Business Today

A Healthy Affair

Sangita Singh wants to make health care a billion-dollar business for Wipro.
twitter-logo Sunny Sen   Delhi     Print Edition: Aug 31, 2014
Sangita Singh, Chief Executive of Healthcare & Life Sciences at Wipro
Superwoman: Sangita Singh's strength lies in her ability to make a plan and also see it through execution. Photo: Deepak G Pawar.

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Sometime in 2005, top executives of Indian IT company Wipro - including then-CEO Suresh Vaswani - met the senior leadership of German business-software maker SAP to discuss a deal. The meeting concluded without any agreement, and Leo Apotheker, then-Head of Operations at SAP who went on to become CEO, told Wipro executives: "I don't think you get it."

This didn't go down well with Sangita Singh, now 45, who had just switched roles from being Wipro's marketing head to running the enterprise application business unit. She told Apotheker that he didn't understand Wipro. "You don't get the whole picture," she said, and asked for some time to come back with a concrete plan. It took a year before the next meeting took place. This time it was even attended by Wipro Chairman Azim Premji, a doyen of the Indian IT industry.

Special Moments: Sangita Singh with son Utkarsh in 1999.
This time Apotheker and the SAP leadership were so impressed with the new proposal that they signed what was then the first global system integration contract, where Wipro had brought in deals worth $100 million - all thanks to Singh. "She is hard working, very dedicated, and focused. She was in-charge of the relationship between SAP and Wipro, and she grew that relationship significantly," says Apotheker, who went on to become the CEO of Hewlett-Packard after his stint with SAP.

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Today, Singh, who is often called Wipro's rising star, heads the $700 million Healthcare and Life Sciences business, which contributes 11.6 per cent to the company's revenue. She plans to take it to $1 billion in the next two to three years.

Singh, however, hasn't had everything her own way. One day, in 2011, when Singh was sharing her full day's schedule with her husband, her phone rang. It was past midnight and the call was from T.K. Kurien, who had just taken over as the new Wipro CEO. He wanted her to head the health-care business, which was then a small part in Wipro's overall scheme of things. Enterprise Apps, which she was heading then, in fact, contributed more revenue to the company.

The first among many challenges encountered by Singh involved building a team. Singh wondered why people would join her team considering there were goliaths in health care in the form of IBM, Accenture and Cognizant. "I had to create 'Why Wipro?' for the team, for the customers. I wasn't coming from a position of strength. I was like a vagabond you see on the streets of New York," she says.

Singh travelled 21 days in a month, and practically lived out of her black Samsonite suitcase. The other two things that always accompanied her were a Sony 'Size Zero' laptop, and a Louis Vuitton purse (gifted by her team). She finally managed to build a team, and started getting big contracts, including a $440 million deal her company signed with Japan's Takeda Pharmaceutical last year.

"Sangita's work ethic, sharp business sense, relentless pursuit of goals and her ability to spot and nurture talent makes her a key asset for Wipro," says Kurien on email.

Sangita at a 2013 Wipro event 'All Hands Meet' in Bangalore.
Singh got married early, and by 1996 had her first child, a son. She once made a rather difficult decision to send her five-month-old son to her in-laws place in Patna because her office did not have a crèche. At one point she almost quit Wipro and was about to join Mindtree, started by a bunch of ex-Wipro hands, but decided to stay back at Wipro for the love of the place.

Singh says to get to the position she is in now, she had to make a lot of difficult choices. One such decision was to move to New York all alone when she took up the role of heading the health-care division. "It didn't go down well with my in-laws," she says.

In 2005, when she started heading Enterprise Apps, she didn't have much of an option. "I was a rookie and I absorbed (things) and that has worked for me." Enterprise Apps was something Wipro wasn't good at. It was a business best run only by consultants from companies such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young then.

Click to watch video of Sangita  Singh

"Wipro wasn't in the top consideration list of companies in the enterprise app space," says Singh. Worse, her team wasn't willing to accept her as a boss. "I wasn't a very pleasant person to work with. I was leading people who were leading their domain. I had to work hard to win their respect."

For Lakshminarayana, Chief Endowment Officer at Azim Premji Foundation, who has known Singh ever since she began her career, she is, perhaps, the best reviewer the company has. "She [Singh] looks into minute details - which customer, which project, which resource - and she learnt all that very fast." Singh agrees, saying that one of her strengths is the ability to make a plan and execute it.

There are, however, things that even Singh needs to work on. She is, for instance, trying to manage her time better. She also wants to be less emotional. "Things don't affect me, but affect people around me. I can throw a fit," she sums up.

Sangita Singh after winning her first big healthcare deal with Catholic Healthcare, in Chennai, in 2011.

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