For Savita Pai, Vice President – Strategy, Diageo India, there never is a dull moment in the alcobev industry. She is growing in her career as her company offers her multiple growth opportunities. She believes in taking chances and is not afraid to speak up.

Savita Pai, an MBA and computer science graduate, began her career with IT giant Infosys where she got the first hint as to how technology transforms lives. Once she made a tectonic shift to the wine and spirits industry, she has been on a roller coaster journey.

Born in a middle-class family in Bengaluru, her dad was a businessman while her mom a homemaker. The younger of two daughters, they were brought up being told that girls are as good as boys and that they should not aim for lower goals. “I belong to a generation where parents told us that ‘education would take us places. I did my Computer Science Engineering from PESIT Bangalore and then MBA from IIM, Bengaluru,” she informs. Savita was always encouraged to do well in studies, sports and extra-curricular activities and never give up on anything even if she didn’t do that well. That attitude shaped her life and has an impact on the way she thinks and works.

She has led strategy in different industries — technology, e-commerce, retail — and headed operations as well. All these experiences made the Diageo Strategy Lead role very interesting and challenging for her to take on. While her first job after engineering was with Infosys, her first job after MBA was with McKinsey & Co. where she worked with the CXOs of large corporates on growth strategy, investment opportunities and medium-term/longterm growth plans.

Opportunities at Diageo

On her parents’ reaction to her taking up a job in the wine and spirits industry, she shares that her parents are teetotalers; but in terms of professional career, they have never thrusted their opinions. “They always believed I would take the right decisions and that I would be able to add value to whatever industry I join,” Savita says with latent pride mixed joy.

Savita says Diageo has offered her multiple opportunities – both on professional and personal levels. “The company has trusted me to take on initiatives despite being new to the industry and the leadership has always been open to my outside-in viewpoints. That has created a great balance for me and enabled me to work across functions and work streams,” she observes.

Getting Empowered

Talking about her empowering moments, Savita reminisces: “My empowering moments came from way back in childhood when my dad asked me why I was not playing lagori (South Indian version of gilli danda) with the neighborhood kids. When I mentioned that I was afraid of getting hurt by the ball, he told me I would never achieve anything by being afraid.” It is the same approach at work. “I keep asking myself what I will achieve by being afraid to speak up, to learn new skills, to experiment or to even preventing myself from having frank conversations. And I am always surprised by how taking chances has led to much larger things in life.” She concludes saying: “As Strategy Lead, I wear a  different hat everyday: a performance challenger, a specialist, a project leader, a business developer, a researcher, etc. .At home I have even more diverse roles – wife, mother, daughter-in-law. Enjoying what I do everyday tells me if I am on my way to achieving my life’s goal or not!”

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