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“When You Focus on Your Core Values, Diversity Follows” With Karthik Manimozhi

When You Focus on Your Core Values, Diversity Follows — Focusing on our core values has naturally led to attract a diverse team. Individuals who join our team are not only skilled, but share the recipe for what makes us a successful company. We only hire team members who are brought into our mission and share […]

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When You Focus on Your Core Values, Diversity Follows — Focusing on our core values has naturally led to attract a diverse team. Individuals who join our team are not only skilled, but share the recipe for what makes us a successful company. We only hire team members who are brought into our mission and share our similar diligent work ethic, no matter what background one comes from.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Karthik Manimozhi and his team.

Karthik Manimozhi is the CEO of RentMoola, a FinTech company named Top FinTech Disruptor of 2020 by CIO Review and awarded as one of the Top 50 Most Trustworthy Companies of 2020 by Silicon Review. Karthik is a prolific rainmaker with 20+ years of global experience and has built his career navigating through crises, managing several global businesses through the dot com bust and 2008 financial crisis. He has an impressive track record in mobilizing complex ecosystems to deliver Multi-Billion Dollars in Global SaaS/Enterprise Software businesses.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Igrew up in a lower-middle-class family in India. My father was an honest government officer and was always fiscally responsible, disciplined, and a great role model. My parents made incredible sacrifices to provide a brighter future for myself and my sisters. My grandmother has also been a true trailblazer and inspiration in my life. She served her community as a doctor in early 1940s India and later successfully ran for office. My family has taught me compassion and because of them, I believe that the financial space is ripe for disruption and that complex problems require bold solutions.

I graduated with an Engineering Degree in my hometown of Chennai (India), I started my career with Citibank as a Software developer. In the early 2000s, immediately after the dot com bust, software major SAP was instrumental in creating a new Green Card program to attract Global IT talent into Germany. SAP came to recruit in India, and I was one of the first few Green Card holders to enter Germany. This cemented a 13-year relationship with SAP. During this period, aided by a merit scholarship from Consortium of German industries, I gained a Masters in International Management Degree from ESCP EAP in Paris (France) and a Master in Business Administration MBA from Purdue University IN (USA). At SAP, I successfully managed several businesses across Nordics, Central and South East Europe, Middle East, UK & Ireland and the Americas. This global experience served me well as I learnt critical lessons in managing global businesses through crises like the dot com bust, 2008 Financial crisis, and more.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The author, Adam Grant, wrote an impactful book titled, The Originals: How Non-conformists Change the World. My biggest takeaway is understanding what goes into producing a masterpiece. Impactful creators aren’t necessarily the ones with the most expertise. Rather, those who seek unique perspectives through extensive brainstorming, researching, developing impactful ideas, and hours of working, are arguably far more original, creative, and influential.

If originals aren’t reliable judges of the quality of their ideas, how do they maximize their odds of creating a masterpiece? They come up with a large number of ideas. Simonton finds that on average, creative geniuses weren’t qualitatively better in their fields than their peers. They simply produced a greater volume of work, which gave them more variation and a higher chance of originality. “The odds of producing an influential or successful idea,” Simonton notes, are “a positive function of the total number of ideas generated.”

This truth applies to the most admired greats such as Beethoven and Leonardo da Vinci. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony and da Vinci’s Sistine Chapel, coincided with the time when they both produced the most quantity of work.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

Setting politics and beliefs aside, I have always admired the rise of Margaret Thatcher from her humble beginnings to becoming the prime minister of the United Kingdom. It is the spirit to cheer for the underdog that mattered to me. Even as a child, I remember my grandmother inspiring me to always dream big. I feel the following paraphrased quote from Lady Thatcher is really meaningful:

“Careful what you Dream,

For your Dream becomes Thoughts,

Thoughts become Words,

Words turn into Actions,

Actions form Habits,

Habit builds Character,

And your Character defines your Destiny;

WHAT YOU THINK, YOU BECOME.”

Both in my private and professional life, I am faced with complex challenges. In facing them, I am always reminded by my grandmother’s words — think deeply, think big and always question the status quo.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

One key tenet of leadership is Courage. To quote Sir Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” It is always about the journey not the destination.

