Episode 6 Transcript – Raj Krishnamoorthy Episode

Ascend Canada > Episode 6 Transcript – Raj Krishnamoorthy Episode

Haritha:

Hello and welcome to the Ascend Canada podcast. Ascend Canada’s vision is to have a diverse and inclusive Canada where pan-Asian and talent can achieve their full potential.

Haritha:

Hi everyone. I’m your host Haritha Krishnamurthy and I’m excited to be here today. I’d like to welcome a very special person, one of the founding fathers of Ascend Canada, and a very well known name in the Ascend Canada community, Raj Krishnamoorthy. Well, for those of wondering if Raj and I are related in any way because we do share the same surname. No, it’s just a coincidence. And it’s how Raj and I first got introduced at Deloitte. So, to give you some background, Raj is actually a partner in the Deloitte risk advisory practice, and he focuses it in cyber risk and manages Deloitte’s managed security services. So Raj is also the sponsor at the Deloitte Canadian Asian Network that aims to help professionals of Asian descent achieve their full potential, so very similar to Ascend Canada’s mission. I do see a trend there.

Haritha:

I personally know Raj as an avid reader, podcast enthusiast and spokesperson for Ascend Canada. In fact, it was over a cup of coffee that Raj introduced me to the wonderful world of Ascend, and there has been no looking back for me since then. Raj has also served on the board of Ascend Canada since its formation in 2011. And he only recently rolled off the board. I’m super excited to cover Raj’s journey and experiences as a professional and as a leader in the [D&I 00:01:48] space. So I bring you now Raj Krishnamoorthy.

Raj:

Hey, Haritha. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to share some of the history, background and journey of Ascend through the last decade.

Haritha:

Well, we’re super excited to hear more about that. So, diving deep into it, Raj, you were there when the big bang happened, tell us more about it? What triggered the formation of Ascend Canada?

Raj:

As you said earlier in your introduction, Haritha, the thing that we were exploring initially, because we’d created this Canadian Asian Network in Deloitte, we were looking to see how we could actually learn from industry broadly, and we had approached the Ascend US organization, as a matter of fact a person on the board that’s still on the board there was the one that Kelvin Tran and Leon Chin from Ernst & Young, and I had approached independently to try and see how we could actually bring the notion of Ascend in the US to Canada.

Raj:

And Sandeep Gupta who was the board member in the US had connected us together and said, “Why don’t you guys try and see if there’s an opportunity?” So Leon, Kelvin and I had met in one of the downtown restaurants, and on a napkin had tried to sketch out what the benefits would be and what the intention would be. And from there, we’d form a coalition of financial institutions, professional services firms, law firms. And I’ll be honest, in our wildest dreams we could not have envisioned the fact that we’re a 3000 member organization a mere eight, nine years from when we’d set out, and more than 20 sponsor organizations, which is where we are today.

Haritha:

That’s incredible. And it almost sounds like one of those stories you hear about startups starting in the garage, and here you just came up with this vision on a napkin in a cafe. It’s, I think, a story to tell for more generations to come. I mean, I think that was the first story that I heard when you and I had coffee in Deloitte, and it just was mind blowing because I lived in the US and I never knew about Ascend as an organization, but in Canada it has such a huge presence today, and it’s thanks to leaders like you that actually sat down and penned out the vision on a napkin. So, that’s amazing.

Haritha:

And I started off this podcast with talking about Ascend’s vision, and with a focus on how pan-Asian talent can achieve their full potential. And it looks like, Raj, you’re very keen on promoting pan-Asian talent and ensuring that they achieve their full potential. Why was the focus of Ascend Canada on pan-Asians and what brought you, Kelvin together to tap into this resource and their potential?

Raj:

I’ll be honest and say that as we looked at the vision then of Ascend Canada, what we realized was that when we saw the global landscape, especially in the US, it was quite normal to actually see the heads, for example, of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, and say, IBM, Arvind Krishna, or Google, Sundar Pichai, all of pan-Asian descent at the helm of these respective organizations. Interestingly today, the global head of Deloitte, our global CEO, Punit Renjen, is also of pan-Asian descent, and by the way, he’s a huge supporter of Ascend. But when we scan the Canadian landscape, the pan-Asian descent chief executive is the exception rather than the norm. So, when we set out initially, our focus was to make this C-level executive occurrence more the norm than an exception. So that was what we were hoping for. And this is our way collectively, I guess, of paying it forward so that we pave the path for the next generation and ensure that we encounter the success that is required for us to, as pan-Asians, not only succeed, but excel in the pan-Canadian landscape.

