W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: Advaithi Advises Students, “Just Jump In”
Revathi Advaithi embodies professionalism, flexibility, and resilience. Most important to her growth as a leader is her ability to “just jump in.”
“My journey was a sequence of unplanned steps that somehow added up to something and here I am,” said Advaithi. “Each one had a different flavor as I grew in my career.”
Each flavor, however, required confidence and the willingness to take risks.
“You just have to have the confidence to figure it out. Each time I made a decision, it was all about stepping out of my comfort zone and thinking that I can do it even if I can’t, and just jumping in.”
Advaithi shared her leadership journey with students as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series at the Tepper School of Business. There, a down-to-earth Advaithi discussed her career path and current role as CEO of Flex. She leads the $26B manufacturing company with 160,000 employees spanning 30 countries – one of the top three contract manufacturers in the world.
Advaithi described her path as a series of learning experiences. During her college days in India, the young mechanical engineer found herself the only female in the program. “I loved to see how things were made.”
Since then, Advaithi has confidently and successfully forged ahead in a variety of leadership roles.
Her first “impactful” leadership role found her in Shawnee, OK. She was a shop floor supervisor at Eaton, a large, diversified manufacturer, managing 50 male employees. While unfamiliar with the culture, Advaithi said she “enjoyed the people” and worked to better understand her colleagues and what motivated them.
That curiosity helped Advaithi tackle new roles and experiences. Her willingness to take risks and step outside of her comfort zone led to a hunting trip with colleagues, and later on, moving to a different country with her husband and first child.
While reflecting on what it takes to make a “leap” in your career or personal life, Advaithi suggested finding somebody close who will push you and cited a very personal example. When offered the Flex opportunity, she hesitated because she was happy in her Eaton COO position. Her encouraging husband reminded her, “This is not what you tell women who come to you [for advice].”
A passionate supporter of women in leadership, Advaithi urged female professionals to build their networks. “The day the world has 50% women in leadership positions I’ll stop talking about this,” she declared.
Advaithi stressed the need to find the time, even “bite-sized” chunks, to build those relationships with potential sponsors: “Women need more sponsors. I can’t underestimate the magnitude of how important this is. When the decision is getting made about that leadership role, who is speaking up for you?”
Today, as the CEO of a global company, Advaithi says she’s still “learning on [her] feet.” Obviously, she has risen to the challenge as she successfully steered Flex through the worst of the pandemic.
As a manufacturer of critical items, including health care and data center products, Flex couldn’t just send everyone home. Advaithi managed to balance crucial customer needs with her employees’ safety, even pivoting to ventilator production in an impossibly short two-month period of time.
“It all became about focusing on how to solve the ‘here and now’ while keeping what is important in front of you,” she explained. “I was very clear that the focus was the health of my colleagues. If you keep that in front of you, your customers will support you.”
Discussing Flex’s future growth, Advaithi identified three driving macro trends. First, she highlighted “regionalizing” and supply chain resilience, with production closer to end consumption becoming very important to customers. “Friedman wrote that the world is flat,” she quipped. “I’m sure there will be a sequel coming out to that in the next decade.”
She listed digitalization second, with the third trend being electrification and sustainable energy.
On the larger concept of balance, Advaithi expressed a holistic view, unwilling to separate work from life. “My life and my work are one big thing,” she said. “When I think about balance, I always ask myself if I am happy on the journey of life and if I’m giving time to all of the things that I want to give time to?”
The W.L. Mellon Speaker Series enables students to interact with global leaders, CEOs, and management experts in student forums that encourage insightful and lively dialogue.