It’s widely believed that overcoming early difficulties leads to greater success in life. This is exemplified by the success story of Sudha Mahajan, who is now General Manager and Partner at Azure Core. In 1999, Sudha arrived in the United States to study for a Master’s in Computer Science with limited funds. She took a job as a low-paying lab assistant while in college. Despite graduating with her Master of Science degree during a tough recession in 2001, finding employment was difficult as an international student. With few options, Sudha went door to door with her resume, hoping for a break. Unfortunately, most of her attempts were unsuccessful. During recession it was particularly hard for international students needing the visa to be eligible for working in United States.
As things were getting worse daily, Sudha started going door to door with her CV, hoping to meet someone who could believe and provide her with an opportunity. However, most of her conversations with companies ended in the first sentence itself.
During one such day, Sudha handed her resume to the HR Manager of Macrovision (Tivo), Lynne Kelly, for a Junior Engineer position, who eventually offered Sudha her first role as an Engineer in Macrovision.
“Macrovision has been very close to my heart since I moved into Product Management from Engineering, the career I cherish and love. This was also a place where I got my first mentor, Alfred Amoroso (former CEO of Tivo), who taught me the value of giving back. I maintain my connection with him even to this date, and we connect whenever we can,”– she remembered.
Later in May 2008, Sudha joined another iconic company, Yahoo!, where she led the tech giant’s largest display advertising and data platforms. She helped to grow the company by building next-generation advertising systems. Sudha also led several leadership positions in Women in Technology ERG, supporting women in their growth and development.
“Some of my best memories and best friends are from Yahoo! We have a strong alumni network with folks working in very successful positions at top companies,”– she said.
In January 2016, Sudha joined Flipkart as its Head of Products-Customer Experience. She joined the Indian e-commerce platform as its first woman ex-pat from Silicon Valley. As the Head of Products, Sudha enjoyed building solutions related to post-purchase experiences and witnessed great success in improving customer experiences.
Sudha joined eBay in 2017 as its Head of Products- Ads ecosystem and led a global team of product managers for first-party advertising with multi-billion dollars in run rate, using some of the most sophisticated algorithms.
Now, as the General Manager and Partner- of Azure Core, Sudha is leading Microsoft’s product management team for core products and experiences on Azure CloudNet and building one of the best multi-billion-dollar cloud businesses with a commitment to the culture of inclusion and customer obsession.
“Microsoft is one of the best places I have worked at. I lead product management for the Azure Networking portfolio of services. We are on a mission to build the most resilient, reliable, and scalable network for our customers,”– she said.
Empowering People to Achieve More
With a global target audience, Microsoft needs to have a diversified team. The tech giant’s mission is deeply inclusive, and it aspires to empower every person and organization to achieve more. Each of its employees—no matter what level, role, or function—plays an active role in helping Microsoft innovate for inclusion so that everyone can bring all of who they are and do their best work.
“Microsoft has various Employee Resource Groups. I am an ally to Blacks at Microsoft and active in Women at Microsoft, as well as participate in our diverse hiring. The result is that we have diverse voices and perspectives in building our products which leads to better user experience,”- Sudha explained. “As a part of being a mentor to the principal women’s ring, I am deeply vested in their success. This has enabled the ring to share its learnings, and we unblocked them to deliver the best results at work.”
All these programs have helped Microsoft cultivate an environment of inclusiveness, which has brought diversified voices to the organization.
Since starting her career in 2003, Sudha has built multi-billion dollars of business with consistent ways to grow revenue, customer growth, and retention. She also pioneered building the next generation Advertising systems at Yahoo! and growing that business to Billions of dollars was one that she feels proud of. This was a challenging thing to do. So, Sudha and her team moved away from traditional targeting to user intent-based Ads.
Sudha also feels great about building strong customer experience-focused products on Flipkart. “We wanted to provide our users with the best possible experiences when the product quality did not match what they ordered. This led to new and improved service recovery experiences, which customers can use in case they see an issue with the product. We measured our success via a new metric called Resolution rate, which was the true measure of customer satisfaction as opposed to standard CSAT,”– she explained.
Lastly, in Microsoft, she helped to launch multiple impactful initiatives in the Cloud that directly impact the user experience of E2E when they use Microsoft’s service. This has led to revenue growth, improved customer satisfaction, and better reliability of its services.
A Female Leader in a Largely Male-Dominated Industry
This is an area where Sudha strongly felt the power of Allyship. She has been the only woman in the room many times but has mostly felt very supported. She considers herself lucky to serve companies like Microsoft and others, where the diversity of opinions is welcomed and celebrated.
“I recall an incident when I was eight months pregnant and was late for a meeting. When I entered the room, it was full, with no chair. My manager, who was presenting, looked at me and said can someone please vacate a chair for Sudha. Within seconds 4 people stood up. I felt embarrassed for taking their seat but looking back, I will do it every time for other pregnant women,”- she explained. “I also remember an incident when I was sitting at a meeting where critical decisions were made. During the conversation, a few people spoke, and it looked like the decision was made. I had some critical data which could have helped with decision-making. So, I raised my hand. At that time, there was no culture of raising hands since everyone needed to make decisions was mostly in the room. But the biggest difference it made- I was noticed. Two people immediately intervened before we could move to the next topic, requesting my opinion.”
Sudha and her team launched the next-generation Ad serving system with the most well-respected algorithms. These were expected to give them a much better yield as Yahoo is a big publisher. However, they leaned too much towards profitability and yield optimization resulting in some critical feedback from their Advertisers. The sales team was unhappy, and migration to this new platform was dealt with revolt. Eventually, the team turned this around, iterating fast and having a balanced approach of being an industry first but also not being too ahead that adoption becomes a problem. So fail fast, learn fast became one of her biggest learnings.
Suggestions for Younger Self
Sudha feels that gratitude could be the most undervalued trait, but she sees its power of it. “No one reaches height alone, and there is a village that supports everyone. Gratitude towards your managers, mentors, sponsors, family members, peers, partners, and friends who have helped you during our journey is one characteristic I strongly value and practice.”- she suggested.