Speaker: V.R. Ferose

Leadership Lessons from Specially Abled Children

He does not have an MBA degree but has managed more than 5,000 people. V.R. Ferose is a non-IIT engineer, but in 2010 he became the managing director of SAP Labs India, one of fifteen global R&D centers of the German software giant SAP — then becoming, at 33 years old, the youngest-ever (and first non-German) managing director of a global multinational firm in India overseeing a staff of thousands.  Within 18 months, Ferose's participative and empowering leadership style led to more than a 50% reduction in his lab's attrition rate, unprecedented highs in employee engagement rates, a #1 ranking for his R&D lab in employee satisfaction across all of SAP and #4 across all the companies in India.  His "empathy and high emotional quotient" led to recognition of his management achievements in the Harvard Business Review

And then, while in the dizzying heights of corporate success, he faced and accepted seeming hardship and converted it into a "differentiator."  Following the birth of his son Vivaan, who he learned was on the Autism spectrum, Ferose became a champion of the differently abled and paved the way for the corporate world to recognize their unique talents.

"I remember coming home from the doctor's office, when Vivaan was one and half years old — and going into the bathroom, locking the door, and crying for half an hour straight," Ferose shared candidly.  As he grappled to process his family's new reality, he recalls calling up one of his mentors, Kiran Bedi.  "Kiran actually congratulated me.  She said, 'You have now found your purpose in life.  Lot of people struggle to find a purpose, but you're lucky that your purpose has found you.' . . . I decided to try to create a world that could engage more Vivaans."
 
And so he did.  Inspired by a Danish entrepreneur, Ferose saw that those on the autism spectrum had amazing memory and the capacity repeat tasks over and over again — skills that can be used in complex product testing.  Ferose began by employing 4 employees on the autism spectrum in his company.  ​Recognizing the strength of his experiment shared in Forbes India that everybody is good at something, more than 20 organizations started hiring autistic employees, and SAP soon announced a major commitment: 1% of its hires would be people on the autism spectrum.  UN Secretary General, Ban-ki Moon, is now nudging other business leaders to all make similar public commitments.

Ferose's journey with that mantra didn't stop with autistic children. While thinking about writing a book on leadership, he kept realizing that his heroes were actually those with disabilities.  ​Moved by the stories of such heroes, he co-authored, with Sudha Menon, a book called Gifted: Inspiring Stories of People with Disabilities.  He also founded the India Inclusion Summit, a unique platform that focuses on the need for inclusion in our lives.

Currently, Ferose is Senior Vice President and Head of Globalization Service for SAP SE.  Based in Palo Alto, he is responsible for adoption of SAP products to locations outside of Germany and US through functional and language localization, legal changes and maintenance, developing products for local markets.  He is also a Member of the IT Vision Group of Karnataka and a Member of the Development Advisory Board of HOPE worldwide in India, and he is actively involved with multiple non-profits in the education, disability and social entrepreneurial space. Ferose is Co-Founder of the World Economic Forum's Global Shapers Karnataka Hub, with a vision of creating opportunities for youth in Karnataka.  Ferose was one of the "Young Global Leaders" of the World Economic Forum in 2012 and was selected as one of the business leaders in "India’s Top 40 under 40" in 2014 by the Economic Times and Spencer Stuart.

Reflecting on the power of turning hardship into a positive differentiator, Ferose shared:  "​My own son’s condition actually unearthed the best in me.  The book happened because of him. The Inclusion Summit happened because of him.  The various initiatives we have run at SAP, in some way, he was the reason for it.  It actually transformed a difficult situation (and I must confess I don’t want people to go through difficult situations), but if it happens, then you have to make the most of it.  In life things don’t go as planned and I think when some things happen you take stock of it and decide to make the best of it.  It’s a mindset.  The people in the book have gone through very difficult phases of acceptance, but once they’ve accepted it, they’ve actually had a transformative journey.”

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