Manish Goenka - Insights on Personal Growth, Persistence, and Leadership
Manish Goenka, a highly successful business leader, reflects on the pivotal moments in his formative years that contributed to his growth and development. He emphasizes on the invaluable impact of his parents' teachings in shaping his leadership style.
Posted On: 27 March 2023
Manish Goenka
Tech Mahindra
Sr VP & Head ASEAN

In this enlightening episode of Nuclei's podcast, we are honored to host Mr. Manish Goenka, a seasoned technology leader with over three decades of expertise in the IT industry, 20 of which have been dedicated to driving digital transformation in the Asia Pacific region. His impactful role in fostering digital evolution across diverse industries stands as a testament to his strategic prowess, significantly contributing to the business growth of multiple organizations.

As the Senior Vice President and Head of the ASEAN region at Tech Mahindra, Mr. Manish Goenka joins Mr. Ankur Joshi, the CEO, and founder of Nuclei in a candid and insightful dialogue. This episode navigates through his extensive expertise, unveiling profound insights on Personal Growth, Persistence, and Leadership.

Manish also talks about the influences of nurture and parental authority influencing his leadership approach, providing an interesting perspective on parenting and people management.

  1. Conquering Language Barriers in Career Growth
  2. How Can Parents Ensure Their Kids Succeed?
  3. Parenting and Leadership - The Unobvious Similarities
  4. Staying Relevant as a Leader
  5. The Most Underestimated Factor for Career Growth

--Transcript Begins--

Ankur Joshi:

Hello, Everyone. This is Ankur Joshi, the Co-founder & CEO of Nuclei, a Fintech startup based in India. Nuclei collaborates with banks worldwide, developing and implementing innovative products for their customers. This podcast is a series of conversations with leaders in the banking industry, delving into their journeys, motivations, challenges, and leadership skills. Today, I'm honored to invite Manish Goenka, an industry veteran and leader, to our podcast.

I admire Manish for consistently raising his benchmarks and progressing over time. It becomes challenging as we advance in life, but Manish has demonstrated continuous leadership and the drive to reach the next level. Welcome to the podcast, Manish. I'm eager to learn more about your journey.

Manish Goenka:

Thank you very much, Ankur. I'm truly humbled to be on this podcast. I appreciate the opportunity for this interaction. I'm not sure if I'm entirely worthy of it, but thank you very much.

Ankur Joshi:

I understand you're a humble individual. We had a conversation before recording, and I'd like to delve deeper into that. Where does this humility come from? Before we explore your professional experience, let's revisit your formative years. Often, people's motivations are rooted in experiences during their growth and teen years. I want to understand the motivating factors that drive you and fuel your determination to consistently raise your benchmarks every few years.

Manish Goenka:

It's intriguing that you bring up this Ankur; you're right—sometimes, things subconsciously develop in the formative years, and when you reflect back, you realize these experiences might have shaped who you are. To understand myself better, I need to go back—not 60 years because the first 8-9 years may not be remembered much. I come from Amritsar, a small town in Punjab. It had its charm, culture, and a laid-back way of life, especially during my school years.

Transitioning to a big city like Delhi for engineering college was like a small fish entering the sea. It instilled confidence that, despite language challenges and an unfamiliar environment, I was as capable as anyone. The initial months were daunting, especially for someone from a town where English wasn't commonly spoken. It was a test of survival, and I felt like a lost soul.

The experience made me realize that, while I may not express myself as fluently, my knowledge and capabilities were on par or even better. This realization provided the strength to think, "I can do it, and I will." At that time, you might not understand the depth of these thoughts, but conversations like these help you connect the dots, revealing the experiences that changed your insight and made you resilient in a new environment. This was the journey's starting point in the late '70s and early '80s.

Ankur Joshi:

I can relate to your story. When I arrived in Bombay from Indore, despite a solid educational foundation provided by my parents, the linguistic environment posed a significant challenge. The exposure to peers fluent in English triggered feelings of inadequacy. Much like your journey, it took time to recognize that proficiency in English wasn't the sole determinant of success. Other factors, such as hard work and knowledge, played crucial roles. In hindsight, we both acknowledge these moments as transformative, where a paradigm shift in our perspectives occurred. Please, continue.

Manish Goenka:

Absolutely. These early experiences stick with you, influencing how you face challenges. The belief that you're as capable as anyone becomes a life principle. Moving from Delhi to places like the Middle East and Singapore, the belief stayed strong. Confidence in my knowledge and experience helps me in diverse situations. This mindset, shaped by early experiences, continues to guide me.

Ankur Joshi:

That's a very interesting insight because this is not something that you can learn in a book or from someone else. You have to go through that experience. You have to be in that uncomfortable situation for weeks or months. This is a kind of self-realization about your own abilities. Right?

