Making the Most of Everything
By Adam Bryant, NY Times, August 31, 2013
Interview with Francisco D’Souza, chief executive of the information technology company Cognizant.
Q. What were some early lessons for you?
A. I was very fortunate in my upbringing. My father was a diplomat, and so, until I was 18, we traveled to a new country every three years. After finishing high school in the Caribbean, I wound up in Hong Kong when I was 18. We realized that there were few universities that taught in English, and so I went to one in Macau that focused on working professionals. I went to school at night and on weekends.
My days were free, and I got a job as a bank teller. It was a small bank, and they still used a punch-card system. I had taught myself as a teenager how to program. I went to the branch manager and told him he ought to consider new technology. He said: “Fine. Help me figure it out.” We bought a computer. We wrote the software, and I wound up supervising a couple of people when I was 19.
Q. I can imagine that some kids would resent moving to a new country every three years.
A. I was somewhat indifferent to it because I expected it, and I knew nothing else. In hindsight, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It really did shape who I am today.
Q. In what sense?
A. We learned how to love the world. There’s this great richness of diversity, yet people are far more similar than they are different. You’re not as likely to learn that when you grow up in one town, in one environment, in one culture or in one country.
The second thing is that it was an environment of scarcity in many ways, because my parents weren’t particularly affluent. You learn how to find opportunities where they don’t exist and capitalize on them. You have to find ways to make the most of everything, from the littlest things to the biggest.
Q. What are some leadership lessons you’ve learned during your career?
A. We started Cognizant in 1994, and there was a period early on when I personally knew everyone in the company. Now we have 160,000 employees, and there were several personal and rapid transitions over that time.
The lesson I learned is that when you have to evolve that quickly as a person, you need to be aware of two things. One is personal blind spots and the other is personal comfort zones. Those two things can be real gotchas.
It’s very hard to see your blind spots, by definition, and it’s very easy to fall into comfort zones, because people like patterns and a sense of familiarity. I’ve tried consciously to say, “What are the tools I can use to identify these blind spots and push through comfort zones?” And I always tell myself that if I wake up in the morning and feel comfortable, I’m probably not pushing myself hard enough.