Haritha:

Yeah, you’re right. The day that I think Sundar Pichai became CEO, and even of Alphabet now, I think it was a moment of pride across Asia, right? To see such a massive corporation headed by someone like Sundar Pichai or even Microsoft being headed by Satya Nadella. And I think, personally speaking, an Asian mentality is to undermine ourselves. We say that, “Don’t toot your own horn.” So when you see those leaders coming to the forefront, and they’re not leaders who were born and raised in the US, they were actually immigrants from India or Asia moving to the West. So it gives you a sense of hope and a confidence that, “Hey, you know what? I can get there too.”

Haritha:

So, it’s amazing that you mentioned that you were paving the way for the future generations. But I think a lot of it also has to do with what you’ve experienced personally. And it goes back to our roots, our culture, where we come from. So I’d like to know a little bit about yourself? What brought you to Canada? Tell us something about your journey as a human being?

Raj:

Sure. I actually was born and brought up in India and had an opportunity after my post graduation to actually go to the UK and qualify as a chartered accountant in the UK, so that’s what I’d done. I’d actually joined Deloitte, had worked there for about eight years based in London, and then in the early nineties had an opportunity to actually transfer from the Deloitte London office to the Deloitte Toronto office. And at that stage, it was meant to be a two year stint not knowing whether or not here is where I would plant my root, so to speak.

Raj:

But the experience in Canada was, from a work standpoint, extremely fulfilling. The challenges seemed to be there, the opportunities seemed to be there. We were at that stage just coming out of a recession, so the economy was on the right trajectory, and I decided that this was where home was going to be. And in hindsight, I’d reflect on it and say, that was an amazing decision.

Haritha:

So I see you were ready to brace the minus 40 degree and the snow storms. And coming from a tropical country like India, wow, that must’ve been a big change. I know England is a little more wet and gloomy, like how it is today outside, but that’s amazing that you decided to make Canada your home back in the day when it was freezing temperatures.

Haritha:

Funny how we share a similar journey where even I was in England for a bit, not eight years, but a little less than that, but I can imagine that when you move to a new country you sometimes tend to feel like a fish out of water. So how has your experience, moving from India to the UK and then Canada, how was it interacting with pan-Asians? And did you really truly feel like a fish out of water?

Raj:

I’ll be honest and say that it was a lot more welcoming than I had envisioned and had anticipated, because I would say that, especially in corporate Canada, where you credentialize yourself, and I was coming from a Deloitte world into a Deloitte world, so it was significantly easier to just hit my stride. So I would say that from a friend circle, social circle standpoint, I was a little bit of a fish out of water, but I would be honest and say that initially through work everyone was extremely welcoming. And I think that is something, as I reflect on it, that Canadians need to be extremely proud of, and that is it’s a relatively easy work environment and environment broadly, directly settled into.

Haritha:

Yes, you’re so right. I think the transition into Canadian workforce and corporate Canada is a much seamless transition because it’s already a melting pot, and I would say it’s a mosaic of different cultures, and they’re so welcoming, everyone’s welcoming, there’s empathy, there’s understanding of different cultures, so that’s awesome that you felt that when you moved a while ago. Do you think much has changed between then and now?

Raj:

I would say things are relatively similar to be honest. There was less focused on what we call diversity and inclusion then, however, there was a movement afoot to try and see what we could do in organizations, particularly when it came to gender diversity, which was a bigger issue, and as we all know, still is not a nut that we’ve cracked yet.

Haritha:

Yeah. You hit the nail on the head. It’s interesting because you speak of gender diversity, I was just reading an article yesterday by Catalyst, and this is a 2019 article though, and it says that in Canada only 10% of around the entire C-suite execs are women. Right? So, we’re still miles behind to reach gender equality at the exec level. But yeah, please continue.

