Chennai woman wins ‘Woman of the Year’ at American business awards

Charanya Kannan, whose work is primarily in behavioural science, also enjoys mentoring young women.
Charanya Kannan
Charanya Kannan
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Five years ago, Charanya Kannan moved from Chennai to the US to pursue her MBA from Harvard Business School. The professional was recently nominated for the Stevie Awards – business awards that receive over 12,000 entries every year from more than 70 countries – and won the ‘Woman of the Year Award’ for pioneering work in the behavioural strategy in the Silicon Valley, as well as the Management Professional of the Year award in the Internet/New Media category.

Charanya, who leads Global Customer Insights and Market Research Strategy for PayPal, said that while she knew that her work was impactful for her own organisation, winning against several other CEOs and CFOs was unexpected. Speaking about her work, she said, “I’ve been able to drive impact by putting the customer first and bringing together my expertise in analysing customer behaviour through big data and driving organizational strategy through that. The right mix of right and left brained approaches, through carefully merging analysis with behavioural economics has resulted in unlocking insights that were transformational.”

Speaking about the significance of behavioural strategy, Charanya explained, quoting Daniel Kanheman, a Nobel prize winner, that fast thinking or subconscious thinking (such as when you are asked what is 2+2) makes people prone to making careless mistakes. On the other hand, if the question asked is tougher, you will have to stop and think – this slow thinking consumes more energy wherein one’s brain shuts down or escapes to a simpler alternative. “Your decisions are often based on simpler emotions rather than data. Applying this profound concept to consumer and organisational behaviour and driving strategy through that is what I do,” she said.

In Chennai, Charanya did her engineering from SSN institutions and went on to get a degree in marketing from SP Jain in Mumbai. Her prior work includes a leadership program at Tata group projects including Taj Hotels, Titan and Tata Motors in India. She also went to work in Tata Motors in South Korea, and was the youngest and only woman to be in a leadership role in a company of 2,500 people. Then, she went to Harvard to pursue her MBA, while also having to care for a one-year-old child. Incidentally, here she was one of the four women in the university of 900 students who was also a mother. “Pursuing an education with a small child at home taught me a lot about time management, discipline and patience,” Charanya said.

Apart from work, she said, she enjoys mentoring young women. She is a member of the US chapter of Power Women of India and is a facilitator for Harvard Circles. “Both are organisations founded to improve collaboration and support among women. I am a speaker at several events on topics of behavioural strategy and gender. I also deliver guest lectures at several universities- most recently at SP Jain and Madras University,” she said. 

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