Let's go back a bit. You spoke about earlier that your father wanted you to become a doctor, and you wanted to follow your path in technology and engineering. Again, like a disease, an extremely good engineering college. How did that conversation go over? Because considering, in the seventies, eighties, nineties, maybe even today, most of the middle-class parents in India want their kids to either become an engineer or a doctor.

Right? And it's very difficult to convince parents during our teen years that I don't want to do this, I want to do something else.

How did you go about doing that?

Manish Goenka:

So my father had a very selfish interest in wanting me to be a doctor.

The reason was very simple: at that point in time, Amritsar had a well-reputed medical college, but there was no engineering college. He, being a father, did not want me to go away if I could stay closer. Right, that was his interest. And I understood that. But I also knew very clearly that I am a left-brain guy. Alright. I like math, I like logic, and I'm not going to be a good doctor. I'm going to kill somebody someday if I become a doctor.

So the good thing is my father was always very open to listening, and when I told him no, I really don't want to do medical, there was really no argument. And I really appreciate that because in those days, you know, parents could actually be very, I will say that meant forcing children to do. But I was luckily in an environment where we are very open in discussion, and I had a very clear conversation.

See papa, I don't like medicine. I don't like biology. That was a 30-minute conversation just a day before signing, which, course, I wanted to go, and he said, no problem, go ahead. And here I am 37 years later, and I think I made the right decision.

Ankur Joshi:

Did you grow up with siblings?

Manish Goenka:

Yes. I have an elder sister, then I have a twin sister, and I have a younger brother. My younger brother is a doctor. He didn't do it from Amritsar; he did it from Pune, so he still went very far away.

Ankur Joshi:

How was it?

I grew up in a joint family. So there were seven brothers and sisters, and the conversation, the focus on education when you're growing up in a nuclear family versus when you're growing up in a joint family is very different. In a joint family, there is a lot of competition and comparison.

You had three more siblings. So how was that environment at home? How did that help you gain an upper hand when you went out into the world?

Manish Goenka:

As I said, our family environment was very education-oriented despite coming from a business family. My elder sister has a postgraduate degree in English. There was never pressure to study at specific times.

I was someone who studied in front of a television set when it came to Amritsar in 1974 or 1975. I could never study once the TV was off. There was never pressure from my parents as all of us were good enough academically without additional stress.

Reflecting on this, when I became a parent, we adopted a similar approach, providing guidance but not imposing strict study schedules. It worked well for my children, creating a stress-free environment.

Ankur Joshi:

Good, good. I think your parents were a blessing, providing you with that kind of experience. I've observed that many leaders derive their leadership skills from their family's leaders. The way they were brought up influences how they lead teams. High moral fiber and fairness instilled by parents often reflect in leadership styles.

Given your freedom growing up and passing it on to your children, how has this influenced your leadership skills? Leading a significant team, where young professionals report to you, how has this philosophy translated into your leadership?

Manish Goenka:

That's an excellent question. Reflecting on my management of teams and parenting, there's a striking similarity. I provide freedom with guardrails, guidance, and trust.

The philosophy is to let them go, believing they will perform. This philosophy originated from my childhood, guiding my kids and managing teams similarly. Trusting people until they give a reason not to has been my life principle. It simplifies life. While there may be occasional trust issues, overall, this approach has helped build strong teams.

Ankur Joshi:

This insight reminded me of my nana's advice. So, he used to say that if your kid is a good kid, then why don't you need to save wealth for her? If your kid is not a good kid, then also you don't do that, right?

This also translated into team management. If someone is good, minimal effort is needed to manage them. They excel independently. Similarly, if someone struggles, investing less time is advised.

Trust is given freely initially. Your philosophy of trust aligns with this approach, offering trust until it's broken. This philosophy seems valuable both professionally and personally.

Moving on to your career, you've changed benchmarks, progressing from managing products to political geographies and handling diverse regions like APAC. Motivating yourself to change benchmarks can be challenging.

What keeps you going, driving you to achieve more despite significant success?

Manish Goenka:

So being in technology, when I started my career 37 years ago, the concept of a desktop in India did not exist, even in the Western world. They were just starting to emerge, with computers primarily housed in computer centers within enterprises.

To the present day, where everyone carries a powerful computer in the form of a mobile, and technologies like ChatGPT are evolving rapidly. This journey in the technology sector, though narrow-focused, has been exhilarating and fast-paced, especially since the mid-'90s.

The rapid technological advancements, changing every two years, create a sense of urgency to keep learning, adding value, and staying relevant. The transformative impact of technology on our lives, from individuals to enterprises, continues to be a driving force. The excitement of constant change and the fear of falling behind keep me going, motivating me to explore what's next.

