Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech: Smitha Murthy of Axtria On The 5 Leadership Lessons She Learned From Her Experience
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Know your technology, your customers, your market, your team — whatever the case may be — better than anyone else so people will listen to you.
As a part of my series about “”Lessons From Inspirational Women in STEM and Tech””, I had the pleasure of interviewing Smitha Murthy.
Smitha Murthy works as the Global Head of Product Management at Axtria. She has 20+ years of experience as a Product Management Executive and General Manager with expertise in driving innovative customer experiences through digital transformation, data science, and analytics across multiple domains, market segments, and company sizes. She has a successful track record of managing multi-million-dollar product lines and P&L, commercializing digital products from concept to launch for Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley companies. Smitha brings global experience in developing business strategy, product vision and strategy, and product management for consumer and enterprise SaaS products.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I started my career as a software developer. What I loved most about that was the customer interaction during beta calls and at conferences, when I was able to delight the customer by solving a problem for them. I am’ ‘ a computer engineer by training and then went on to pursue my MBA from Carnegie Mellon University. I knew I wanted a role that combined technology and business, that was customer facing and problem solving through technology.
I started in Product Management when everyone in the industry was not really sure what that was. It was often mistaken to be project management. I became the product manager of the product I was developing. Hence, the transition was smooth, and I had built-in credibility as a product manager. I have never looked back from there!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I joined Axtria 2 years ago. As our President and CEO, Jaswinder Chadha (Jassi), will tell you, Axtria has been in the data and analytics space for life sciences for a long time, well before it became trendy, and now everyone is on the data analytics bandwagon! I joined Axtria at an exciting time in its history when the company was doubling down its investments to become a product-led company. That’ ‘s why I was hired.
An interesting story that I can share is when an intelligent group of people had built a solution for a customer that was very successful, and they went to Jassi to ask if it could be productized. Jassi redirected them to me, saying, “”Ask Smitha; she knows how to build digital products”” — it is this commitment to products and this faith in me that keeps me inspired at Axtria!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
No sooner had I started in product management, and I had to do a keynote session with my engineering leader at our annual company user conference. He was unhappy that a junior product manager was partnering with him and labeled everything I was presenting as “”marketing fluff”” and predicted that the audience would fall asleep. Needless to say, I was extremely nervous.
Fast-forward to the day of the user conference. The keynote was a few minutes from starting. I was a nervous wreck. My voice shook as I began speak in front of 500+ people. So, I did what I knew best. I made my product literally “”speak”” for me to kick things off. We had just developed a voice notification “”wizard”” that could be used in the product. I had the wizard pop up to welcome everyone to the session, and it gave me a couple of minutes to compose myself. The audience loved it, and the rest of the session went great.
- I walked away from that experience having learned a few key pieces of advice:Know what you are good at, and believe it!
- Don’t second guess yourself!
- You are your biggest advocate.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Axtria builds cloud-based data and analytics software products that help life sciences companies deliver life-saving therapies/drugs through doctors and hospital networks to positively impact patient outcomes. Real-world problems are at the center of our product suite across commercial organizations with breakthrough AI/ML-driven innovation. I have’ built digital products in various industries, but this has been the most meaningful one thus far.
When COVID-19 hit in early 2020, we built a capability in my product that would enable sales reps to reach the doctors through multiple channels other than the face-to-face interaction which was the norm; however, that was no longer an option with the pandemic. Not only did we shuffle our roadmap around to prioritize this, but we also did this in record time and were the first in the industry. No one in the company questioned why we had to do this. This is what makes Axtria stand out.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? Yes, the overall product portfolio, which is made up of AxtriaSalesIQ™, FI, Axtria CustomerIQ™, Axtria DataMAx™, and Axtria InsightsMAx™.
How do you think that will help people?
Since I started with Axtria, we have launched three new product suites to round off our portfolio, not counting the many innovations, new capabilities, and enhancements we have released as part of the normal release process in our existing product suites. It is anexhilarating time to be in product management at Axtria! It isn’t common in one’ ‘s career to have the opportunity to conceive and launch brand new products!
Our product portfolio focuses on harnessing all data sources in life sciences, gleaning actionable insights from that, and providing these analytics at the point of decision making. Immediately, this helps our users with more accurate planning of their commercialization and execution of their brand strategy. Through this effective planning, the newest drugs can reach the patients that need them the most.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
This is an important question, that needs to be looked at from two perspectives — 1) what needs to change in the workplace, and 2) what are women doing to change the status quo.
