Anamika Talwar is the Managing Director at Mercedes-Benz Financial Services. She is an accomplished business leader with over 20 years of global experience encompassing building new businesses, running country operations as well as regional (multi-country) leadership in the Americas and Asia Pacific. She has a strong foundation in digital transformation, strategy, sales & marketing as well as business development and P&L leadership, and a proven ability to find successful solutions to complex business challenges across different functions and industries.
Can you tell us about your career progression into your current role?
I’ve now been with Daimler for 14 years after deciding to move from a strategy consulting firm into the corporate world. I joined the company as the Head of Strategy, responsible for North and South America and then moved on to become the Head of Insurance for the Americas Region. I started as a one-person team and built the Daimler US insurance business from the grounds up running both an insurance company and an agency. It was a start-up experience within the corporate environment which was intense and rewarding. I then ran Business Development for a year helping Brazil prepare for the upcoming growth and the US operations optimise their processes.
Then the opportunity came for me to move to Singapore as the Head of Sales & Marketing for Africa and Asia Pacific, managing a hugely varied geographical spread and getting to know how the diverse markets work while also setting up new territories. This was a great opportunity to foster the growth of the business in the region through new product launches, innovative campaigns and upskilling through an all new sales and marketing academy. Over time, the role expanded to include digital transformation of the customer journey across the region where we launched online shopping tools and 24 apps across 12 markets as well as a Fintech accelerator to foster co-creation with start-ups. A couple of years ago I transitioned to my role as Managing Director of the Singapore business, taking on a broader set of responsibilities in overseeing all the functions while continuing to foster digital innovation with the industry-first fully paperless and all digital lending model.
Do you have a mentor or role model in your career?
I do have quite a few mentors and the mentoring relationships have proven invaluable for me throughout my career. Some of the advice you get from mentors become the guiding principles that you use throughout your career.
Mentoring started for me back at business school when I was working with the director of the Information Networking Institute who was my boss and also a great mentor. He gave me some great insights about work-life balance early on in my career and his words have stayed with me since then, “No matter how stressful my day is, once I go home, I leave the work behind me.” This practice helped me create both a physical and mental separation between work and my personal life. I will work late, but never bring work home, which allows me to give 100% to both worlds and completely unwind as soon as I leave work.
Every mentor I have had since then has also given me valuable guidance and it has been great to have that support network. Why learn everything the hard way when you can get these pearls of wisdom from people that are more experienced?
As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?
Follow your passion. It’s really important to love what you do because life is short. If you enjoy what you do then success is a natural outcome and each day is full of joy.
I also believe that you can achieve your professional goals faster if you are proactive about your development. Have discussions with your supervisor and senior leaders regarding your aspirations and be as specific as you can so they can support you the best they can. If you think you deserve a raise or a promotion don’t be shy to discuss it with your supervisor and get their feedback. Also, raise your hands and go for opportunities even though you may not have all the prerequisites for the job, you will be amazed how much you can pick up very quickly while you are on the job. Each role I’ve had has been really different from the previous one and most of my learning has happened though that experience of taking on new challenges in areas that were new to me.
Finally, be visible in your organisation. It helps if your superiors are aware of your capabilities and your contributions. Many of us grew up with values that teach us to be humble, but that should not keep you from shining your light. Take opportunities to present to leaders or get their input on your work. Get involved in activities and communities that give you broader exposure within the organisation. Exposure to senior leadership will only help you further your goals.
How do you balance long hours with personal life successfully?
I have managed to sustain a physical separation between work and personal life and make sure I carve out adequate time for both. Work can expand to fill time, so if I set a tighter schedule for myself I seem to be more productive. Also, I schedule my personal commitments on my calendar in advance and treat them as seriously as my work commitments.
Having multiple commitments means having a lot of demands on your time, so it is important to refuel, and do things that energise me. I am well aware of my energy sources and deflators and outsource most of the things that I don’t find exciting so I can free up more time for things I enjoy. I have relied heavily on a strong support network for childcare (nannies, helpers and family) in order to ensure a good balance for me.
It’s easy to lose yourself between work and family commitments so it really helps to schedule “me” time. I schedule at least an hour for myself daily and try to start each day on a positive note by being grateful and spending time outdoors in nature. A brisk walk followed by meditation keeps me energised and grounded. On weekends I schedule both family time as well as “me” time when I can pursue my own interests. I’m a foodie with a passion for performing arts so I devote a day of the weekend to these activities.
Do you have any advice for working moms on how to progress and succeed?
Firstly, if you want to sustain a career while having children, believe me it’s possible to do so. You need to build the right kind of support network and take all the help that you can get. When I was in the US, I spent a lot of my net income on childcare with multiple nannies which enabled me to balance career and family successfully. I took 6 months of maternity leave where I had my family around to help and subsequently I chose to work from home for a year until my daughter was 18 months old and could go to Montessori school.
In Asia, employers are getting better at flexible working policies, and even though there is still a lot of stigma around it, as long as your contribution and output at work are the same if not better, then you should go for it, especially when you really need it. I’ve done it and it was great, so don’t feel shy about making use of these policies if it helps you in the long run.
Also, it’s important to have your own definition of success. Being the super-employee and super-mom at the same time is probably not going to work. For me, it was important to recognise that I wouldn’t be able to attend every event at my daughter’s school, but I would be there for the important ones. Don’t compare yourself to other moms otherwise you might feel frustrated and disappointed. Find out the balance that works for you and learn to be happy with it.
What are the benefits of diverse teams and diverse organisations?
Diversity has a big contribution when it comes to the bottom line of a business. Research shows that companies with diverse leadership at board level have 95% better ROE compared to those that don’t. A diverse organisation is much better at decision making because the various perspectives help examine each issue from different angles to reach a well thought through outcome. Even more importantly, diversity is what propels creativity and innovation as people with different backgrounds think differently and can bring many more creative solutions to business problems. Also, in today’s customer-centric world, the customer base is becoming more diverse, so having a diverse workforce helps us relate to customers, understand their needs and serve them better. So overall, diversity is really a key driver of success.
What is the main thing you've seen in any organisation that you think works, from a diversity point of view, or that enables women to progress?
It really helps to have a multi-dimensional approach and build the right ecosystem to support a diverse workforce. In terms of gender diversity, it starts with the tone from the top. I know that quotas and targets are often seen as controversial, but they do create transparency and help move the needle. If the senior management supports diversity by setting clear objectives, then the right initiatives will follow.
In terms of recruiting, for example, it helps to ensure the right kind of pipeline, with a diverse talent pool. Then once the right mix of talent is coming in, you need to look at retention, especially around the key milestones for women at the mid-management level when they might take a break to start a family. Working mothers tend to leave the workforce when companies don’t provide the support that they need to sustain their career while having a family. Practices like job sharing, flexible hours, part-time work, working from home, etc. help ease the transition of new moms back to the workforce.
Finally, it helps to create the right kind of culture in the organisation that enables and supports diversity. Having diversity as part of the organisation’s values with formal mentoring programs and events that celebrate diversity help in talent attraction and retention.