Industry Insight: Tejal Mody, Managing Director, Strategy At Rabobank

How to lead through disruption


Ahead of her presentation at the Women In Strategy Summit in New York this March 21&22, we spoke to Tejal Mody, Managing Director, Strategy at Rabobank.

Tejal has spent over 20 years in the financial and professional services sectors. She is currently a Managing Director at Rabobank, where she leads Strategy, Program Office, and Business Development for the North America Wholesale Banking Business, and reports to the CEO. Prior to joining Rabobank, Tejal was at the global financial services consultancy, Oliver Wyman, where she advised world’s leading banks, insurers, payments companies, and asset managers, and held leadership roles in strategy, talent management, corporate development, and marketing.

How did you get started in your career?

I studied business as an undergraduate and wanted to enter a career where I could learn as much as possible. I researched multiple professions and companies, and this was before the internet! There were a few great advisors who guided me along the way, but I ultimately went with what felt right, in terms of opportunity, fit, and culture. My first full-time job was in management consulting in the financial services industry, at a fast-growing firm based in New York. There, I developed professionally, from taking on all sorts of challenges that came my way and essentially being an apprentice – I found there was a lot to learn from people – whether they were clients or colleagues, at all levels and roles (something I still believe in today). There were very few women at my firm at the time and in our sector overall, so while not finding clear-cut role models for myself, I sought out to learn specific skills from mentors I admired. The time and coaching investments that others made for me during that time were invaluable and further motivated me to excel.

What are the main challenges your industry faces in the age of disruption?

I work in the corporate and institutional banking industry, and like in many sectors, today, transformational technologies in the realms of data analytics and information management, client experience, markets, and operations are among the biggest disruptors we face. While we see periodic disruptions in the macro economy and in regulatory reform, the massive change led by technology is continual and enormous, so it’s core to our strategic decision making. Other challenges in our sector include 24/7 global connectivity and the growing numbers of millennials in the workplace. While both of these dynamics present great opportunities, they are rapidly changing how we work together day-to-day, and how traditional sectors like banking need to evolve.

How can companies use innovation to excel their strategy and what have you done so far?

Long before innovation manifests in the marketplace (in terms of, say, a new product or service), a company needs to adapt its culture, management practices, and operating rhythm to allow room for innovative, challenging ideas that threaten the status quo. These ideas need a nurturing environment in order to surface, get attention, and be explored with resource commitments. While a company can craft a long-term strategy based on targets and some probabilistic scenarios, the strategy should be dynamic enough to foster and capitalize on opportunities for innovation that aren’t always predictable. For example, in addition to being in tune with how customer needs are evolving, it’s important to pay attention to external developments like macro trends, startup and technology ecosystems, as well as to pay attention to talent across the company and spontaneous, internally generated ideas. At Rabobank, we are focused on innovation at several levels: what’s disrupting our clients’ businesses and the areas of innovation in their space that we can foster and support, innovation in banking, particularly in financial technologies, and how we can adopt new capabilities. Additionally to these, there is innovation in terms of how we operate day-to-day and how we can best harness the capabilities and ingenuity we have in-house to competitively differentiate. We additionally look at ways we can best adapt our organization and team structures towards innovative thinking.

What does Leading Through Disruption Mean to you?

Leading through disruption is what leadership is today. A keen awareness that the change is all around and business models face constant threats with technology advancements, behavioral changes, societal, and environmental changes - are at the forefront of critical decision-making in organizations. I believe the responsibility for leaders to anticipate and confront disruptions proactively goes beyond paying close attention to weaknesses in their business and strengths in those stealing share, but entails critically evaluating if the organization is prepared for disruptive changes that go from incidental to pervasive, and if it isn’t, being prepared to potentially take steps that may seem radical, resource-intensive, and highly uncomfortable in the short-term, but give the best shot of succeeding in the future. Defining future state business and operating models, localized experiments, partnerships, or proofs of concept are healthy exercises. These also require leaders to think and act in the best interest of their organizations beyond their own expected tenures, which in part can be achieved by inspiring, engaging, and empowering key staff across seniority buckets to drive change.

Why do you think events like the Women In Strategy Summit are important in the current environment?

Back to my strong belief that we have a ton to learn from one another and our collective experiences, events like the Women in Strategy Summit can generate opportunities for knowledge, networking, and forging pathways that can be harder to do only within one’s organization. Also, for most of my professional career, I didn’t have the chance to work with many women – which, fortunately, I do now. Many of my female colleagues and network connections were pioneers in some way in their respective organizations at one point, so now it’s amazing to see the greater strength in numbers of talented women across the corporate world, sciences, academia, arts, sports, public service – the list goes on. However, there is so much more potential left, and I think platforms for sharing insights and experiences benefit all participants. Coming away from the Summit, I look forward to being inspired, energized, and be full of new ideas!

You can hear from Tejal and other industry leaders at the Women In Strategy Summit, taking place in New York this March 21 & 22.

Idea small

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