Am I satisfied with the status quo regarding women in STEM? This is not a simple answer. This varies so dramatically across companies, across levels, depending on circumstances, etc. There is plenty of research highlighting what workplaces have done to encourage women in STEM to stay in STEM and not contribute to the steep drop-off. One cannot apply generic principles to solve one company’ ‘s approach to stopping the drop-off. So, at Axtria, I am on the Board of the Women’ ‘s Network. We are approaching this with what our company does best — starting with data. We systematically collect and analyze the data to tell us what actions we need to take.
I also think women need to help other women stay in STEM. I cannot tell you how many incredible women, starting with my first role in product management, have taken me under their wing and helped me at the workplace. And not just women. Some of the people who have been my strongest supporters have been men. So, find those mentors, find those allies. Very few people really want to hold you back. Most want to help you but may not know how; so it is important to ask for help.
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in STEM or Tech that ‘aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
The biggest challenge faced by women is biological. 😊 We are the only ones that can bear children. And my boys are my greatest joy. I would not change one bit of that.
This also means it is a balancing act. Women are naturally multi-taskers, organizers, and planners. Lean on that to balance as you need to. Lean on friends and family who are offering help. Don’t listen to the people who make you feel intense “”mom guilt””. I know it is real. I have been there. But for me, the proof is in the pudding — do you have healthy, happy children? Then you did it right. Forget the negative nellies.
If you are in a work environment that makes you feel like having a family or a life is a problem, then get out as soon as possible!
What are the “”myths”” that you would like to dispel about being a woman in STEM or Tech. Can you explain what you mean?
Hmmm…I don’t know what myths exist, 😊 but I can take a guess.
Women in STEM are not geeks or nerds. We are very smart but also fun! Ask my colleagues.
STEM careers are not limited to just software development or highly technical roles in engineering. Like me, you can be a woman in STEM and be in product management! There are so many ways to leverage your technical background to pursue career paths.
What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience as a Woman in STEM or Tech” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Be authentic — it’ ‘s too much effort to be otherwise, and being authentic naturally draws people to you
- Be proud of being a woman in STEM and leadership — there are very few of us still, unfortunately, and it is on us to be role models for others
- Know your technology, your customers, your market, your team — whatever the case may be — better than anyone else so people will listen to you
- Don’t accept discrimination or unfairness. If you don’t stand up for yourself, no one will
- Gratefully accept help offered in any way — mentorship, help at home, etc. And graciously help others because you want to — for example, offer advice, help with advance someone’s career, etc..
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
I practice the leadership lessons I stated above. That is the advice I would give other women leaders. If you bring your authentic self to work every day, your team naturally thrives. They will feel comfortable being open with you; they will feel loyal to you. You need to care genuinely and empathize to make a difference.
What advice would you give to other women leaders about the best way to manage a large team?
I would advise fellow women leaders to trust and empower their teams. Being approachable and keeping the door open always if they want to ask for advice is very critical.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I was once at a leadership offsite where we did an exercise on figuring out what events in our lives have shaped our leadership style. Like everyone else, I realized I have a few:
- I grew up in a family of very strong women. I also grew up in a family of men who respected women a lot. And I am lucky to be married to a man who believes in me and champions for me ALWAYS. My parents did not bat an eye when the opportunity for me to come halfway across the world to do my undergraduate studies in the United States presented itself. Yes, in the form of a scholarship. Yes, I was just 18! My gender was never a factor in any decision, so it has never been in my way
- I had a very unpredictable manager early in my career. Unfortunately, it was a woman. In a strange way, this taught me who I did NOT want to be
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I actively participate in panel discussions in product management. I am an advocate for women through boards and groups I am part of and have spoken at b-school events to showcase product management in the real world.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
When I was at a previous company, I had the privilege to be part of a women’ ‘s leadership network. It was for VP+ only. To increase our reach across the company, we started what was called a mentoring circle. I started the only women in tech mentoring circle in my business unit. It had 10 women in it. We met once a month at lunchtime, and we committed to a purpose for the year. Our commitment was to nurture our careers. I am proud to say over 50% of the women in the mentoring circle had role expansions and promotions as a result.
I feel very strongly about this, and I think this is an effective way to do good and share what you have.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“”Hope till hope creates, from its own wreck the thing it contemplates”” — Percy Bysshe Shelley. This was a favorite quote of my grandfather’ ‘s, which became a favorite of mine. It refers to never giving up, optimism, and a can-do attitude.
This has been relevant for me in life in general. When the going gets tough, the tough just has to get going! 😊
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Yes! I am a huge fan of Lori Greiner, Barbara Corcoran, and Sara Blakely. And a fan of Shark Tank. I am a fan of all the sharks! I am inspired by entrepreneurs who have persisted through ups and downs and have been successful.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.