Deepak Acharya, General Counsel & Chief Risk Officer, Wipro Shares His Top Three Golden Tips For A Purpose Driven Career

Very early in his career, Deepak had decided that at the age of 50, he would want to be the General Counsel of a global multinational company. In this enriching talk with Ashima Ohri, Managing Editor, BW Legal World, he shares how risk taking, aligning with organizational values and solution oriented attitude has helped him grow in his illustrious career.

Deepak, Would you briefly share about your illustrious legal journey 

I joined Procter and Gamble Company in 1992 and joined in India as the Legal Counsel. Soon after I joined the company, we had a joint venture with Godrej and I was a company secretary and the counsel for Procter and Gamble Ltd. 

After a few years of working on joint ventures, as well as on PNG business. I volunteered to do some more work for the company in terms of geographies and the company was kind enough to consider me for Malaysia, in addition to India so I started handling Malaysia and soon that Malaysia assignment became kind of an ASEAN assignment. 

A time came when I moved from India to Singapore, which was our regional headquarters, and I worked there for three years in what was known as the AI region for Procter and Gamble. AI stands for ASEAN Australia and India, and I worked there for three years as a regional counsel and moved back to India. Then, as a general counsel for India,, Ashok was handling India at that time moved to Singapore and I moved to India to handle, General Counsel position, worked in India for four years. Then I moved from there to Geneva in Switzerland. Again, with Procter and Gamble in there I started to handle a region called CEMEA, which is an acronym, that stands for Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. Huge region with around 90 countries. I was the general counsel for senior, and managing that region, which was kind of a mini world in a way because it had all the legal systems that you can imagine, in the world, and successfully worked there for four years, and thereafter I moved to Singapore, again but this time in Singapore I was handling much bigger assignment or a bigger role including Japan, Korea, China and ASEAN, of course, was part of my, my role. Exactly three years ago in February, 2018. I got the opportunity to move out of Procter and Gamble, and get into a present job that I'm in, which is WIPRO. This was an opportunity that was of Global General Counsel role. My team is between 130- 140 lawyers. I started in February of 2018, and soon enough company gave me additional responsibility for global government relations. Then I started to handle legal global government relations. 

Very recently I've been also given a much broader responsibility for being the chief risk officer and enterprise cybersecurity, so my team which was at one time, 140 people as I told you is now close to 450 people working together with me as my colleagues and my team. The reason I'm sharing all of this with you because the topic that I wanted to talk to you today was, Basically, purpose driven career and how do you make sure that on as a purpose driven career but at the same time, a caveat that I will put here is, I'm not trying to give a lecture or trying to tell you what worked for me but work for everyone, or what worked for me was the best or the ideal kind of a situation, but certainly what I want to do is give you some learnings and tips that worked with me, and then let you take a decision as to what works best for you, and does it help you or does it not help you. So, as you can tell, my experience has been mainly with only two companies so far. Pretty much 26 years I worked with Procter and Gamble, although one company, one multinational global company, but I worked in different geographies, different roles in different countries, which by itself was, although the base and the purpose of the company was same, the cultures were very different. So, you can say, India is very different from the way we work in Singapore. In fact, to Singapore where I had the two terms, I worked initially for three years and later on for another three years and both the times, the culture was pretty much different because of the region, initially was small. And when I joined the second time the region was fairly big close to $11billion of business that we were doing or $12 billion that we are doing now. So, my experience is actually based on only working with two companies. 

Could you talk us through about a career defining moment in your illustrious journey? What is the mantra that has worked for you in creating a successful path in your career?

Very early on in my career I realized that it is very critical to have the end in mind or what is the purpose of my life. It's a bit of a philosophical question, but I think having that question, and having the curiosity to ask that question to yourself is very important. The answer to that question can determine, actually, what kind of career you would want to have, and what do you want to do in your professional life. Of course, what I am sharing with you also works on the personal front which worked very well for me as well. For example, beginning with the end in mind is what I was referring to, can also apply this very much to my personal life and personal goals. But as I was sharing with you, early on in my career, I had the opportunity to think about this issue, or because I was fortunate to join an  interesting training program in Procter and Gamble, and that training program was Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and in that training program, Habit two is all about, begin with the end in mind, which is you start thinking about how you want to end what you have started. That kind of forced me to think about the purpose, and that started me, looking at what I want to achieve in my career and what I want to do in my career. Believe it or not, very early on in my career, I had already decided that at the age of 50, I would want to be the general counsel of a global multinational company. So that was the goal that I had set for myself. I'm sharing it, probably for the first time out there in public that this is what was my goal very much, early on in my life, but I did set that goal for myself. And then I worked towards that goal in a very systematic way to make sure that I achieve my objectives, I achieve my goal, and everything thereafter what I did was in furtherance of that goal that I've set for myself. I also wanted to kind of share with you the philosophy with which I worked for my career and for myself, was that if I want to be a successful General Counsel or I want to be successful lawyer, I have to be good human being first. You can't be a good general counsel or a good lawyer or a good anything that you want to go in like, unless you're a good human being first. And that is something which I believe very strongly that everything starts with being a good human being. Therefore, it starts with thinking about not only what you want to achieve in your career, but also how and what you want to give back to society. So, that's something which I've been always been working on and I share with you some examples of how I at least work and how I try and achieve those objectives in different roles that I did. 

