Systems Thinking, India, and the Big Picture

Vineet Thuvara

By Vineet Thuvara, MIT System Design and Management Program, ‘05
Worldwide Launch Lead—Windows Server
Microsoft Corp.

April 27, 2010

Today, more than ever, India is associated with engineering. But India has been an engineer-creating society for a long time, certainly since Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru helped establish the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) in 1950s. This is where I received my Masters in Industrial Design in 1997.

At IIT, one of my professors, Dr.Soumitri, noticed that I liked to look at the "big picture"—not just how to make a good product but the reason for making it, its potential market, and its sustainability from both an environmental and revenue-producing standpoint. Dr Soumitri told me, "You think like a business guy. Start a business."

I did. In my last semester at IIT, I co-founded, along with two other classmates, 5th Quadrant, a consulting company that offered product, graphic and space design services. One of our largest graphic/martketing-related design clients was Amway.

After a few years, I was managing Amway’s $8 million, marketing communications budget and was invited to join their staff as India head of marketing communications and research. This job had many engineering aspects but what was most important to me was that it offered the chance to be in the boardroom and to broaden my thinking about both business and technology. I realized that marketing should be a part of product development, not something done after the fact. Only then can one create a brand and optimize revenue.

At Amway, many directors and senior marketing people had MBAs. An MBA would have given me a notch up on things I had already done successfully with my colleagues at Amway, such as manage finances, cut costs, and oversee market analysis. I wanted to combine my strengths in both business and engineering and learn how to think about end-to-end processes in a scientific way. That’s what brought me to MIT and the System Design and Management (SDM) program, which offered a master’s in engineering and management and would help me go beyond an MBA.

After graduating, I joined Microsoft as a Senior Manager in Windows Server Marketing. In the System Design and Management program, I learned how to look at value creation from that end-to-end, big picture perspective. At Microsoft, I was able to use that to improve Windows Server Enterprise Edition’s value proposition by leveraging my engineering experience (optimizing scalability and reliability, adding virtualization capabilities) and business knowledge, emphasizing synergies with products enterprises already used. This represents the systems approach to thinking and leading emphasized throughout the SDM program.

Systems thinking also helped me in my next challenge: leading a global launch of Windows Server that addressed large and small companies in over 100 countries. In my next role I will serve as business manager and chief-of-staff for the general manager of Microsoft’s management and virtualization business. This will require more complex levels of systems thinking to effectively manage how the business, people, budget interact with market economics.

A systems approach is necessary if India is to continue to grow. Indian companies must become strategic partners with companies such as Microsoft. However, the cost-cutting business model that gave birth to the technology revolution in India is not sustainable because if low cost is the only driver because there will always another country that that can get the work done more cheaply. India must add value – and many companies have started doing that. That’s where systems thinking comes in.

Someday I would like to find ways to give back to India by bringing SDM’s way of systems thinking home. I believe that it can help Indian organizations add value and continue to grow and prosper.

Photo by L. Barry Hetherington