An interview by Vicki Gremelsbacker, M.S.Ed.
Raj Nathan was named the President of IAS in 2017, succeeding Chuck Ramani, P.E., C.B.O. Prior to this role, Raj served as Senior Vice President of IAS and gained over 20 years of progressive technical and management experience in conformity assessment and accreditation in this role.
Credentialing Insights spoke with both leaders to get a look behind the scenes at succession planning strategies employed by IAS. In Part II of this interview series, Raj shares processes, lessons learned and his plans to advance IAS and accreditation at large.
Working in the company already for 20 years, what was the transition like for you moving from Senior Vice President to President?
There was a formal search process through an external executive search organization. Chuck Ramani, the former IAS president, announced his plans to retire about 16 months in advance. When I officially took over, I wasn’t necessarily just handed a baton and told it was mine to run with. It was an extensive process. I had to go through a board interview and participate in the executive search process. This played an important role in the transition. While this whole process was going on, I was still running the operations of the organization under Chuck’s leadership.
What were some lessons learned along the way coming into your new position as President?
There were several lessons learned along the way. The following are three principal skills necessary to succeed in my new position as President:
- Close collaboration with the IAS Board to ensure the Board’s support of all major decisions. I have been attending board meetings for the past 15 years and have been involved in many of the significant decisions in the past. Alignment with the Board and setting the strategic direction is an important skill.
- Ability to effectively communicate to a variety of stakeholders on issues at hand. While I was on many public communication forums in the past, my responsibilities had focused primarily on internal communications. My new role requires external-focused communications. This is a very important element of transition into the role of President. In addition, communicating clearly internally to a large, diversified management and technical group around the world is an important element in this role.
- Strengthening, aligning and articulating IAS’s business vision and strategy with the parent body’s senior management.
Do you have any tips for someone aspiring to move up the ranks into the role of President?
From my experience, there are a few things I would suggest.
First, allocate time to focus and articulate your thoughts and vision to persons external to your immediate colleagues. Be articulate when you are around people outside the company and pay attention to your public persona, or how other people see you, rather than just being internally focused with the staff. Granted, the most important thing to focus on is making the company successful. But if no one knows that you played a big part in making the company a success, it does not do your career any good. And that could prevent you from moving up in the company to a role where you can make the company even more successful.
Second, continue to build relationships going beyond your immediate customers. There is a “larger congregation in the ecosystem.” There are many individuals who can influence whether you become the CEO. For an internal candidate, you should get to know the board of directors as well as possible. For an external candidate, you should still know the ecosystem and who this organization is responding to, other than customers, and get to know them in some fashion.
My third tip is to continue to develop and understand all the business operations of the company, not just what your functional position may be. It is important to know details of areas such as finance, IT, HR, and marketing. For smaller organizations, it may be easier. For larger organizations, it may be more difficult. While you bring your particular strength and functional discipline, it is important to at least understand so that you have what is called empathy for other functionalities with the organization.
With new leadership comes change. As the new President, what changes would you anticipate making?
Having been an internal candidate with a thorough knowledge of the company, several opportunities of change have been on mind for some time now. I would like to bring in a more customer-focused culture. I intend to build a stronger customer engagement team. We have always been focused on technical issues as an organization. I’d like to continue to strengthen the technical depth, but expand the culture beyond the technical aspects and emphasize active customer and market-focused cultural transformation within the organization. I’d like for us to look more at our customers’ needs and how our culture and operation should reflect those needs. This will take some time to build.
Another area of change is to develop a robust remote management infrastructure. We have a very diverse group, working in many countries and time zones. We need an infrastructure to support this. I’d like to build a strong IT-based infrastructure to manage our business and facilitate stronger interaction between technical management groups.
Finally, I’d like to truly empower the secondary management tier to develop decision-making capabilities and to be more resilient rather than waiting for decisions to be handed from top-down. This requires building confidence in individuals, operational flexibility, and setting up systems so there is a safety net in case they make a mistake.
What are your thoughts on accreditation?
Engagement with ICE has been extremely purposeful for IAS. It has brought forth to our group quite a few accomplished individuals who have participated in this process with us. It has opened to both of us a mutually bigger realm of accreditation practices.
My goal is to see accreditation, particularly as it relates to credentialing, become a de facto requirement globally where it is lacking in many economic sectors. I will be working to refine and advance this model and expand globally. We are already doing this in about five countries and will definitely be a global leader working with ICE.
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