John Hoffmire: Big congratulations, Siddharth, on your recent appointment as the Managing Director for Pearson-India & Asia. It has been a few years since you were a CRISP (Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme) Fellow at Oxford in 2013. Tell us what you have been up to over the years.
Siddharth: Thank you, John. When I came to Oxford in 2013 as a CRISP Fellow, I was at Unilever, which gave me fabulous exposure across categories, countries, and cultures. Towards late 2015, as I completed 15 years in the CPG industry, I decided to invest the next 15 years in consumer-facing digital businesses. I moved to Vodafone India to head Marketing and also led a global Vodafone business accelerator unit (mWomen) across 12 markets in Asia and Africa. I followed that with a stint on the leadership team at Facebook India as the Country Director- Global Sales Organization (GSO), driving monetization. Just recently, I was the Chief Revenue and Marketing Officer for Games24x7, one of India’s leading gaming companies. In summary, John, it has been an exciting journey in diverse consumer and technology industries over the past 21+ years.
John: I observe an interesting pattern here. Unilever in CPG, Vodafone in telecom and now Pearson in learning and education – all globally renowned organizations with a British heritage. Tell us more on how this happened?
Siddharth: I feel extremely privileged and fortunate to be a part of these iconic institutions, which are also integral to building the UK-India business relationships over the years. Unilever has shaped my professional foundations, both in business and leadership. My Vodafone stint gave me an opportunity to build a fabulous winning team and I believe we created some magic together – business results, brand, and awards. Now, I look forward to my Pearson role to work with our talented teams and build our business in Asia. The British heritage you observed has ensured frequent visits to “Global HQ” over the years, and that is why London is one of my favourite cities in the world.
John: I’ve seen several of our CRISP alumni coming from organizations like Tata – solid companies that are more than a century old. Where did your interest in technology businesses come from?
Siddharth: I believe that the Indian Internet ecosystem is the most dynamic place in the world currently. 1.3 billion people, around 700 million phones, broadly 500 million on WhatsApp, low data prices, disruption caused by Fintech, Edu-Tech and Gaming startups, VC/PE investments flowing in and overall, intense action in entrepreneurship with changing consumer behaviours. Hence, I wanted to immerse myself in the new digital world and work with the best. In addition, I learn every day in my personal capacity as an angel investor in New Age Media and D2C start-ups and as a mentor to tech founders.
John: Agreed – sounds like you have been staying busy. I’m curious, when you build a diverse and interesting career journey like yours, what principles have you used to think through your choices?
Siddharth: Well, there are three parts to how I think about this. First, my career choices are driven by my life thesis, which is that we will (hopefully) live a 100-year life, as medical science advances. As opposed to the past, when life was broadly segmented into study, work and retire, this longer lifespan in the 21st century will allow for non-linear journeys. Hence, it is entirely possible that one goes from being a student, to being a corporate person, to being an entrepreneur, to being a student again, to be being a consultant/super-temp, to being a start-up advisor, and so on. The necessary condition is demonstrating learning agility to keep your skills and experiences relevant and deliver impact across your roles. I achieve this via my career choices and my constant re-skilling via executive education. The second premise that I operate on is that lifespan has to be accompanied with healthspan, which is why I have built habits and rituals which support my daily life and professional journey – that’s where long-distance running and Ayurveda come in for me. Third, I believe everybody has his or her own way of learning. I learn best by absorption and inspiration – hence, I have consciously chosen diverse operating environments where I can learn from people smarter and more experienced than me – and that allows me to hyper-learn every day, keep growing and evolving, and deliver impact in all my roles.
John: Fascinating. On that note, let us talk about learning and education since that is your new industry now. I want to ask you about your experiences with a former Harvard Business School professor and a dear friend and mentor of mine, Clayton Christensen. Tell me about those experiences, if you will.
Siddharth: My CRISP cohort was extremely lucky that, during our three months at Oxford, Dr. Christensen was at Oxford’s Said Business School on a fellowship and taught his theory of disruptive innovation and strategy to our class. Gratitude to you and the Oxford SBS team for that opportunity. It was a game changer for us, and it certainly helped me develop a more strategic mindset around innovation and disruption. The key point I remember learning from Dr. Christensen was that he never told us what to think; instead, he taught us how to expand our thinking regarding strategy, innovation, and disruption. And I guess that holds true for the larger inter-disciplinary knowledge that we gathered in our CRISP fellowship, learning how to connect the dots to solve a large problem.
John: Anyone who got to spend time with Clayton was fortunate indeed! One thing I remember about you from your time in Oxford is that you are a man of many interests – from writing to coffee connoisseurship, to, as you mentioned earlier, long distance running. I believe you are a bestselling author now. Tell us more about that.
Siddharth: Yes, and I do still miss my runs at Oxford – starting from St Antony’s across to the University Parks. To your question, about my post CRISP writing, I had the good fortune to collaborate on two book projects. I co-authored “Speechless”, a DIY Book on public speaking with one of India’s best orators, Roshan Abbas. Then, my wife, Eika Chaturvedi Banerjee (interestingly, a Chevening Gurukul Scholar – 2018) and I teamed up to write 52RedPills, a book combining the best of modern science and ancient wisdom with the premise of making all of us healthy, wealthy, and wise. How that book came about is a story for another day! Both books have been warmly received and we are invited regularly to share our experience with companies and industry associations on these themes.
John: Finally, before I let you go, given your distinguished career experiences and your constant passion for learning, what advice would you give to prospective Chevening aspirants?
Siddharth: I have only one piece of advice to share, that I also live by – keep learning and growing every day. To do so, one will need to have an agile mindset and harness the learning resources available readily in today’s global digital village. Specific to Chevening aspirants, I would say that my time as a CRISP Fellow at Oxford was an experience of a lifetime, and I would heartily recommend this fellowship to prospective applicants for widening their intellectual horizons and becoming part of a vibrant global community.
John: Thank you, Sid. It has been fun to catch-up on the work you have been doing and to learn more about your rich career journey, your multiple interests, and the influence that spending time at Oxford has had on you and your CRISP colleagues.
Siddharth: It has been my pleasure, John. Thank you for taking an interest in what I do and for keeping the CRISP community connected and updated. `
Siddharth Banerjee is the Managing Director for Pearson India & Asia and an alumnus of the Chevening Research Science and Innovation Leadership Programme (CRISP), 2013.
Interviewer: Dr. John Hoffmire is the Chairman of the Center on Business and Poverty, and Research Associate at the Oxford Centre for Mutual and Co-owned Business.