WITI Women

Sonia Bhanot
President and Chief
Executive Officer

Sonia Bhanot is the president and CEO of Verano. Bhanot spearheads Verano's corporate growth and business development activities, propelling Verano to a leadership position in this exploding market. She champions the company's context management software for deployment of fast and effective corporate portals and e-business applications. Bhanot is focused on helping Verano translate its technology innovations into market leadership and real customer value.

Previously, Bhanot served as vice president of sales and marketing at CuraSoft, a leading vendor of event management software for IT professionals. She also held senior business planning, marketing and channel development positions at Hewlett-Packard, where she brought to market several worldwide products and programs and secured key Internet partnerships including Marimba and Pointcast. Prior to joining HP, Bhanot held sales and product marketing positions for personal computer products at HCL, Ltd.

1. What was your first job in technology?
In 1984, after my second year as an engineering student, I enjoyed a wonderful experience as a summer intern with International Computers Ltd. (ICL, the U.K. based firm). Of course, I had to walk 2 hours uphill, in the snow, both ways, but then everyone has that experience. Actually, my programming job at the manufacturing plant of ICL was located in Pune, India, which did require a 2-hour train journey from my hometown.

2. Who has been your most significant mentor? Why?
Unfortunately, the male-to-female ratio of engineering students at Punjab University in the early eighties was weighted heavily on the male side. Consequently, I am a big proponent of having some kind of a mentor program available for qualified women. This will go a long way in guiding many talented technologists in their personal quests to greatness.

Although these were not direct mentors per se, there are two people of distinction who were role models for me: Grace Hopper and Walt Disney. Adm. Hopper was a trailblazer who paved the way for women in a male-dominated military while simultaneously creating a programming language that helped one and all communicate. But Walt Disney is a personal favorite because he was able to transcend business by sharing a love of fun and fantasy with a broader audience worldwide. His ability to enjoy his job and help people make him among the most admired of entrepreneurs.

3. What has been your greatest challenge and what strategies did you use to overcome obstacles?
As a woman, I am well aware of the glass ceiling but believe it as real as my own ability to see through it. I have been fortunate in my career and have moved beyond the traditional barriers women face. It is important to find that single opportunity where you can take ownership and prove yourself. At Hewlett Packard, the tremendous number of opportunities across a variety of areas enabled me to leverage skills, business situations and management experiences. Each produced successes that built upon one another.

4. Who has been the most influential person in your life? Why?
The two most influential people in my life are my father and my husband. My father was a tremendous man full of wisdom. He was an engineer who fueled my interest in technology and in helping people through the effective use of technology. Although he passed away six years ago, he also inspired me to be a straightforward, independent thinker in pursuit of my dreams.

My husband of over 11 years has also had an enormous impact on my life. We met while studying engineering in India and realized an amazing connection. We both strive to excel in whatever we do, but we help each other strive for new heights. He is my biggest fan and likewise, I am his. As a team, we constantly help each other as a two-way sounding board for ideas. I am privileged that my supportive spouse is also my best friend.

5. What lessons have you learned that would be valuable to women beginning their careers in technology?
Just do your best. Believe in yourself and do not give up.

6. What strategies do you use to maintain balance in your life?
Basically, I believe in working hard and playing hard.

My dog, Pebbles, is a wonderful listener after long or frustrating days. Conveniently, Pebbles is also a big fan and exuberant entertainer, my own personal stress relief!

Additionally, my husband and I love the outdoors. We hike, swim and ski at every opportunity. I must confess that my affinity for skiing was tested a few years ago when I fell and pulled a ligament. My leg was in a cast for 4 weeks. There I was rushing to make the last ski run (after all, there is always enough light for one more run). As I came down the hill, 'Big Foot' came across my path and I wiped out. The moral of the story is 'hit the guy and let him cushion the fall'!

I am also an avid investor. Reading to keep pace with daily market and technological developments keeps me busy until late at night. Some may find this activity monotonous and boring, but this is fun and relaxing for me.

7. What new technology do you believe will have the most positive impact on the world in the next 20 years? The most negative impact?
Internet technologies are shaping the world in which we live and will be the most important technologies with the most positive impact. I believe what we have seen so far with the Internet is just the tip of the iceberg. Global communications and online information access are the gold rush of the 21st century. The only difference is that the signs read, Cyberspace or bust!

Nuclear and biological weapons are the most destructive force that man has created. In the wrong hands, the consequences could be disastrous.

On the lighter side:

1. If you could have dinner with any 2 people (living or not), who would they be?
For a fancy dinner, I would love to sit down with Carly Fiorina, the first female president and CEO of a Dow 30 company. It would be intriguing to learn her views on success, challenge, leadership and technological innovation.

As an enjoyable casual dinner, an evening with Mahatma Gandhi would be invigorating. He was responsible for rallying the nation of India and leading a non-violence movement that led to India's independence in 1947. Understanding new ways of motivating and leading people in support of a single idea would be a useful education for anything in life. Beyond that, his keen wit would make for quick repartee on a number of subjects.

2. Define success in 10 words or less.
Success is personal, it is a measure of what you set out to achieve.

3. If you could only subscribe to 3 magazines, what would they be?
Tough question. I read all the time! I would choose to keep my subscriptions to Red Herring for cutting-edge information on start-ups and business, Information Week for technology updates, and Better Homes and Gardens for my green thumb.

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