Though some believe leadership is a process of social influence to maximize efforts of others to achieve a specific goal, I feel there is so much more. Social influence is not the “ultimate authority” or “aggressive power” over others. When working with my teams, I see leadership in working together, building one another up for a common goal, and feeling motivated by the value for each person to do their best because deep down, that’s what they want to do. Instead of leadership acting as a “direct report,” it requires people to work together.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

When going into important meetings or making decisions that will affect the trajectory of the business, I always take a step back to remind myself of the company’s overall purpose and mission. Why are we doing any of this in the first place? Why am I having this meeting? How will this help us further along our goals? Who will be impacted the most? I find doing this takes the pressure off the situation, as helps me focus on the bigger picture.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

Growing up in India and building my career across the globe, I consider myself both a global citizen and a guest in this amazing country. My international experience has broadened my perspective on these issues.

The global pandemic has caused people to realize we are all vulnerable to something — no one is immune. The crisis has become a great equalizer, in a sense, by not discriminating against anyone. On the other hand, it has also amplified the inequalities that have long existed throughout society. Depending on where you are, your age, your race, your income, the crisis may affect you very differently. As someone aptly noted, though we are not all on the same boa, we may be facing the same storm.

At a time when we are placed in a situation where extracurricular activities have been canceled, vacations rescheduled, and virtual workspaces for employment, school, and family activities are becoming more of the norm, we are suddenly free from things that normally divert our attention. Faced with the common challenge of a global crisis and sharing experiences of being locked down, we see we have a lot more in common than we realize. What strikes me is the universal nature of these problems. Income inequality, affordable health care, financial instability, and public health crises affect every one of us.

Numerous distractions keep us from real actions and solutions. Now, we have reached the tipping point in terms of gaining critical mass. While opinions matter and we are in an echo chamber, it is time to move from focusing on how we feel, to attending to what we can do to influence the change we wish to see.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

For us, diversity is not a quota to be filled — having a diverse team comes naturally and makes the most business sense. Oursuccess comes down to one simple thing — our ability to identify and attract individuals who have been systematically undervalued by the industry to whom we can provide opportunities to shine.

We are building an organization that reflects the complexity of the market we serve. Our goal is to provide services to a vast majority of people who are underserved. We look for “Moneyball” candidates — very talented individuals who have been overlooked and unfairly undervalued, who are not tainted by the conventional thinking honed by years of experience in the industry, but willing to disrupt status quo with out-of-the-box solutions. These talented individuals come from all corners of the economy but skew more towards women and minorities. This is an industry inefficiency that we ruthlessly tap into. By doing this, we have naturally and very quickly built an incredibly diverse company. About 50% of our leadership team are women with 4 out of 6 being a visible minority. And, this flows down to the entire team — 40% of our employees are women, with 44% representing a visible minority. We speak over 32 different languages between our employees as well.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Our philosophy for our entire team is the same for our executive team. Our leadership has to reflect the market we serve and respond to the needs of diverse markets.

Even as a smaller company, we are able to serve a larger market because our team is representative of a global community. Having a diverse team has had a positive impact on the growth of our company. We have seen steady growth from 2017 to present day — 43% in 2018 and 23% in 2019. Though 2020 has brought forth a vacillating COVID-19 economy, our diverse company continues to grow, evolve, and help provide a multitude of solutions that allow for more financial flexibility.

During this period, our annual recurring revenue grew 64%, with net revenue increasing at impressive rates, growing at 227% — and we could not have done this without a diverse leadership and team who understood the needs of our market.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

1. Diversity from the Top Down and Bottom Up

From empowering international university interns, to having close to 50% women team members throughout our executive team, board membership, managers, and associates, RentMoola’s team members are truly diverse.

· We have female representation on our board

· 3 out 6 members of the executive team are women with 4 out of 6 being a visible minority

· 11 of 32 employees are women, with 14 out of 32 representing a visible minority

Part of the reason we are naturally diverse is because of our shared mission and values. Instead of starting from the executive team and trickling down to team members, we have developed our core values completely from the grassroots level by involving the team members. Because the team is integral to the process, they take full ownership of RentMoola’s values. We are inclusive from a bottom up perspective.

Inclusion also starts from the top. When your executive team is truly diverse, bias simply does not exist. Instead, you have a leadership team that embraces differences and is open to perspectives outside of their own.