Raj:

No, and at that stage, when I looked around me, there were some partners in the Deloitte Canada world of pan-Asian descent, but not as many. So I remember speaking to the then managing partner in Toronto, a guy by the name, Yezdi Pavri, who also happened to of pan-Asian descent, and his guidance then was initially, before we started the Canadian Asian Network as a people network, he’d said, “Let’s not try and attract attention to our differences. Try and blend in, try and not highlight some of the differences.” But the thing that bothered me then was we still didn’t see enough pan-Asian leaders within the firm and the Canadian landscape. So the goal then, and which is why I’d actually reached out to Ascend to try and bring that Ascend Canada to life, was if there are systemic issues that prevent pan-Asian talent in particular to rise to the top, how do we A, identify it? And B, how do we pave the path for that pan-Asian talent to rise?

Haritha:

Yeah. No, you are spot on there because I think a lot of it has to do, when it comes to your differences, we are always downplaying them. Right? And we’re not trying to bring our whole self to work, which I think is the crux of any organization’s success. Because just take this podcast for instance. Right? When I started off, I always have this struggle with my accents because I have an Indian accent sometimes, I have sometimes a British accent, sometimes it’s Canadian, and when I started off this podcast, I said, “You know what? What do I say, podcast? Or do I say podcast? Or do I say podcast?” I was so confused, and I thought to myself, “You know what? If something Ascend Canada has taught me, it’s to bring my whole self to the table.” You know? “I don’t care. I’m going to be who I am.” And I think that’s one of the highlights that Ascend Canada, in the recent past especially, has outlined in the paper on covering.

Haritha:

So, I wanted to touch a bit on that, because like you mentioned, it’s not about downplaying our differences, it’s about embracing them, bringing our whole selves to work. And I know you are a big spokesperson for covering, in fact you were featured in the video when they’ve played it in the fall conference a couple of years ago. But what are your thoughts on covering? Do you have any personal stories to share for our listeners?

Raj:

Yeah. The key thing for me was it was more of an aha as I was reflecting on my journey. And I realized that I was just as guilty of covering as I was planting my roots in Canada. So an example would be when people here would ask me about my background, I would accentuate the fact that I was qualified from England rather than also highlight the fact that I did my studies up to my postgraduate level in India. And somehow I thought I would be better credentialized if I was to highlight my UK experience rather than my whole experience. And that was a little bit of an aha because I owe a lot to the foundational aspects that I gleaned as I went through my education in India, as much as I do to my professional experience and designation in the UK. So for me to suppress that part of my background, I thought was interesting. And perhaps not being genuine, which is one of the things that was an aha for me, which is why I actually stuck my neck out and said, “No, we need to address covering.”

Raj:

And that’s one small example, but there are a plethora of other examples where people struggle with this notion of not bringing their whole self and constantly checking themselves to see how should I behave? How should I operate? How should I speak? And we just want people to bring their whole self into work and be themselves as they strive to excel in every sphere of life.

Haritha:

No, that’s amazing coming from a leader like you, who’s so passionate about D&I. And inclusion, I think is more critical because today we have a lot of diversity in Canada, but do they all feel included and part of one community? I think for that, to bring your whole self, hide nothing, it’s so critical. So on that note, if you were to give a one-line advice or a tip to our fellow pan-Asian professionals, what would that be?

Raj:

So, as I reflect on that, one of my clients said to me, “It doesn’t matter how much you know. What matters is how much you care.” Now in a client service business I think there’s maybe a little more resonance to that, but I would say that, going back to our previous topic that we covered of covering, if you bring your whole self to work and genuinely care then the results will automatically follow. So for me, what that client said has been a rallying cry. Cared deeply about the impact that you create in the immediate work environment where you can actually make a huge difference.

Haritha:

That is profound. I think passion is critical, right? For anything to succeed. If you really are passionate about the cause and what you believe in, then the results will follow. So that’s an amazing takeaway. It’s going to be quite sad to not see you in the board meetings at Ascend Canada going forward. You’ve stepped down and you’re passing the baton on to someone else from Deloitte I believe. But it’s a trip down memory lane, I’d like to know what have been some of your best memories with Ascend Canada?

