Rohit Prabhakar’s journey to his current role as Chief Growth Officer at EQ Holdings has taken a rich and varied path and included top leadership roles at some of the world’s largest health and media companies. He’s a digital transformation thought leader and his blog and social media presence have massive global followings. The CMO Club caught up with Rohit and asked him to share key insights from his journey. Our first question:
What are three themes that have been present throughout your career?
Learning, Mentors, And Making Things Better
My first theme is a hunger for learning. I am always reading — blogs, business books, feeds. I am constantly seeking to understand new technologies and emerging trends. I love being right on the edge of innovation and learning about the latest breakthroughs. I look for ways to apply the latest insights to the work my team and I do. I’m connected to a strong network of incredibly smart people, who write, give talks, and generously share perspectives with me in private conversations. I’m always hungry to understand the waves that are building, and how they will sculpt the future of marketing and business. Learning has been present throughout my career and life.
The second theme is mentorship. I have received the most generous gift a person can be given in a professional context – the guidance and support of mentors. Many incredibly successful leaders have invested in my professional growth. My fellow CMO Club member and long-time friend Gaurav Bhatia, my McKesson manager Andy Burtis, my mentee Devansh Khatri, who is now my coach on all things Crypto. Many others come to mind when I reflect on the mentors who have helped shape my journey. I strongly feel everything that happens to a person is because of the people who support, love, and care about them. My mentors have been present throughout my career. I’m the beneficiary of their generous counsel, support, and attention.
The third theme that’s been present throughout is my passion for making things better. I am always persistent in my effort to improve – starting with myself first. I always seek to humbly and honestly ask this question: how can I make things better? How can I make our team better? How can I help individual team members grow and become better? It’s easy to look over the fence and say the grass is greener there. I value what’s here — where I am and what I have. My disposition is to start watering the grass on my side of the fence. I bring my focus to making these things better.
My father was a volunteer leader in a spiritual organization where I also got involved since early childhood. By the time I was in secondary school I served as my father’s proxy for a large area of the organization. As a very young man, I was leading critical, complex priorities that involved the mobilization of hundreds of volunteers. All of these volunteers were significantly older and more senior than me. That experience taught me vital leadership lessons I still carry with me today. Great leaders master the art of influence. It’s not about imposing an agenda. It’s about communicating purpose, building community, and fostering consensus. Brute determination won’t drive results in the way that harmony and partnerships will. And when you’re leading volunteers, the only leverage you have is inspiration and persuasion. You must build relationships based on trust. Leading volunteers is the ultimate training ground for leaders, and it presents the most challenging leadership tests. While my skills continue to grow and get refined, these leadership experiences as a very young man defined and profoundly shaped who I am as a leader.
Great leaders master the art of influence. It’s not about imposing an agenda. It’s about communicating purpose, building community, and fostering consensus.
The Window of Opportunity is Also a Mirror
My pivotal moments of growth often involved a new window of opportunity presenting which allowed me to see myself in new ways and grow. It always starts with lots of preparation. I have an undergraduate degree in medical science, but my close association with a cousin who was steeped in computers opened my eyes to the opportunities in the tech sector. This window of opportunity helped me see a future for me in tech, and the passion I had for it. My journey to the U.S. started with lots of preparation and a window of opportunity also. I started coming to the U.S. in 2005 for short 3-6 month projects. In 2008 I was tapped to immediately take on a 3-month assignment in the States to address a pressing business problem: a number of senior leaders had recently gone to competitors and the risk of revenue attrition following them was high. I came to address that imperative and the experience helped me see the life here that called to me. The hats I’ve worn throughout my career reflect those transitions — from software engineer to sales, marketing, digital, and executive leadership. They all started with strong preparation that led to windows of opportunities being presented. In each of those windows, I could see myself in new ways and it helped me grow. I specialize in digital transformations and in many ways, those two words are apt descriptors for my journey.
It always starts with lots of preparation. A window of opportunity presents, and through it you can see yourself in new ways and grow.
Know Where Your Energy Comes From
I get up very early in the morning. The first thing I do is meditate for an hour or more. Spending time with myself is an entry point to every day. It is the source of energy that carries me through the commitments on my calendar and it defines the tone for the conversations I will have. As days turn to weeks, then months and years, I know it’s my family and friends who feed my longer-term energy. I never lose sight of the end game; I know when I retire it’s my family and friends that my life will revolve around. I love to cook and I’m sure I’ll be preparing vegetarian cuisine for those closest to me. Who knows, a restaurant might be a future option. My hack on pizzas inspired by Indian cuisine already have a following among family and friends. I love learning. I love sharing. I love coaching and nurturing and caring about others. That’s how I give back. And that’s how I get energy back.
I meditate every morning. It gives me energy that carries me through my day and defines the tone for the conversations I will have.
Intention + Discipline = Balance
I’m so fortunate to be married to a beautiful, intelligent woman. We have two wonderful children. I’m very deliberate about being mentally present when I’m physically with them. When I come home I stop working completely. I have separate personal and work phones. When I’m with family the work phone turns off. I separate my personal and professional lives in this way because it’s my path to achieving balance. My focused attention can only be given to one priority at a time.
This reality was made very clear to me when my wife was experiencing health issues and the weekly travel and incredible demands of my job masked my ability to see that clearly. I failed to appropriately notice, and her hardship became worse. By the time I fully understood, she had already suffered. That experience re-calibrated me in very important ways.
By bringing intention and discipline to where my focus is, I filter out distractions and am able to be fully present in the moment. I found that when my home life and my work life were intermingled on devices, it was difficult to separate them in life. It’s still something I’m working on. It’s a constant challenge. But I am conscious about implementing this equation in my life.
I want the deliberate and intentional approach I’m personally taking on prioritizing balance to set an example for my direct reports and my extended team. It’s very important to get really good at listening to what’s happening at home, and what’s happening in your organization, in your business. You need to support your organization in the same ways you would your family. When my people see me prioritizing balance with my actions, I am setting the norm. It gives my leaders permission and support to do the same, and set an example for everyone in the organization.
I have separate work and personal phones. When my home life and work life were intermingled on a single device, it was difficult to separate them in life.
Mistakes and Momentum
Every business leader wants to build momentum. But you can’t just flip a switch or hire consultants to come in and build momentum. Creating momentum is about small wins, and making sure your people know they’ll be supported when they make mistakes. Momentum happens with a series of frequent incremental wins over a sustained period of time. Committed, engaged teams create momentum. To do great work, your people need to know they have the space to make mistakes. They need to know they’ll be supported when they fail, and that the team will back them up. These conditions make for a very strong working environment and foster excellence in individual performance, which fuels team achievement. With each small win, the confidence in the team grows. And as that happens, the cadence of wins quickens. The wins get bigger, and momentum builds.
Creating momentum is about small wins, and making sure your people know they’ll be supported when they make mistakes.
It’s vital to build our teams in agile ways so that we can react to things quickly. Markets move so fast. As business leaders we’re instrumenting everything. We now have so much data that can inform our decisions. Yes, we need to make sure our data is good. Any decision is only as good as the data that is informing it. But being agile is more than quick, data-driven decisions. Being agile is about how we set up our teams in nimble ways. It is turning the insights from the data into actions our teams are able to execute, so they can move as quickly as the market does. We need to help our people develop core strength in agility. We need to architect our teams to be nimble. Small, agile teams can make very big things happen.
When we set up our teams in agile ways we can turn insights from the data into action, and move as quickly as the market does.