders, would you have some final learnings or sharings that you would like to impart to them?

Parag Arora: Yeah, I think a few important things. I think the first thing I would say, very often when you're young in the business, you think hey I have done my MBA, I've done my PHD, or I have done my engineering whatever, so I am now going to work. I think the first thing is don't stop learning. I really feel that anybody who comes into any business, you should never think that “Hey, I’m graduated now. And I've stopped learning.” I think that's so important for new leaders to come with a thought process of never stop learning, as in you’ve graduated, great, but you have to keep on learning.

And I think the second thing is really the power of working together. I think a lot of the new generation is so used to working on social media, and really using the tools so effectively. But again we should never forget the power of a team is something nobody can reckon with. So it's so key that within your company, within your partner community, within a customer community, how do you really create a sense of team, where there is belongingness, common shared vision amongst everybody, and taking the initiative to go and create these partnerships. So yeah, I think that the second thing I would say is how do you work and collaborate better.

And third, I would say is, the sky's the limit; never stopped thinking that what you have achieved is good enough, as in I've grown with that thought process myself, as a graduate from engineering college and an MBA school, that you know that the limit is never defined, you have to keep on redefining what you want to achieve. So keep on aiming for bigger goals, and that's the only way you will be there.

Joanne Chua: Wow, so many nuggets of truth that you have shared in the last 20 minutes, Parag. I really appreciate your time.

And really, thank you so much once again for taking the time to discuss with us your experiences and insights today. Greatly appreciate it, and I'm sure our viewers will also enjoy your sharing.

Parag Arora: Absolutely. Thank you very much.

Joanne Chua: Thank you Parag. Have a nice day.

Parag Arora: Thank you.

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