Raj:

So first of all, Andrew Kwong is a new board member from Ascend. And as I was preparing my exit remarks at the last board meeting that I attended, I said that he’ll be twice as good with half the energy that he needs to bring.

Haritha:

Welcome, Andrew. Welcome, we’re super excited to have you on board.

Raj:

But as I reflect on what are the things that I take away? It certainly has been the memories that I’ve taken away. The long-lasting relationships that I formulated, because to be honest, it is very difficult to formulate those long-lasting relationships across organizations, within your organizations I think the ability to create those relationships are easier and there’s more natural ability to do that.

Haritha:

Right.

Raj:

Across organizations, building your network, building your eminence is a lot more difficult. So, I would say that the activities that we’ve [inaudible 00:20:31] together, be it at the board, be it at the CIO, Chief Inclusion Officer Forum, be it at the fall conferences, the ability to dig in, take ownership for a component, see the results of that has been nothing less than phenomenal. In terms of things that stick out in my mind, Natasha Walji was the keynote speaker at the-

Haritha:

Oh, wow. She was phenomenal.

Raj:

… 2018 or maybe 2019 fall conference.

Haritha:

Yes.

Raj:

And she’s an exec with the Google. And as you said, her keynote was truly inspirational. The thing that was interesting about that was as she was rushing in to deliver the keynote, her bag got stuck in her frunk and she couldn’t open it, so she was extremely nervous-

Haritha:

Oh, wow.

Raj:

… as she came in, and no one other than a person on the organizing committee and myself were aware of this, but she just blew away the entire audience. She had them in rapt attention.

Haritha:

Yeah. You know what? I wasn’t able to attend the conference in person, but I was actually sent the link to her keynote speech. And this mentor of mine told me, “You have to listen to this speech, it was just out of his world.” And it truly was. Oh my God, it touched a chord on so many levels.

Raj:

Yeah. It just goes to show if you know the subject matter at hand and you’re genuine, you will connect with the audience, and that stuck with me.

Haritha:

Yeah. And back to your point, it’s about if you truly care. And she cared about what she spoke about. She was passionate about her roots, her experiences, her upbringing, her culture, her values, and was so easy for her to speak about because it’s truly what she believed in.

Haritha:

As we now enter the last leg of this episode. Do you have any parting thoughts for our listeners?

Raj:

Thank you, Haritha. So, I mean, the one thing that I’d say is, don’t just accept no for an answer. Sometimes, especially in our Asian culture, the pan-Asian culture, there is an acceptance of authority, but in the context of the world that we live in today, do not accept no for an answer. Believe in yourself, and everyday say to yourself that you will need to be the best you can ever be and shine, because the world frankly is your oyster and you can capture whatever you put your mind to, you just need to put your mind to it and it will be yours.

Haritha:

That’s fantastic, Raj. And I think that was how you, Kelvin, you put your mind to it, you did not take no for an answer, and that’s how Ascend Canada was formed. And we’re so grateful for that determination, that passion, that perseverance you had to create such a wonderful organization. Thank you, Raj.

Raj:

Thank you, Haritha.

Haritha:

And we’ve actually come full circle, Raj. It’s actually so funny because I still do remember the first time we met, there was a name tag mix-up at one of the Deloitte events and Krishnamoorthy, yours with a double O, mine with a U, and that led to a coffee chat, and I was introduced to Ascend Canada, I became an active volunteer. And now we’re sharing experiences, and we’re saying a sweet but a little bit bitter farewell to you, but I know you’re going to be around. You’ll be missed as a board member, but you’re not going anywhere, and I’m still looking forward to plenty of opportunities for the Krishnamoorthy name tag mix-ups. So, we’ll watch out for those opportunities. What say?

Raj:

Absolutely. I’ll absolutely look forward to it. I am, as you said, I’m not going anywhere far. But it’s time to introduce new blood, and that’s what we’ve done in the context of Ascend, and over time we’ll see new board members come and create their own stamp that we’ll all benefit from.

Haritha:

Thank you, Raj. You know, you’re right. It’s sort of feels like it’s a legacy that each of the board members are leaving behind one member at a time, and I’m super eager to see what Andrew brings to the table in the days to come.

Haritha:

Well, with that folks, this is your host, Haritha, signing off. Stay safe and stay tuned.