Interview with Damodaram Bashyam, Vice President of IT for Verizon Wireless in the United States of America
Conducted and edited by Dana Costache
In his current role, as the Vice President of IT for Verizon Wireless in the United States, Damodaram “Damu” Bashyam leads an 700-employee global organization, responsible for building customer-focused IT solutions serving more than 113 million Verizon Wireless customer relationships.
Damu was born in India, in the small Kotha Venkatapuram village, located in Andhra Pradesh. His journey brought him to the United States of America 18 years ago. Damu’s passion is helping children and young students from underserved communities to get educated and fulfill their potential. A resident of the state of New Jersey, Damu is also a Member of the Board of Directors for Goodwill Industries of Greater New York and Northern New Jersey.
Damu hopes this interview reaches young people who need to be inspired and motivated to look beyond their current circumstances and follow their dream, work hard, and allow education to be the catalyst in their journey to a better life.
DC: Could you give us some background information about your childhood and the place you grew up in? What influenced you the most?
DB: I was born in a very small, approximately 50-family village. I am the oldest sibling in the family – I have three brothers. The most influential thing that happened to me…to start with, my parents were the first big influence in my life. When I look back at my surroundings growing up, I see how hard they worked. Both my parents only have elementary school education, but the most important thing they gave me, and my brothers, was their time, attention and love. My paternal grandfather was another very influential person in my life. I think I inherited my empathy for people from him. He never said “no” to anyone who asked for help and this is an aspect of my personality that plays the biggest part in my desire to help my communities, both back in my native village and here in the United States.
My parents instilled in me the belief that I was going to accomplish something of value. Their faith in me really drove me whenever I felt I wasn’t moving forward fast enough. Even back then, I knew I wanted to become an engineer, though I didn’t have a particular one as a role model. Everyone talked about how being an engineer opens up great opportunities. Whenever I wanted to help my parents out with the hard work that they were doing, they would literally push me aside and tell me to go study. They had the natural intuition of the hard working individual, that education is the key to living your life on your own terms. My parents went above and beyond what was possible for them to make sure I received the best education possible.
DC: What about your high school friends? Did you use to discuss your professionals dreams together? What was their vision?
DB: This was the second stage in my education journey. We had no particular vision at that time nor had any guidance. After completing 10th grade, in 1988, I moved to Bangalore where I lived with my uncle, my father’s brother. At the time, he was working with the Bangalore Telephone company as a Chief Accounts Officer. He was the ultimate communicator and relationship builder I have ever met. His house was always full of people who would come to ask for his advice. In 1990, I started my studies at PES IT at the Bangalore University, where I graduated from in 1994, with a Bachelor in Engineering, majoring in Computer Science and Engineering.
DC: How have your university studies years influenced your vision for what you wanted to become and where you wanted to work?
DB: For those of us studying computer engineering, we knew that excelling at it would bring great opportunity, a good job after graduation and, for the best ones, a job abroad. Many of my colleagues were dreaming of going to work in the United States. We are influenced a lot both by our environment but also by the times we live in, generationally-wise. I think this path of opportunity is different for each generation and those who are just starting college at PES IT now must have a good understanding of how engineering and technology have evolved and what are the market and society demands.
DC: Do you think that competition among your peers in college drove you to excel and be more determined to achieve success?
DB: There was competition when I was at college, but I believe my success in my studies and in my professional life came from combining intuition with logical and analytical thinking. The first doesn’t necessarily represent an intellectual ability, but rather an emotional one, an openness to caring about how people feel and wanting to understand their needs beyond what they express to you in words.
DC: When did you begin making concrete plans about moving to the United States?
DB: Ever since I can remember, I was planning what I wanted to do three years ahead. So I thought I wanted to move to the United States in about three years after graduation. I knew this experience would help me grow tremendously.
My first job out of college was for a Bangalore-based company, where I was a software developer, responsible for developing reporting dashboards. It lasted about a year. After that, I received an opportunity to move and work in the Middle East, in Muscat, the port capital city of Oman. After a year, I got my opportunity to come to the U.S., when some of my colleagues, who knew about my dream, insisted to send my resume to an American company, called Transworld Information Systems, that was doing some work in Dubai. They hired me on our first meeting and offered me a job in the United States. I was working on software development at the time and they needed someone with my skills and, I believe, enthusiasm. Back then, I dreamed of something like automation testing which would have maximized the time I could have dedicated to other aspects of development.