Would you please elaborate on the traits that have helped in your career as an In house Counsel with a rich experience of global legal systems

There were three basic fundamentals that I want to share today with you when you are looking at, first setting a goal that you want to achieve, and thereafter, going towards that goal in a very systematic way. For me, what worked for me was these three milestones I would say another, which are very critical. First and foremost was understanding the business, very early on, I'd also decided I'm perhaps one of the few general counsels who never worked for a law firm. I started in a law department in a company, 29 years now and have always been with the company I've always worked for the company. I've never been in a law firm before that to about only those two companies that I mentioned. But that was a conscious decision that I had taken. So, one of the first things that I decided to understand well is how business people think and how business people operate. I think Sameer also explained very well in his talk how you need to make sure that you stay within the four corners of law and yet, achieve business objectives. And that's something which helped me a lot in terms of understanding, A) how business things, how business would earn their profits, where is it that we make profit, where is it that we make loss, where is it that we are investing, what is the risk appetite of the company, how are we as an organization, willing to take certain business risks when I say risks. I'm referring to business risks, and understanding that, understanding the values of the company is very important to me. The only reason I actually moved from Procter and Gamble to Wipro was because the values of Wipro were very much aligned with my values, or my values were very much aligned with the values that I saw in Wipro. And that's how I decided to join WIPRO. Unless your personal values match with your organization's values, It is very difficult for you to make progress in that organization. So, it's a very fundamental thing which everybody must think about, I certainly did for myself. So, as a business person, where we make money, where we lose money, where we invest, What are the risks that an organization we are willing to take and where he should not be taking any risks is very critical. On that topic, let me share a couple of examples with you, and how I used risk taking in my personal career. I shared earlier with you that I moved from India to Singapore. That assignment was a regional assignment, and was made to prepare me to come back and take India, geography, once again, but once I successfully completed India geography or India country as a market for Procter and Gamble, there were a couple of options in front of me but then within Procter and Gamble. And one of the options was to work in the US, which is our global headquarters and do an assignment in the US. The other option given to me was to look at the regional role in any of our regional headquarters. That's where I took a risk. At that time, and I said that, going to headquarters will give me only a very limited understanding of US and US laws by the way, which, as a US company I was well aware of. Although I'm not an expert in those laws, for sure, I'm aware of how that works. I decided to, therefore, take the assignment, which was a CEMEA assignment or centrally in Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa assignment. This assignment had 90 countries, working with a team of lawyers and has a team of around 32 lawyers. Each one of them handling regions, each one of them handling particular geographies, and that region was interesting because it had countries from the Middle East where you have Sharia law applicable to them, many of them follow Sharia law. You have countries where you have civil law, a lot of Northern African countries have civil law or law which is more inspired by the French legal system, and so on and so forth. 

Most parts of Europe this is civil law as well and there is a common law system which is, as we all know, applicable in India, and UK in most of the other countries as well. So, this assignment gave me a very good foundation for working in very different legal systems that operate in the world. And that is the risk I took at that time and said yes, I'm willing to take the assignment, it's a challenging enough assignment for me. I not only enjoyed that assignment very well, I succeeded. And I did very well in that assignment and then the company moved me back to Singapore. This time, Singapore was a much bigger region, including China, Japan, Korea, etc. So, the point I was trying to make is that you have to take calculated risks. If you have to understand how you want to grow in the organization, it is very important that you take those risks, number one. Number two, it's very easy, as a lawyer for us to get fixated on saying that this will work, this will not work and try to be kind of gatekeeper and say that this law does not allow you to do this. 

According to this law you can do it. And, be in an advisory role, but advisory role from a distance where you can say this is workable, this is not workable. But I think true success comes when you join the team, you become the member of the team and then you are able to solve their problems by staying within the four corners of law, understanding what is the business objective, and then giving a solution which will work for the business. A solution which is merely a technical solution, which is a non- practical solution is not going to take us any far or, I believe, take me any far. So, the second thing which I embraced early on is, making sure that you stay within the four corners of law and yet, come up with a solution, come up with the counseling, come up with these strategic counseling to the business that would help them achieve their business objectives. 

The last part I would add is, how can we act as a teacher and tell the business, what are the things that would work for it and what are the things that would not work for the business? And to me, those fundamental points that I mentioned, think like a business person, be solution oriented and make sure that you provide solutions and understand the root cause of any issue that you are facing, and be like a teacher where you are not only looking at the issue that in hand, but try and resolve that, for the team going forward by telling them what are the things that will work, what are the things that will not. So, this is what I thought worked for me and I shared it with all of you. Hopefully, some of these will work for you as well. 

Thank you so much, Deepak for sharing those wonderful tips with us, so much to learn there, and as you are the chief risk officer with Wipro, can we ask you one risk that you'd like to tell everyone to kind of ward off in the year 2021?

Absolutely! I can tell you one cannot be paranoid enough to talk about this particular risk which is, cybersecurity or a data privacy risk. This is one risk which is emerging, and has emerged already at the world stage. Every organization, every company will be ultimately hacked one day or the other. The famous quote said, there are only two kinds of organizations, one that has been hacked already, and they know about it and one that could be hacked at some point in time in future. So, cybersecurity and data privacy, these are emerging risks. One needs to be really prepared for these two risks which are interconnected with one another. 

The automatic transcription has been lightly edited for a better reading experience. Some names and parts of the transcription may carry inadvertent errors that we are in the process of editing. Thank you for your understanding.

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