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Debsena Chakraborty, a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School, on complex ideas, standing out and overcoming phobias.
I am the VP Business Development for mFilterIt in MENA. I have come to this program with sixteen years of experience in digital products marketing, OTT, and e-commerce sectors. My expertise lies in understanding the finer nuances of the digital ecosystem and what it takes to power digital commerce to accelerate and sustain digital growth. In 2016, the startup scene in India started blowing up, and I was intrigued by the entire valuation exercise and how the VC world works. I embarked on my LBS journey to help me fathom this complex world of unicorns.
I knew I was the odd one right from the start. I have a bad habit of over scrutinizing my ways and my capabilities. Being a Laidlaw scholar was a far fetched thought to begin with, and then I decided to live it. I researched about the scholarship and found my fellow alumnus make a wider impact at a global level, and their stories are truly inspiring. I was drawn to apply to the scholarship not only for the prestige the name carried but also for being the platform it is. My humble beginnings were a stimuli that helped me push boundaries and stand tall. I choose to use this experience and influence the digital world and make it a safer place.
What is the biggest life challenge you overcame, and what did you learn from it?
I had a phobia of public speaking. I was terrified to stand amidst a crowd to just about presenting anything, even if I was a master in the topic. As my role was getting bigger and my company expected me to represent them at events requiring me to deliver my expertise, I would just freeze. Unlike going for mundane workshops teaching old school nuances of public speaking, I decided to make it interesting for me. I signed up for a standup comedy workshop. I took a two months training and then performed in front of a crowd. While the experience was a nerve wracking ordeal, it was satisfying and liberating in a strange way. To be honest, I still get the chills when I go on stage, but I also get a deep satisfaction once I deliver. If this interests you, here is the clip.
What is the best piece of advice you have been given?
My ex boss once told me to simplify complex issues so my grandma could understand. That message has stuck with me ever since. As a marketing professional it is very important for me to simplify complex products/services so that my end users can better grasp it. Keeping things simple is a herculean task and needs mastering. I developed the ability to break down the most complex of webs into minute elements that can be stitched together to address stakeholders at all levels. This has also helped me immensely to build and nurture my team and keep them ahead of the curve.
What is the worst piece of advice you have been given?
As a child I was unlike most girls my age. I was super active and loved the outdoors, which was characterzied as unwomanly. I was always pushed to “fit in” and not stand out. I think if it were not for my parents, who appreciated me the way I was, I wouldn’t be here. They also helped me understand and appreciate my own uniqueness.
Top 3 tips that will help someone become a better leader
⚡ Stay Honest : When you stay honest in a situation, you allow your teammates and yourself to navigate it easily. You create more trust and allow your team to grow.
⚡ Stay Open: When you hire people, you hire them for their intelligence and expertise. So, let them show you the way. You might be surprised by how many good ideas can come up through a well nurtured open discussion.
⚡ Stay unbiased: Bias behaviour is very easy to spot and it creates a sense of insecurity in the team. The way I see it is to not get personal equations compromise a healthy work environment. Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
Which leaders in the world inspire you the most and why?
Sridhar Vembu, Ceo Zoho Inc. - Sridhar Vembu created Zoho, a prolific software company, as a social enterprise. He never lost focus of his goal of uplifting rural India through technological development. He hired people who shared the same ethos and look the company to great heights. He pushed boundaries to show that an enterprise can be profitable while benefiting the society. His passion and determination is something I thoroughly admire.
Indira Gandhi, the First and Only Female PM of India - During the 1960s, even the west did not have a female PM, Indira Gandhi was a firebrand who shaped India. From going to war, to leading India to the nuclear age, Indira Gandhi's achievements are still an enigma to all men & women in India. Representation is important, and Indira Gandhi gave the women in India a leader they can admire.
Sudarsan Chakravarty, my father - When we look for leaders, we seldom forget to look at the ground breaking efforts people close to you made to help you get to where you are. When I was born in 1980s, India, more importantly my small village, was very orthodox and outdated. A girl child was considered a liability, and a working wife a shame. My father stood against all odds to ensure my mother went out and had a job and then brought us up like we were sons and not daughters. He never made us feel inadequate. When I look back today, it shows me what strength of character looks like and how you need to contribute to the change that you really wanted to experience. And yes, he did change that place. My sister was the first girl child to leave the village and study in a different state, and then hundreds followed.
What does it mean for you to be a Laidlaw Scholar?
Being a Laidlaw scholar is a badge of honor that I will carry with pride for the rest of my life. It is simply amazing to be able to network and know so many brilliant individuals. The community helped me understand how we might come from diverse backgrounds but have similar vision about the future we want to create. Ultimately being a Laidlaw scholar means to contribute to make a world that is sustainable for generations to come.
Briefly describe a scene from the future you are striving to create.
The digital world is full of opportunities, but it is also infested by nefarious elements. Today our lawmakers are not equipped to handle a lot of challenges that arise from the online territory with their current expertise. In the long run, I wish to partner with governments and agencies to create laws and guidelines for the digital universe covering all aspects of the internet, from advertising to the metaverse. I dream of a future where scammers and fraudsters will not have a freehand to exploit innocent people around the world.
📺 Currently binging: Never Have I Ever
🎵 My current anthem: Break My Soul by Beyonce
📚 My top book recommendation: The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel
🎧 Podcast obsession: Stuff You Should Know
🌈 Something that made me feel joy recently: I love squash and have been trying to improve my game for a long time, but injuries keep bringing me down, but in the last month, I played some of my best games ever and remained injury free. Hurray!
Debsena is a Laidlaw Scholar at London Business School. You can find Debsena on LinkedIn. The Laidlaw Women's Business Education Scholarship aims to help build a pipeline of future women leaders through access to best-in-class education, resources and global networks by providing full and half scholarships to women who would not otherwise be in a position to reap the benefits of attending an outstanding school.
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Fisayo Adeleke on her mission to increase women's access to opportunities, and dealing with uncertainty.
Helena Couto on breaking out of your pre-defined place in society, and larger than life goals.
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