Advice, Diversity & Inclusion

A Day in the Life of a 5am-er - Shilpa Aggarwal

Published 28 Apr 2020 by Sandra Au


Shilpa walks into a room like a force of nature, all at once immaculately poised and put together. She’s got a backbone of steel and yet, an unmistakable idealism and zest for life that spurred her decision to join Singtel two years ago. Since then, she’s seen her portfolio triple in size while all at once retaining the same number of limbs and hours in a day.

Exacting routines and habits

Shilpa has managed to perfect the art of an early start, a work ethic espoused by many CEOs around the world.

“I’m typically in the gym by 5am. It’s a resolution I set for myself this year, and I’m proud to have shifted from doing it for aesthetic reasons to a mindset of fitness and health.”

By 7am, she’s in the office catching up on emails, reading, and doing strategic thinking before the day gets into full swing. She professes to not being a fan of meetings despite her calendar often falling victim to them. In the remaining half of her work day, she prefers to be sinking her teeth into the execution of projects and deliverables right alongside her team. It is at the forefront of change and dynamism that Shilpa thrives, and exactly why her tenacious work ethic that has seen her grow from strength to strength.

Driving change and transformation

In her current role as Head of Strategy & Digitalisation, she has great influence over the direction of Singtel’s Group Enterprise, identifying growth opportunities and new areas of focus. She also oversees two innovation labs –  FutureNow Innovation Centre (FIC) and Centre of Digital Excellence (CODE), which help to co-create innovative solutions and support Singtel’s digitalisation agenda to compete with tech giants and start-ups.

With so many things on her plate, Shilpa asserts the importance of a growth mindset in being at the forefront of change and innovation. It is exactly her thirst for change and dynamism that makes her a perfect candidate to be at the forefront of transformation.

“Currently, I am working on doubling the impact of digitalisation. Over the last two years, we have been steadily putting critical building blocks in place to reduce our time to market by 20 - 30% and increase customer satisfaction,” she shares.

Elaborating, she notes how “another intuitive step is also to work towards incorporating AI and analytics in our day-to-day decision-making. Having the agility to swiftly respond to our customers helps keep our business sustainable.”

Leading amongst the people

A learning curve that Shilpa has had to overcome is learning how to manage a significantly larger team, as her roles and responsibilities expanded.

With a background in consultancy, she joined Singtel in 2018 after 14 years in McKinsey.

“I wanted to work in a local company which was in the midst of transformation and help them achieve those transformation objectives. I prefer to be closer to action and decision-making than far away from the process,” she shares.

 “I think of a team as building a Lego house, all the pieces need to come together for it to work. Everyone has their own unique skillsets and my role is to ensure that we are in constant iteration. Our goals are constantly progressing and changing, and staff roles and responsibilities must evolve accordingly as well.”

She’s grateful to have had the opportunity to stretch herself, and to learn how to drive a consensus while keeping everyone’s interests at heart.

“The path to get to the same goal may be very different for everyone, and my job is to ensure that everyone is aligned to the same objective.”

When asked about a person she’d love to work with, Shilpa immediately replies “Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft.”

Marveling at his ability to inspire people, she cites how he achieved the near impossible task of moving Microsoft’s legacy of being solely defined by the Windows operating system to an immensely successful cloud company in just 5 years.

Discussing the importance of empowering one’s staff, Shilpa opines “the empathy and principles he brought into the organisation helped set the tone for the entire company.”

“That is the type of leadership style which I admire and hope to put into practice. Many leaders think of effectiveness, but not many think of leading with empathy.”

An equal world is an empowered world

In an issue equally close to her heart, Shilpa shares her hopes for equal opportunities for girls, be it at home or at workplace.

“For example, equal access to education is extremely important. Girls sometimes are at a disadvantage, where social norms place a girl’s education of a lower priority than a boy’s especially if a family’s resources are scarce. There needs to be equality right from the get-go, from childhood itself.”

She also notes how gender stereotypes cut both ways, and with repercussions for both men and women.

“In the same manner that a woman who has a point of view should not be considered aggressive, men who take paternity leave should not be looked down upon for wanting to take up a rightful and equal hand in raising their children.”

“While gender stereotypes are arguably more debilitating for women, we must be mindful that these biases and prejudices need to be inhibited from all fronts if we wish to resolve the problems caused by gender inequality.”

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