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EA role can serve as fast track to CEO

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Several high-powered members of India’s current generation of corporate leaders laid the groundwork for successful careers by serving as executive assistants to veteran bosses. Indian EAs in the 1970s and ’80s were often handed a diverse range of tasks, providing ideal preparation for future positions of power.

“I learned a lot as an EA. I was called upon to shadow the chairman, giving me a bird’s eye view of the business,” explained Suresh Sodani, president and CEO of Tanfac Industries. Starting as an accountant at age 27, Sodani spent seven instructive years assisting Aditya Birlan, a scion of one of India’s successful business families.

“I got exposure to every function, which takes many years of job rotation to achieve.”

EA duty gives ambitious young professionals a big-picture view of a company’s operations as well as a glimpse of day-to-day decision-making. It also provides exposure to the varying leadership methods, intense schedules and high pressure found at the upper echelons. Being responsible for maximizing their superior’s preparation and productivity, EAs often learn invaluable lessons.

Google India boss Rajan Anandan cut his teeth as the EA to computer tycoon Michael Dell before returning home to lead Dell’s Indian operations. SN Subrahmanyan joined engineering and construction conglomerate Larsen & Toubro at age 23 and used the experiences gained as an EA to work his way up the company’s ladder.

But it’s not just for apprentices: The title “principal EA” was coined to apply to those who serve as EAs in midcareer, gaining perspective and managerial expertise.

— Adapted from “Strategies adopted by some executive assistants to become CEOs of large companies,” Dibyendu Ganguly and Moinak Mitra, Economic Times.

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