Sujata is the CEO of Cambridge Boxhill Language Assessment (CBLA), the Melbourne-based organisation that develops and manages the Occupational English Test (OET). CBLA is a venture between Cambridge English and Box Hill Institute.
How did you start out in your working life?
My first job after graduating from university was working for one of India’s largest IT training companies, selling IT training solutions to corporates. I did not enjoy the ‘cold calling’ part of the job; knocking on the doors of countless companies in Kolkata was disheartening at times. However, I picked up some important skills and learnt the value of determination, being responsive and understanding the needs of the customer.
What has helped you get to this point in your career?
A combination of self-belief, courage and having the support of the right people, in particular my husband Andy who has been my rock. I couldn’t have brought up two young children and have a successful career without his support. And of course I have always worked with great colleagues. As Steve Jobs said, ‘Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.’
What is the biggest challenge you have faced and how did you manage this?
Some of the biggest challenges I have faced are keeping the balance between bringing up a young family and having a demanding job. I moved to Australia five years back with my husband and three-year-old son. Eight months in to the job I fell pregnant with my second son. I had to manage life in a new country for my young family, being pregnant and establishing and growing the OET business. I worked to the very end of my pregnancy to ensure that the new organisation was fully established, and I am very proud of my achievements in a short time frame. I attribute the success to the trust and support of my colleagues, customers and family; and having a clear vision and plan of actions in terms of what I wanted to achieve.
Which of your achievements at Cambridge Assessment/OET are you most proud of?
I have had a very successful career at Cambridge and am proud of many achievements including leading on the brand development for IELTS (love it that the same branding is still used today and works so well even after so many years) and the recognition of Cambridge English Advanced by the Australian government. However, I am most proud of my last five years at OET and transforming an underperforming business into a highly successful global organisation with over 700% growth in revenue and 450% growth in candidature. OET is a great success story of what passion, innovation and collaboration can deliver.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
Work-life balance as a concept sounds great. However, in reality it is much more challenging. I have embraced the fact that the balance will never be perfect but remember to take time for my family if I have been working long hours for a period. I also work around my children’s schedule and often work after they have gone to bed, having meetings with colleagues in the UK and the western hemisphere in the evenings.
What’s the one tip you’d give women looking to progress in their career?
Celebrate what is unique about yourself and use what makes you stand out to your advantage. Having moved from India to the UK in my 20s I was conscious of being the outsider – in terms of my nationality and ethnicity and then being a working mum in what was then a male-dominated organisation at the senior level. But I have turned this in to one of my biggest advantages by being able to put myself in our candidates’ shoes and understand them, especially given that for OET, majority of our candidates are female professional migrants trying to improve their career opportunities internationally, and I have been in their shoes. Empathy makes OET a more responsive organisation which in turn builds greater customer loyalty.
Life doesn’t always go to plan, but don’t give up. It is often the challenges and obstacles that bring out the best in us and get us to be more creative and innovative.
What challenge are you most looking forward to in the coming year?
From a professional point of view, I am looking forward to consolidating OET’s position as the global English language test for healthcare professionals. I am looking forward to meeting the needs of the new markets, and ensuring we have the people and systems to scale up our business and support a growing global customer base. I am also looking forward to investing more in the people and culture side of our business so that staff feel supported and valued at a time of such unprecedented growth.
From a personal point of view, I am looking forward to spending more quality time with my boys. I am conscious that they are growing up fast. Like my 81-year-old dad says, at his stage in life you will never remember the work meetings you missed but will often look back with regret for missing the important milestones in your children’s lives.