Innovation Pathways: Wharton Grad Sid Kumar on Managing Innovation in the Tech Sector

To help illustrate where the pursuit of innovation management can lead, our Innovation Pathways series asks our current students, recent graduates, and established alumni to describe their journeys. This post features Wharton grad Sid Kumar (WG’09), now Global Head of Digital Sales at CA Technologies.

Sid Kumar
Sid Kumar (WG’09)

What kind of opportunities to innovate do you find in your current role?

I currently lead the Global Digital Sales organization at CA Technologies. In this role, I’m playing a key role in evolving our go-to-market model to meet the changing needs and buying behavior of our customers. We are a 40-year-old enterprise software company. As we look to the future, we need to consider the impact that digital transformation is having on organizations across industries around the world. Mobile, social, broad-based internet connectivity — it all upends the way that people want to engage with enterprises.

Over two-thirds of the buyer’s journey can now take place digitally without direct engagement with a vendor. As such, everyone needs to be thinking about how they can deliver exceptional customer experiences through a digital engagement.

What are the steps you took at Wharton that best prepared you for managing innovation in your role? What classes did you take, and what opportunities did you pursue?

I was a Strategic Management major, which gave me broad exposure to areas including Corporate Strategy, Negotiations, Operations Management and Organizational Effectiveness. The mix of disciplines in the curriculum sharpened my ability to think critically and strategically about a problem and consider solutions from different perspectives. Additionally, the interdisciplinary nature of this major helped me to appreciate the importance of cross-functional collaboration within an organization. Most importantly, I learned how to connect an organization’s capabilities with the market opportunity to drive revenue growth through great leadership and management of people.

Why would students want to work within an established firm (as opposed to a start-up)?

I am a strong believer in ‘learning by doing’ and this was the best part about WEMBA — the ability to learn from world-class professors and a diverse group of colleagues, internalize it, and then put it into practice in near real-time.

The decision to work in an established firm vs. a start-up in large part boils down to your risk appetite. CA Technologies is a $4 billion company, which places us somewhere between start-up and very large enterprise technology company. From my perspective, its size offers the best of both worlds — the stability and resources of a large company, but with the agility of a small company to capitalize on new opportunities quickly.

Ultimately, it comes down to organizational culture and whether entrepreneurial thinking is encouraged and ideas can come from anywhere in the organization.

What advice do you have for current students interested in managing innovation within a mid/large size firm? Any career path advice?

My biggest piece of advice would be to pursue an area that gets you truly excited and that you can be passionate about. Take a step back and reflect on what sparks your interest or piques your curiosity. For me, I knew that I wanted to play a key role in a technology company given my lifelong interest in all things technology related.

Also, it’s important to have a clear understanding of where you ultimately want to take your career, but you need to take it in stages and build up your experience over time. You’re not going to become CEO overnight. I think about my career progression in two year increments. At each fork in the road, I evaluate new opportunities in the context of whether they provide me with new skills and experiences that align to my broader career objectives.

Lastly, I would also advise students to get cross-functional experiences so they can understand how the different parts of the organization come together to deliver the product or solution. Even if they are convinced that they will have a career in a specific area like finance, there is real value to spending time in other functions like sales or marketing to broaden their perspectives. Ultimately, it will help them do their jobs more effectively if they can understand and relate to these other organizations.