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This Female CIO shares how the men in her life are crucial to her success: Puneet Kaur Kohli

CIO Puneet Kaur Kohli shares her success at a powerful women in technology

We have established through our interviews, that behind every successful woman is often a man, and in Puneet’s case there is more than one. Blessed with a father who has been her biggest mentor and a husband who has been her biggest cheerleader, Puneet Kaur Kohli, is today the CIO of Manappuram Finance.

Welcomes new challenges with open arms:

They rightly say that the path to success begins long before the moment of success and in Puneet’s case, it dials right back to her childhood. As her brothers and her studied in Naval Public School, discipline was the only way of living in her household. So much so, that even her summer vacations were instead spent in vocation. She picked up all kinds of skills from knitting to driving, which ensured that by the time she was close to becoming an adult, she was a well-rounded one.

Her father encouraged her to take up challenges at every step and among the many she took on, were her flying lessons she took for four months. She fell in love with the sky and grew a passion to soar and a dream in her eyes to become a commercial pilot. India, however, was not ready for Puneet’s big dreams yet, as commercial flying was not welcoming women back in the early 90s. The biggest factor stopping women from becoming commercial pilots was the fact that a lot of pilots came from a military background, an option that wasn’t even open to women. Even in the US, for instance, until 1993, women weren’t allowed to fly combat aircraft. A report from 2014 throws light on the fact that when it comes to gender disparity, the world of commercial airline piloting is one of the most skewed with a whopping 97% of all commercial pilots being male (4000 female commercial pilots vs. 130,000 male worldwide according to The International  Society of Women Airline Pilots). We of course researched the fascinating subject Puneet brought even more and found some heartening news from the present. India now has the highest proportion of female commercial pilots in the world at 12%, despite the country's patriarchal society, which typically frowns on women in such jobs.

Life outside of work for this Women Leader involves a lot of travelling, and spending time with her family

Early marriage and a career:

Puneet went on to pursue engineering, no doubt with excellent grades, which seemed to attract a lot of rishtas. While women were getting married early, it was nice to know that their education is what made them attractive. Of course, it isn’t lost on us that Puneet is also very beautiful – both inside and out. Given the surplus of options, she tied the knot even before she turned twenty-one but contrary to popular opinion, marriage was not going to come in the way of her career.

In fact, it was quite the opposite story for Puneet. Her husband was not just supportive of her studying and working but even proactive about it. A man who truly listens hasn’t been a myth in her case for he stayed well versed with her background, her eligibility and kept a keen eye on the market for jobs to her liking and calibre. So much so, that he even filled out a few online ads for her in the past on her behalf.

Discipline as armour through generations:

Puneet continued to thrive at work with her husband’s support and her father’s advice. Her father always told her that once you get that employee code, you are part of the company and you must always continue to prove your worth. He instilled in her the curiosity and drive she needed to succeed. Breaking it down for her, he told her, no matter what the job, you must very clearly understand your requirements and then meet those expectations and if you don’t understand well what is expected of you, ask your line manager, as many times as you need. He even assured her that you may still make mistakes, but the most important thing is to learn from them and not repeat them.

Chief Technology Officer by Day, and Proud Jewel of Punjab by Night. Puneet enjoys a healthy work life balance.

Puneet has been blessed with two sons and when they came into the world, both she and her husband knew that they would need to balance their work and life to attend to the kids and he offered to try his hand at self-employment while she climbed the professional ladder. His reason was simple. He told her that her work made her eyes twinkle in a way that he knew she would make it. And ladies, if that isn’t romantic, I don’t know what is. Forget the man who promises you the moon, find the one who lets you live your best life here on earth. Always, always choose support towards your goals over flowers and chocolates. The former is so much more permanent.

Even Puneet’s husband came from a disciplined house and so there were on the same page when it came to passing down that discipline to their kids. As soon as the kids turned eleven, they were sent to boarding school to grow in the right environment. When we spoke to Puneet of Mommy guilt, she dismissed it saying as long as you don’t send your kids out too early and you are there for them when they need you and provide them with the environment they need to flourish, you are doing your job. Of course, she admitted that she often missed them, but those were the times she would simply drive up to see their happy faces.

Travelling in and out of her Comfort Zone:

Puneet’s work had her travelling around the world, often for long stints and when she was gone, her husband doubled up at home as did she when he was buried in work. She continued to thrive at work and picked up titles such as ‘Proactive Puneet’ and ‘Unstoppable Puneet’ along the way. Her father had cemented in her the desire to take up challenges and hence Puneet did not shy away from switching industries time and again. She says that no matter the industry, the process is the same, you must understand the company’s pain points and then find a solution. For her, technology was the weapon she used to satisfy both internal and external stakeholders.

However, her stint in the power industry, did throw her off guard in the beginning. Working in a whole new environment with government employees who weren’t used to the private sector. They were waiting to break her down, but she withheld the new pressure and stood up for herself and quite literally showed them who was boss. She even had to face stones and lathis being thrown at the cashier system, among other such new roadblocks at work but she fought back with her determination and an undying conviction to succeed. Two things she shared that helped in this phase were the fact that she found herself a mentor for guidance and her tom-boyish upbringing, growing up in a household of eight brothers paid off too.

Re-inventing even after Twenty-Five Years in the Workplace:

Puneet received an award from then Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, to recognize her as a Leading Global Punjabi Personality.

Puneet has now completed twenty-five years in the workplace. In 2006, she was even named CIO of the Year. She shares that the first time she became CIO, she did not take the route of becoming a task master. People weren’t used to a woman in her position and so she eased into it and respected the seniority of age of her employees at work.

If there is one thing she is known for in her field, it is to always come up with first of its kind projects. That is the legacy she works on leaving. We could probably fill a book on advice from Puneet (something we suggested she should consider doing), but the last piece of advice she leaves us with is that one should always be coachable, and never assume you know it all. Accept ignorance and keep learning. This seems to be the wise word from all the women on the path to success, just like Kriti had shared with us too.

Puneet, has come a long way but after hearing her future plans, we have a feeling that the best is yet to come for her, and we are so happy to be here to watch it unfold.

More power!

Puneet Kaur Kohli is the CIO and CTO of of Manappuram Finance, Global traveller, Workaholic, Technocrat and a Proud Jewel of Punjab.

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