The CMO Files: Ashish Jha, SE2, LLC
Leadership

The CMO Files: Ashish Jha, SE2, LLC

Name: Ashish Jha

Organization: SE2, LLC

Job title: Chief Marketing Officer

Location:Bridgewater, NJ

An entrepreneurial and collaborative marketing and communications leader, Ashish Jha has over 15 years' experience positioning global organizations in the financial services and insurance industry. His track record of building high-performing marketing teams with a metrics-driven culture makes him a driving force in SE2. Before joining SE2, Ashish led marketing teams at global technology services and solutions firms such as Tata Consultancy Services, Majesco and Mastek.


Where were you born and raised? I was born in the ancient and historic city of Patna in eastern India and I was raised in number of very different and equally unique and wonderful Indian cities (New Delhi in the north of India, Kolkata in the east and Chennai in the south). However, my most formative years were spent in Chennai (The gateway to the South of India) and I consider myself as being from Chennai.

What was your first job? My first job was teaching English to rural children at my ancestral village. Each summer, my family would go and spend the summer months in our ancestral village and my dad would have me teach English to the children of the village and the nearby villages. I got paid a measly sum of 50 cents a day, but today many of those kids have made engineers and doctors and I hear from them all the time and knowing that those hot summer afternoons spent imparting some English may have helped them succeed is a reward that keep on giving.

What was the first product you got really excited about? Milk… growing up in India in the 1980's - there were only state-run broadcasters and the programs were staid and boring. Advertisements were the best thing to watch, and we had this really fun and cool advertisement with catchy jingles that came on television promoting the consumption of milk and there started my love affair with marketing products and with messaging and communication.

Who has been the biggest influence on your career? My Father. When I was young, he fed a thirst for knowledge about the world in which we live, about great explorers and the various civilizations and cities of the world. Later, he taught me about the importance of building a global perspective and looking at anything from diverse points of view and these remain my key strengths, to this day. 

What has been your greatest achievement? I have several notable accomplishments in my career. Probably my most notable accomplishment is my current work in rebranding and repositioning SE2 in the insurance marketplace.  SE2 was SE2 was born out of Security Benefit, a premier retirement company and industry leader with a 125-year history. Security Benefit invested in developing strong back office and technology capabilities and is steeped in the insurance domain which eventually led to SE2 becoming a separate entity, first taking on an external client in 2005. While the company had grown leaps and bound through word of mouth referrals and advisory led sales opportunities, the brand was undeveloped, staid and boring and unknown to the broader industry.  Over the course of 6 months, I was able to work with the SE2 leadership team, our clients, and industry advisors to develop a clear value proposition and unique differentiator and personality for the SE2 brand.  I identified and on boarded a brand agency and we targeted a very aggressive timeline of launching the new brand and messaging along with a new website at the annual client forum that was coming up in 4 months.  In the end, we launched the brand on time and received fantastic feedback from clients.  We have since been positioned as a visionary in Insurance industry by Gartner, and a leader in our category by numerous other analyst firms.  Today, our sales pipeline is a strong and healthy mix of traditional opportunities that are driven by advisors and sales as well as opportunities being pulled in by our strong presence online as well as in social media and through our numerous earned media placements.

What has been your biggest mistake? I don't have many regrets about my career because, I do believe that every opportunity has made me a better professional, communicator, marketer, brand expert, and leader. But there was this project where I pushed very hard to develop and launch a product that was needed in the market, but we had to work with multiple different teams internally, thought leaders and agencies to enable it.  The launch was very well received and there was significantly traction in the market, but it just took a lot to get done and was a lot more effort and time than I originally estimated and it meant that my team and I had to reprioritize and go slow on some other equally important and successful campaigns that were helping us position the brand and we just lost a lot of momentum that was tough to regain later. 

In the end we got everything back on track and it was fantastic learning experience - but it is also one of the biggest mistakes as a leader for having been too ambitious with the scope and aggressive with the timeline of a launch. 

What is your greatest strength? Being able to lead and inspire a team to perform their best and strive to achieve goals. I set clear objectives and emphasize the importance of prioritizing work and through relationship building, seeking out different perspectives, being passionate about the goals, and influencing those around me, we push through as a team and always over achieve as a team.

What is your biggest weakness? One skill I have worked on significantly is to be an effective delegator of responsibilities.  Delegation is vital to being a productive leader - and I have been working on using delegation as a way to seek not just short term benefit but also intermediate and long-term benefits by viewing it as an opportunity to build my team's individual skills and capabilities.

What do you think is the aspect of your role most neglected by peers? Prioritizing. Your team can't do everything at the same time, so figuring out what really matters and how to execute them is critical. There is always a big list of problems and conflicting priorities.  Marketing leaders have to take the time to work with department leads, sales, finance and their CEO's to really understand which solved problems would make the most impact and to build a team of generalist and specialists that can solve for both the current priorities and easily shift over to the next set of priorities.

Which word or phrase is your mantra and which word or phrase makes you squirm? My Mantra: Find things that you are passionate about, and execute flawlessly. The two go hand-in-hand, because without passion and belief, the quality of work and the ability to produce results deteriorates

The word digital transformation makes me squirm - it has over the last few years become a much-abused word as everyone makes out any digital technology initiative to be a digital transformation program. 

What makes you stressed? I believe if you are not passionate about what you are doing or cannot link your work back to why it needs to be done or even why you are the one doing it - it causes excessive stress. 

Stress is real at the senior leadership level and my mantra is simple - try to steer clear of excessive workloads and unrealistic deadlines by prioritizing and asking the right questions.  Building a trustworthy team that you can delegate to and focus on key tasks is also critical.

What do you do to relax? Unplugging form work and spending time with my family is my greatest stress reducer.  That apart I am passionate about wildlife photography and being surrounded by nature and walking trails looking out for the next great photo-op keeps me very focused on the present moment and that is always very relaxing too.

What is your favorite song? There are just so many, but it would have to be "Imagine" by John Lennon for the sheer relevance in our world today.

Which book taught you most? A book gifted to me by my brother "The Art of Happiness - by the Dalai Lama".  I keep going back to this book because it has such a positive impact on me and helps me push out stress, anxiety and insecurities.

Do you have a team or sport that you follow? Yes, I love team sports and am passionate about Cricket.  My favorite sports team is the Chennai Super Kings (CSK) in the Indian Premier League. 

Which country would you like to work in? I am very fortunate to be working in the field of technology marketing in the US, there is no better place to be. 

Which company do you think has the best marketing? Apple - Their brand strength compared to their Ad spend.  Their ability to protect price and the simplicity of their communication, focus on product and experiences are just peerless

What do you love most about your job? The role of a chief marketing officer is no longer a one-job role, or even a one-strategy role. It is a corporate-wide effort that requires buy-in from every member of the C-suite and immensely strategic.  Marketing leaders today are at the center of organizational efforts to enhance customer focus and deliver a better brand experience using a plethora of new digital technologies. 

What is your favorite book? The fantasy fiction series - The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan

What keeps you awake at night? There are a few different things - Do we know our clients and potential clients needs better than anyone else, what can we do to better meet their needs and stand out as a brand, how best can we prioritize and address the various opportunities that exist for us while balancing between important and urgent marketing initiatives.

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