As we hire, we look for team members who will be the best culture fit with our company — people who share our mission, values, and culture. In fact, I make it a point to personally call every prospective hire. I share our company vision, learn and get to know people personally and professionally.

Something that also sets our values apart is how we hire and recognize our staff. Our core values are an integral part of our review process.

It’s even more important that we recognize and reward people based on how they do their work and not just what they do. Being inclusive and respectful of our uniqueness is essential to how we operate” says RentMoola’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Christine Mason.

2. From Product, to People, to Customers, Diversity is part of our Business Model — it is in our DNA

“For us, diversity goes far beyond the ethnic and gender makeup of our team. It is part of our

DNA — meaning it is an integral part of what we do, from our product, to our customers, to our team” says Christine Mason, our Chief Human Resource Officer.

RentMoola’s mission is to alleviate the issues of urban living, unaffordable rents, and income inequality by providing more flexibility, financial control, and financial literacy to property managers and their tenants through our integrated and easy to use platform.

We believe that having a deep understanding of the customer allows us to serve them better — you can’t do this without a diverse team with unique points of view. Even as a smaller company, our team is representative of a global community. We are able to serve our customers who represent a wide demographic base of renters and grow globally.

We approach our partnerships with the same mindset — we partner with like-minded companies. It always works out that when they share our values, they too, put importance into diversity and inclusion.

3. When You Focus on Your Core Values, Diversity Follows

Focusing on our core values has naturally led to attract a diverse team. Individuals who join our team are not only skilled, but share the recipe for what makes us a successful company. We only hire team members who are brought into our mission and share our similar diligent work ethic, no matter what background one comes from.

Our organization thrives because people feel pride for their work because they are part of something that is helping our customers.

4. A Respect-based and Mission-oriented Culture

When an employee’s career and personal goals are aligned with the company vision, we find that more people are intrinsically motivated to do their best and more openly share ideas and solutions that push the company forward.

It is important to foster a culture of respect, accountability, integrity, and open communication. Any team member has access to the leadership team to voice their concerns and ideas. We have seen that this has led to healthy and solution-based discourse.

“Of all the top companies I have had the pleasure of working with, the communication style at RentMoola is so candid and direct, and yet so refreshing and respectful. It helps us move quickly and be uber focused on what we need to accomplish” says Christine Mason.

5. A Family, More Than a Team

While many companies subscribe to Netflix’s famous “we’re a team, not a family. A pro sports team, not a kid’s recreational sport” mindset, we believe that performance and behaving like a tight-knit family are not mutually exclusive.

The first thing I say to a new employee or new partner is “welcome to the family!”. At RentMoola, shared values and goals is what ties us together. Oftentimes, talent is overlooked, and what’s more important is the attitude and drive that a person has. We’ve done a great job hiring an all-star team. Without respect, performance will soon fade.

Not only does our family have varied backgrounds, we have different interests, experiences, and even hobbies, we found that differences often bring people together. Our approach to our global family is respectful, open, and inclusive.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Having the privilege of traveling to over 70 countries across the globe, I have a broader perspective with these issues. I have seen a similar pattern wherever I have been; people have a lot more commonalities than differences.

I am also a student of history, and we have seen time and again that though you can beat down people with negativity, people will always respond to hope rather than fear. We, as a society, have overcome countless adversities in the past and this time is no different. It is impossible to keep people suppressed because people are innately resilient. It only takes one ray of optimism for people to survive dark moments.

Social change will happen, as there will be no sustained economic prosperity without it. As an eternal optimist, I fully believe we will succeed. People always say that these are unprecedented times. With adversity comes hope. I believe that 2020 is the year we face our demons, where we collectively see how far we’ve fallen, from where we want to be, and take the steps to repair and come out of it better as a society overall.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Someone whom I highly admire is Phil Knight, the founder of Nike. His fascinating entrepreneurial journey incorporates building the Nike brand over the course of decades through authentic self-discovery. During a time of global unrest due to the war of the 1960’s, he was inspired by his world traveling experiences. His passion grew from what he believed in. Though his vision was not distinctively unique, he had something important to share that appealed to the masses. Innovation is the foundation of Nike, and the heartbeat of the company. I credit Phil for building this winning culture.

How can our readers follow you online?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karthikmanimozhi/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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