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The Shiny New Object Podcast: five things I learned from Axa's Sudesh Thevasenabathy

By Tom Ollerton

November 26, 2019 | 5 min read

Interviewed in the latest installment of the Shiny New Object Podcast by Automated Creative’s Tom Ollerton is Sudesh Thevasenabathy, head of customer care transformation, Axa Hong Kong and Macau. Here are five things Ollerton found out as a result of the conversation.

Image of AXA Logo

A family isn’t a liability

Thevasenabathy and I both have young children, and we discussed the fact that there’s a common perception that having a family holds your career back and limits your opportunities. Thevasenabathy has an interesting way to flip this on its head, however. He sees his family as the driving force behind his work. His family keeps him stronger and going back home to them reminds him what he’s working for. That could be in terms of simply putting food on the table, or making sure his children have every opportunity to build successful careers of their own.

Let bad experiences drive you to be better

Thevasenabathy is a person of colour, and he lightheartedly describes himself to me as “a very nice brown, actually”. But, he says, it’s led to him being discriminated against throughout his life. Whether that’s growing up and not being given equal access or opportunities, or within his career - he’s had to try a lot harder than others just to remain on par. However, it’s also driven him and I get the impression that this experience is part of what’s made him the empathetic person he is today. From co-founding Axa’s Diversity and Inclusion Council to becoming a recognised and awarded champion of LGBTQ+ rights in Hong Kong, he’s let negative experiences fuel him, and made some amazing things happen.

Looking back creates regret

Thevasenabathy grew up in a typical Indian family where there were three career choices available to him - medicine, law or engineering. Media or marketing, where his passion lay, was a no-go. So he started in engineering, jumped around from industry to industry, business to business. Eventually, he landed in HSBC in a role that exposed him to many different parts of the company and allowed him to follow what he was passionate about. However, this wasn’t an easy task - every time he handed his notice in or took a pay cut, it felt like a massive gamble, even a mistake. What he’s learned over time is that you’ve got to look forward, to be comfortable being uncomfortable. If you’ve got to the point where you're ready to hand your notice in, make the decision without regrets and with an open mind to where it can take you next. Time spent looking back is time wasted.

Don’t wait for change - make it happen

I probed a little more into Thevasenabathy's role in Axa’s Diversity and Inclusion Council and, surprisingly, it wasn’t something he was asked to take on. The initiative came from him and other like-minded people in the business getting together, putting together the areas they believed needed to be addressed, presenting a business case for funding- then taking it on themselves. The impact this proactivity has had is huge, and Thevasenabathy has even had people in Axa approaching him on a personal basis to share how much the work that he and his fellow council members have done has impacted them. Axa has also incorporated D&I questions into its employee surveys and is seeing the needle move on staff perceptions and how these activities are impacting them in a positive way.

Stressed? Get ‘regimentally creative’

Out of work, Thevasenabathy spends his money on something many of us may consider a little unusual - Lego. In his house, he has a Lego room, proudly showing off his creations in display cases. Building with Lego is what he does for fun and to relax, but it’s also a reflection of how his personality has changed over time, both in and out of a working environment. For example, he describes how stressed he used to be when he’d get to the end of a Lego project and one piece was missing. Now, with the benefit of experience and maturity, he works around this, finding a creative way to cover up the gap in his work. He says that this mindset of being ‘regimentally creative’ had helped him become a calmer person.

Listen to the episode in full below


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