Q&A: Julie Woods-Moss, CMO, Tata Communications

Tata Communications’ first CMO talks about gaining global brand recognition, using mentoring to nurture staff and breaking through the glass ceiling.

Tata communications’ chief marketing officer believed that working within smaller, more nimble marketing teams brings competitive advantages.

Marketing Week (MW): Despite being part of a company worth $100bn (£66bn), Tata Group’s telecoms arm Tata Communications isn’t a well-known brand outside of Asia-Pacific. Does that matter to you?

Julie Woods-Moss (JWM): We do business with about 40 per cent of the Fortune 500 and while we’re very well known in the Asia Pacific region, I will meet a chief information officer there and they’ll say: “I know how great you guys are but my group chief information officer is in the US and he’s asking, Who is Tata? What do they do?”

Your ego wants to walk into a room and for people to know the company you work for. But I know that is not always in the best interests of Tata Communications. There are huge parts of the industry that like the fact that we are a very humble and pragmatic partnering organisation.

MW: Was raising the company’s profile the reason behind its Formula 1 partnership?

JWM: We went through a stage of getting the technical recommendation [from prospective clients] but would then not get the board validation, which was part of the reason why Tata Communications made the multi-year, multi-million investment in Formula 1 (see boxout, below).

We’re better off building a relationship with the 5,000 or so people that we need to have that ‘mind share’ with – where they see and feel and smell our services in one of the most challenging operational environments in the world.

MW: Do you get involved in product development at Tata Communications?

JWM: We have a new cloud-based business video platform called Jamvee. With me being on board as strategic CMO I’ve definitely changed the path of what was an engineering-led innovation, because I said first and foremost we need to be a platform player [Jamvee works on multiple platforms, devices and operating systems]. My digital team has developed a portal so the user experience has been driven by them.

MW: You have a pretty small marketing team – is that a good thing?

JWM: It’s a real competitive advantage and it means you can be nimble. In BT [where Woods-Moss was president of strategy marketing and propositions] I started off with 1,100 people and reduced it to 100 in India and 250 around the world. Here at Tata we’ve got 78 people, which is fantastic.

We have just done this amazing deal with Mercedes where we are providing the critical technology for the F1 races. We got the deal done in eight weeks and it probably cost three hours of my time. If you have a huge team then everybody wants a piece of the action.

MW: Have you had to change the way you work to fit in with the culture of an Indian company?

JWM: The Indian business culture means that respect is given depending on seniority. The junior members of the team would be open, creative, challenging with me but if one of their bosses was in the room they would all stay quiet because they didn’t want to take the shine away from the boss.

Tata understands this and has put in mechanisms to help us without upsetting anyone, so we have what we call ‘skip’ meetings. When I go to India I’ll have skip creative sessions where the immediate line manager isn’t invited and we’ll talk about what’s working and what’s not. I have the trust of the line manager that I’m not there to find out what’s going on in the backyard in a sneaky way; it’s about getting the best out of a team.

MW: Many marketers have been talking recently about the importance of internal communications – how do you manage this at the company?

JWM: We needed to hire someone to do internal communications and I found an absolute star but [Tata Communications chief executive] Vinod [Kumar] said that it was way too ‘proper’ for us. He wanted internal comms to feel like we were talking to each other. He said: “I want spelling mistakes, I want it to be [talking in the] corridor.”

He said: “Forget all the polished stuff, let’s have it set up so it feels like we’re having a massive conversation.” As you can imagine this was quite a different approach to what I was used to, especially as I started my career at IBM.

MW: Is that informality reflected in the corporate language?

JWM: There’s a different vocabulary at Tata. One of our agencies said in a meeting: “I love you guys, you really give us the speed to lead.” Our marketing agency has amplified this and it has become part of the vocabulary.

So I’ll say to clients: “There’s a deal to be done here, we’re going to do it at the speed to lead.” All of the top 30 leaders have made their own statement at the bottom of their emails – these aren’t consistent with each other but they are all well meant. Even Vinod has ‘STL’ – speed to lead. He just typed it at the bottom of his email. I think with our Twitter and texting society, marketing of the future isn’t going to be over-polished. It’s going to be much more human.

MW: Marketing is still not well represented in the boardroom – what’s the key to being a success at the top table?

JWM: If you’re a CMO in the boardroom it is key to be as smart as the smartest in the room because it is a function that has to be grounded in facts and research. But you must also have passion and vision to be able to paint a picture of the future of the company. To have a brain that can do both things is unusual. That’s why a lot of marketers ‘tap out’ below the boardroom because they are very good at one part and not the other. 

MW: There aren’t many women represented at senior level in business – how is Tata Communications addressing this?

JWM: We have created a platform called Women of Work (WOW). The CEO wanted me to be the head of WOW because I’m the most senior woman, but I said no, I want to be an adviser but we need an Indian woman – a high-potential woman that other women can relate to. We’ve now chose, this fantastic lady who runs customer service in Asia-Pac, and she is the face of WOW. We talked to a lot of women and one of the things we identified as being needed was mentoring. I mentor quite a number of women at Tata. To get me as a mentor they have to be classified as best in class, so senior managers who are directors and above.

If we can accelerate the director level into our ‘leadership forum’ [the committee which employees are only eligible to join at vice-president level or higher] then we’ll have good role models and we can grow the representation of women at senior level.

MW: Why do you think more women aren’t moving into those senior positions?

JWM: The fact is that between the ages of 30 and 42 most women have a career intervention – they have a family. You have this intervention at the prime of your career. And then you have company policies that in the main aren’t that family friendly.

Tata Consulting has done some interesting things to encourage women to return to work. When a woman goes on maternity leave at Tata Consulting they are assigned a mentor. The mentor has to meet them so many times during the break and the mentor is incentivised to bring that person back into the team.

About Tata Communications

tata-communications2-2013-460
Tata Communications is working with Mercedes to supply critical technology at Formula 1 races

Tata Communications is part of Indian company Tata Group, which has over 100 operating companies including Tata Motors, Tata Steel and Tata Global Beverages.

Tata Communications is a telecommunications company, operating globally. Julie Woods-Moss is the first chief marketing officer of Tata Communications and since her arrival she has worked on a deal with Formula 1 to help businesses understand what the company does. It is Formula 1’s official technology supplier, which includes supporting the Formula1.com website during race weekends. Earlier this year, Tata Communications signed a technology deal with Mercedes to become the official ‘managed connectivity’ supplier to the team at all F1 races.

Woods-Moss is also the chief executive of ‘nextgen’ business at Tata Communications. Recently she organised the sponsorship of a dual-continent hackathon with more than 200 developers from Silicon Valley in the US and Bangalore in India. The winning idea, called Interactive Place, allows users on the same web page to interact with one another using video and text through their browsers. As well as winning $15,000, the idea will be incubated by Tata Communications.

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