|2 Nov 2020|
Currently at the helm of Resource Management, Group Digital for Petronas in Kuala Lumpur, Vishnu Venkatesh says his “secret” for continually progressing in his career is taking risks, developing people skills and learning from others.
Vishnu was born in Bangkok and, along with twin brother Vinodh, did his elementary and high schooling in Spain and Libya before moving back home to KL and ISKL in his Sophomore year. Vishnu shared his story with ISKL Alumni’s Lynette MacDonald.
LM: ISKL prides itself on treating every student as an individual learner. You and your twin Vinodh both studied at ISKL, but chose different pathways after school - tell me a little about your interests at High School and how that was supported at ISKL.
VV: This was more a product of circumstance than anything else. When we moved to the US for college, we declared the same major (Management Information Systems) despite joining different universities. In the end, I graduated in Economics and he graduated with a double major in Spanish and Public Policy Analysis. So while we were kind of on the same path up to leaving high school, we discovered our true interests in college and diverged in our paths from there onwards. Truth be told, leaving high school, I had no idea about the working world, or how college would get me to where I wanted to go (especially since I didn’t know where I wanted to go career-wise in the first place).
LM: How did you end up studying Economics at Old Dominion University - what led you down that path?
VV: I ended up studying economics because it was the closest thing to political science in the business school. I had already committed to several years as a business major (first specializing in MIS, then Accounting), and switching to Political Science would’ve meant having to take up even more credits to graduate. At that point, I needed to graduate as soon as possible as I was already behind by a couple of years. The Econ major was my fastest route to graduate.
LM: Your resume reads very much like mine - you've moved and tried new or different things! How has your career developed, at what points did you change tack, what have you learned from each of the career changes?
VV: So I started out in a Sales role with Standard Chartered Malaysia, and from there I progressed into agency recruitment (headhunting) for oil and gas, and then banking and IT. Agency recruitment is basically a sales role as well, it’s just that I was selling people to employers as opposed to financial products to clients. So it was more of a natural progression than it lets on. From agency recruitment, I took on a couple of contract roles in IT, the first of which was to demo a recruitment technology product to other recruitment agencies in Asia, so again a Sales/Pre-sales type role, but targeting an industry that I was previously a part of.
After an unsuccessful dalliance with software sales working for Oracle in Singapore, I decided to move back to recruitment and specialized more in recruiting Cybersecurity professionals into banks and corporates in Singapore. I only did that for a year before moving back to Malaysia for family reasons after my dad passed away.
The stint as a Cybersecurity recruiter in Singapore did serve me well though, because it opened up the opportunity for me to secure an internal recruitment contract role for one of the biggest Cybersecurity companies in the world, BAE Systems. This was a six-month contract that served its purpose in terms of positioning me for future employment in HR/Corporate. There was no way I would go back to work for a recruitment agency, having to constantly sing for my supper every month; internal recruitment was the way to go. Once my six-month contract was up with BAE Systems, Petronas came knocking for an opportunity with Group Digital. My current role leverages on my previous experience recruiting talent for technology and cybersecurity roles, as well as my people management experience. The role itself is dual-pronged, managing a team of sourcing operations folks as well as a strategy team for resource management.
As far as what I’ve learned, to me, it is more important to be savvy than it is to be knowledgeable. While certain technical professionals are irreplaceable in their fields, to those of us who aren’t numerate geniuses, people skills matter more.
LM: Does the experience across different roles make you a better leader?
VV: I am more inclined to take risks with my career, but I’m not sure if that it makes me a better leader. Sometimes quiet leadership can be more effective than someone constantly bigging themselves up, which can be off-putting.
LM: What does your role at Petronas entail and how does your other experience support the role?
VV: At PETRONAS, I am responsible for the external (vendor) resource management strategy and operations, and I’m the custodian of all external manpower contracts for Group Digital. Frankly, I’m not sure if my previous work experience has fully prepared me for this responsibility. I am learning as I go along, and focusing on nurturing relationships with people smarter than me who can help me accomplish my goals.
LM: Do you have any favorite memories of ISKL to share?
VV: I was in the yearbook staff my junior year, and was also part of “Who Cares?”, a community service club, we were involved in various service related activities, but the most rewarding for me was spending time on weekends with pediatric cancer patients in KL General Hospital. The experience helped me appreciate everything I had and come to terms with the fact that nothing is permanent in life. I really loved being in Ryan Carey’s history classes, he was a great teacher that taught us more than just history, he taught us how to carry ourselves and be a good person. Mr. Ewan Crouch was an amazing teacher as well. I had him for two years in Biology, and I have never come across a more caring and selfless teacher in my life.
LM: How has an international education influenced who you are as a person and what's it like to come back to Malaysia after spending quite some time studying and working outside the country?
VV: I really appreciate my time at ISKL, it was a unique opportunity for me, and it has shaped who I am ever since. The teachers and resources available to me at the time were truly exceptional, and I’m very thankful that the experience helped mold my worldview and kept me thinking and questioning things wherever I found myself in life after high school.
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