DC: Have you been working and living in the U.S. ever since or have you gone back to India for any significant amount of time during the past two decades?
DB: When I arrived in the U.S., my plan was to stay for a few years and then go back. I am deeply attached to the place I grew up in. I didn’t know, then, that my journey abroad was going to be this long and this fruitful.
My first job in America was a consulting job at Verizon Wirelss (formerly Bell Atlantic Mobile). After one year I was offered a full-time position with the company. I have been with Verizon ever since, and I feel that every three-fours years I have taken a leap, professionally, and, in a way, even though I have been with the same company, it felt like there have been many new beginnings, with new people, new projects and new challenges. I kept my habit of asking myself, every three years: “what can I improve in myself and my work? What new challenge can I take on?” While working, I have earned an MBA in General Management from the Kellogg School of Management and a Master of Science in Information Systems from the Stevens Institute of Technology.
DC: When did you begin feeling that you wanted to be more involved in your communities – the community in your native village and your American community?
DB: My involvement increased when I was more settled, but I have been trying to help anyone, in any way that I could, ever since I started working after graduating college back in Bangalore. I felt honored that people in my village or people I knew in Bangalore came to me, that they saw in me someone they could rely on.
DC: Did you feel you needed to provide support to your village community out of a sense of social responsibility or was it because you felt you owed them a duty of care beyond what one does to help a stranger out of empathy, like you are members of your extended family?
DB: It’s just my nature. It comes from my own personality, I believe, but also from growing up and seeing my grandfather having fostered such an incredible chain of human relations based on empathy. Most often, people would look for me to ask for support with their child’s education. My passion is especially serving those kids and they know that education is a crucial part of their lives.
DC: Can you talk about a recent project you managed at Verizon and that challenged you significantly? A type of challenge where you felt you brought together your experience, your skills, but, most importantly, you had to use your leadership, which, I believe, is very empathic and inducing of self-governing in others?
DB: I recently led the global effort of replacing a 15-year old customer experience platform with a modern one, which became the foundation for delivering seamless and personalized experiences to Verizon wireless customers.
In the process, I faced a 3-fold challenge: transforming and engaging the technical talent, migrating the platform without impacting the customers, and implementing change management strategies aimed at facilitating the adoption of the new platform by the frontline employees. My initial focus was on talent transformation and employee engagement, accomplished through setting clear vision and goals, implementing change management, customized trainings and skillset development, infusing new talent, and engaging industry experts who brought in industry best practices.
The focus on people, process and execution helped to deliver the project ontime. The process of migrating the platform brought feedback from the frontline employees that the new platform was not optimally correlated to their needs and customer experiences. I engaged my technology teams to implement feedback loops, making sure that we received direct feedback from the frontline employees and continued to enhance their experience of the new platform.
To carry my team successfully through this particular challenge, I engaged them with what I call the “3 Cs Strategy: Communicate, Collaborate and Customer focus”. The strategy was meant to bring the teams together, keeping everyone focused on the same vision, with the customer in mind. This collaboration helped us to take the platform to next level enabling seamless and personalized experience to our customers.
DC: Going back to education, how has education changed the lives of the people in your village?
DB: What’s really incredible – and here’s where you can see how education impacts people’s lives, and not just the lives of those actually getting the degree – is that my village transformed in the past two decades, even though the number of households stayed pretty much the same. The village is more modern, has the same facilities as a big city, and this happened because young people who left to live and work either in the U.S., a different foreign country or one of the big cities in India, contributed to their families and communities in every way they could, including financially. Pretty much all the houses have been rebuilt or new houses have been built instead.
DC: What about your own children, who grew up in the U.S.? Have you been able to pass this sense of community to them?
DB: My two sons are 15 and 12 years old. We have traveled back to India almost every year because I want to make sure they are connected with my family and friends. Our extended family is much larger in India and my sons relate with their cousins in ways that I used to relate to mine growing up. That communication – where your family is not just your parents but your uncles and aunts, your cousins, and you all know of and contribute to each other’s lives – I am exposing them to that because I believe it will bring great value in their lives.
My wife is a very big part of my success. Throughout my professional career, she has been a constant supporter and, aside from being a wonderful homemaker and mother, she has been a very influential guide whose advice I followed and who brought great values into our family. My life’s catalyst for good has always been my family.
The Asian Herald has only published the Article with due permissions. The Interview was taken by Leadership consultant Dana Costache, in August 2016. You can contact Dana at firstname.lastname@example.org
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