Keep the awards, I work for a purpose, says Old Mutual’s Sudhish Mohan

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The CIO isn’t motivated by adulation ─ he’s focused on changing lives.

Sudhish Mohan, CIO for digital banking at Old Mutual, grew up in Chatsworth, south of Durban. He studied a BCom degree through UNISA and holds an MBA from the same institution. Sudhish began his career in IT 20 years ago with the Oracle group through a student programme called The Oracle Academy, which he was selected to be a part of.

Coming from a community where there were no computers, Sudhish’s journey into IT was by happenstance. He entered the IT space looking to earn an honest living and gained even more. “In a world where one was desperate for a job, if someone suggested I play football for them and got paid for it, I would have taken that offer, “ he says.

“I even considered joining the army or police force at the time, but as luck would have it, this student programme came up, and the rest, as they say, is history.”

The Oracle Academy was a structured learning programme, which taught the basics of computers. He eventually learned a myriad of other systems with the help of much mentoring along the way.

Sudhish points out that his entire career has been centred around learning and mentorship, therefore it only made sense for him to pay it forward. “South African and global organisations have given me many opportunities and in my own way I’ve tried to do the same for other people in order for them to learn and grow, much like I did,” he explains. “Being intelligent is one thing, but without any luck, opportunity and incredible hard work, you will never get anywhere in your life.” Sudhish still mentors people from every organisation he has been a part of.

Mistakes and lessons learned

It is one thing to mention your successes, but it’s another to admit your mistakes – something Sudhish is not shy about doing. He reflects on two mistakes that stand out: “I messed up an SAP implementation once during my time with Anglo American, but it taught me to trust my gut,” he notes. “When something tells you to stop and replan, trust that instinct." When you are driven to succeed, it is sometimes difficult to stop and reflect effectively. Reflection has now become an essential part of my personal growth."

However, a move motivated by the allure of a bigger package, better job title & working for a friend was one mistake that trumped them all. “I left Anglo to join Sasol, and I must say, that adventure did not work out as planned. “Simply put, it was a move I made for all the wrong reasons – and paid for it. The ‘why’ is really important,” he cautions. Ask yourself why you’re moving to the next job. Elevating to the next level, in my view, must always be informed by a purpose rather than emotions.” Sudhish went on to say, “The years spent at Sasol, did teach me critical life lessons in trust & integrity that have made me a better leader today.”

Digital businesses are the future

According to Sudhish, IT was previously a cost centre and back-end function, but today it’s a core part of the company strategy, if not one of its biggest parts In addition, at a certain point, all businesses will become digital driven businesses, and the CIO plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the technology agenda that transforms the business is at the forefront of the organisation.

“There are major opportunities that CIOs are driving to change customer experience, create new revenue models for businesses and contribute to the bottom line growth and profits of an organisation, and the CIO plays a major role in that,” he says.

Sudhish is not one to seek praise and awards and he’s quite frank about his thoughts on awards: “I don’t believe in awards, I don’t work for them either,” he says. “I work for a purpose. I make sure that I wake up every morning with the goal to do something exciting and fulfilling, but most importantly make a difference in the lives of ordinary South Africans through my work in financial services

IT has become diverse

The industry has changed dramatically, he says, and in order to build successful products and businesses we need to embrace diversity of thought, skills and backgrounds. The focus now is about bringing people on with a passion to adapt, learn and collaborate. The environment changes so fast, and learning to adapt is the key to success “Before, you had to have an IT background to get a job in IT. Today I work with people from different backgrounds including marketers, psychologists & lawyers too. So, don’t pigeonhole yourself in this industry. There is no better time to be in Technology than today.

“Everything in life can be learned – you have to think about a vision in years, but the execution has to be immediate. Think about the future and what is coming, develop a growth mindset and learn more than just one thing. Learn how to collaborate with people, and exercise empathy,” he advises.

He’s a fighter in the ring, boardroom and for the people, and quite fond of his boxing and muay thai, a form of martial arts. These are sports Sudhish has participated in for over a decade now. He has a private instructor who gives him lessons at his home, working around his erratic schedule.

“My wife often asks me why I would pay someone to punch me – she’s even offered to do it herself and pocket the money,” Sudhish jokes.

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