Ankur Joshi:

Absolutely. I think you're likely to continue this for the rest of your life. This becomes a way of life and doesn't change. This behavior or, I should say, personality trait, is something many people would want to have.

Is there a process people can follow to become more like you, or is it an experience someone has to go through?

Like we spoke about your experience in engineering college, what advice would you give to a fresh graduate entering the workforce? What can they do to develop this kind of curiosity and mindset to remain curious throughout their lives? What advice would you offer to remain very, very curious?

Manish Goenka:

I don't know if I can offer much advice here, but one thing I'd like to tell the younger generation is to meet people face to face, shake hands, and always be ready to learn from each other. Learning is a two-way street. I may have 37 years of professional experience, but I can always learn from someone finishing university because what she knows, I don't, and vice versa.

Be open to two-way learning. Learning doesn't happen on WhatsApp or Instagram. While these platforms are good for connecting with people, there's a hesitancy in the younger generation to physically meet people. The best learning occurs when you meet people face to face, understand different behaviors, and build relationships.

In today's globalized workplace, you'll deal with individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and languages. The more you interact with people in person, the better you'll understand them.

Continuous learning on the job is crucial, especially with the rapid advancement of technology. AI is now involved even in code writing, with nearly half of the code being automatically generated. To stay relevant, you must continuously learn and add value on top of what AI provides.

While technology learning is essential, human interaction is equally vital for developing personalities, attitudes, and leadership skills. Leadership isn't just about giving directions; it's about understanding people, developing teams, building trust, and fostering relationships.

Leadership is the ability to comprehend and connect with people, and the only way to achieve this is by talking to them directly. In a world where virtual interactions have become common, the ability to connect in person remains crucial for effective communication and leadership.

See, I give this example to a lot of people. When you write an email, the emotion of that email depends on the reader, not the writer. If I'm in an angry mood, you might have written something very simple. But if I'm in a bad mood, I may read that in a very different way and react to it differently. However, when I'm talking to you, I am listening to your emotions and the way you want appropriate. Absolutely, right? So, those are the things that are very important and give you human and behavioral understanding.

Ankur Joshi:

That's valuable advice. This particular trait is underrated; people often overlook its importance. Understanding how to interact with people, delving into social psychology, is crucial for individuals at any age.

Manish, your insights are insightful. Learning from your experiences is truly amazing; this conversation has given me much to ponder. After this, I'll reflect on aspects I should incorporate into my life. One last question, putting you on the spot—what's the kindest thing anyone has done for you?

Manish Goenka:

Numerous incidents shape one's life journey. One incident stands out, from my childhood around 1973-74.

I don't even remember my exact age at that time; I think I was nine or 10 years old, and my elder sister, 2.5 years older than me. So she was 12, 13, somewhere in between. My maternal grandparents, my mother being from Bombay (Mumbai), meant that every summer holiday, the only trip we made was to our maternal grandparents' house. Every summer, we used to go, creating memories. That particular year, it was a long train journey, 36 hours.

Something happened that year; my parents couldn't travel with us, especially my mother. However, we were adamant, both of us insisted on going. My parents took this risk, around 1973-74, a time when the concept of mobile phones did not exist. There was no way to connect with someone once you were on the train, and it departed.

So, they took a big chance with us, both in an air-conditioned chair car. This train used to be deluxe express-sized. I remember being en route to Bombay Central. My Mom had communicated with the train on the phone prior to departure, confirming everything was okay. Normally, the food would be served on the train, and everything would be fine.

However, somewhere between Kota and Ratlam, due to a flood or something, a bridge got destroyed. The train had to stop and get diverted, maybe to Indore or something. That train got delayed by 12 hours—12 hours with two kids, nobody around, and nobody knowing where we were.

During those 12 hours, the people around us on the train took care of us as if we were family—providing us with food, ensuring we had everything we needed, and comforting us. They assured us, "Don't worry, We will take care of you." Complete strangers, right? They realized that these two kids were all alone, the train was stuck for 12 hours, and we might have naturally started crying or something during that time.

I have some vague faces that come to me naturally; I don't know their names or anything like that. But the way they took care of us for those 12 hours tells you that humanity was there, is there, and as long as we are humans, it remains with us. We reached our destination safely. On the other hand, when we reached, our family was there to receive us. They were in touch with the railway authorities. That incident and that significant memory from my childhood stay with me, illustrating how strangers came to your assistance when you really needed it. That, to me, is the top incident of my life.

Ankur Joshi:

What an amazing story! Such incidents indeed shape one's personality. Thank you for sharing your time and insights. Next time I'm in Singapore, dinner is on me.

Manish Goenka:

Let me know when you're in Singapore. We'll catch up over dinner. Your journey is inspiring, and I wish you continued success. Thank you, and take care.

Ankur Joshi:


Manish Goenka:


--Transcript Ends--