KIRTHIGA REDDY, Head, Facebook India, on completing a successful year in the country
As the head of one of the fastest growing social networking websites in the country, 40-year-old Kirthiga Reddy, Head and Director Online Operations, Facebook India, is a busy woman. We catch her in between meetings for a quick photo-shoot and an interview. Her affable charm combined with her go-getter attitude make her the freshest face of success in the country. The company, which opened its India operations last year, has managed not only to grow its India user base but has made significant contribution to its global business through ad sales and major tie-ups—all in a little over a year.
The India leg came at a significant time of Facebook’s international growth as more than 75 per cent of Facebook’s over 800 million plus users are outside of the United States. In India alone, Facebook has seen rapid growth. Last year, when the company announced its decision to set up an office in the country, there were 8 million people actively connecting on Facebook. Within a year, the number has grown to 25 million people who use the social networking website to connect with their family and friends. “We opened our office in India to support the company’s growing number of users, advertisers and developers worldwide who are capitalising on Facebook’s global service to foster relationships with people and reach out to new customers locally and internationally,” she says.
As the first employee of the company in the country last year, not only did she start the India operations from scratch but also had to actually open the office shutters on day one. She calls that her ‘AHA’ moment. In just one year, she has helped build a connection with customers. For example, Pepsico India used the Facebook platform during their Cricket World Cup ‘Change the game’ campaign to see high engagement with consumers. They got more than 22 million hits, exceeding campaign targets. The Facebook platform has been used by big brands and small and medium businesses alike to leverage the power of word of mouth on a mass scale. Reddy was working with the Us-based Phoenix Technologies when Facebook offered her the job. It
was a “dream come true” and she jumped at the chance. The fact that she would be shifting base was not a deterrent as, “after frequent work-related visits to India, one could clearly sense the change happening and how it was the place to be, professionally and personally,” she says. She moved to the country in 2008, “That’s when I became an active user of Facebook to keep my husband—then still in the US (now back in India)—connected about things concerning our two daughters, Ashna, 9, and Ariya 6. Also, having lived in the US for 14 years, Facebook allows me to connect with my friends there,” says Reddy. It’s her dream job. “There isn’t any other company that is touching lives in such a fundamental way—fulfilling the basic human need to connect, share and be part of a larger community. I am humbled to have had the opportunity to work for a company that is changing the world, making it more open and connected,” she says.
Reddy grew up in India. Born to middle-class parents, her father, a government employee, moved every every four years. She says that is what makes her an adaptable adult. Mumbai, Chennai, and smaller towns such as Dandeli and Nanded is where she spent her formative years. “My mother and father believed that if there was a school in the neighbourhood, that’s where I would go. That made me learn to make the most of any situation,” she says.
She finished her computer engineering from MGM College of Engineering, Nanded and stood second. It was around her graduation that her parents moved to Nagpur and she moved with them. “As I asked about software roles in Nagpur, all roads led to Kanetkar (author of Let us C and Exploring C), which are staples in engineering colleges,” she says. That was her first job and her role included, software programming, training and helping Kanetkar with the programming examples in his books to illustrate key concepts. She says it was her time there that provided a learning ground to strive for world-class excellence. It was also her first taste of working in a small startup environment where one had to wear many hats— creativity and innovation ruled. “I started studying for my GMAT then, and I vividly remember my colleagues doing flashcards during breaks to help me work on my GMAT scores,” she fondly reminisces. She then went
on to become the first in her family to get a technical and business degree in the United States.
Reddy holds a Master’s in business administration from Stanford University and an M.S. in computer engineering from Syracuse University. Experimental by nature she has worked with established brands such as Silicon Graphics and Motorola. At Silicone Graphics, she was the youngest director of engineering and the only woman at that level in her team. One of the career challenges for her was when she moved from running product management at Motorola to coming back to India for an 18-month assignment for a general management role. “Change is hard although, in hindsight, it was a great career decision and led to the role I now have that I consider it a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she says. Her biggest support system through transitions has been her family. “My parents and my husband, Dev, have been truly the pillars of strength in my life, encouraging me in every step and guiding me to bring out the best in me. They have been the reason for my growth and my success today,” she says.
The understanding that it’s about work-life flexibility and work-life integration, not really work-life balance, is what keeps her fire from burning out, she says. For example, when her second daughter, Ariya, was born and she worried whether she would have to make a choice about excelling at work which involved travel or excelling as a mom and wanting to tend to her for the first year, “I decided I could do both. While a lot of travel was delegated, for the must-travel times, I travelled with her, and I found local day care wherever I went. When you decide something is important, it is amazing how nature conspires to make things happen for you. The message here is to create your own choices. To not accept the tyranny of the ‘or’ but embrace the power of the ‘and’,” she says.
Excited about building on Facebook India’s foundation of the past year, her big mission now is to create a Facebook India advantage for Facebook globally along with fostering the next generation of women leaders in India, driving children’s causes like safety and access to education, and making an impact at a national level. Young and restless, here is a leader to watch out for.
Young Leader: Reddy
with her team