Usha RaghavachariUsha Raghavachari is Lab Director for D-Ford, the Global Innovation ‘start-up lab’ focused on developing human centred design inside Ford Motor Company. Usha has responsibility for Labs based in London (UK), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Melbourne (Australia).

Previously, based in China, Usha led the Marketing and Product strategy for Ford APAC’s Battery Electric Vehicle portfolio for three years. Prior to that she held the role of Marketing Communications Director for Ford of Europe with responsibility for the Consumer Communications, Social Media, Events and Experiential, Media and Analytic teams.

Usha joined Ford Motor Company on the Marketing graduate programme and progressed her career with an impressive range of Marketing, Strategy, Product Launch and Communications roles in Europe and Dearborn, Michigan.

In her current D-Ford role, Usha is passionate about developing deep human insights to drive the creative process. She loves solving problems and creating new possibilities (new products, services, experiences and new ventures) that delight Ford customers and transform the future of Ford.

Usha was born in Chennai, India, and moved to London at the age of 5.  She has an Executive MBA from Warwick Business School and was also part of the W50 Global Leadership Programme (UCLA) in 2013.  In her spare time Usha can be found scaling mountains and exploring the outdoors in far flung parts of the globe.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I am currently Lab Director for D-Ford, the Global Innovation ‘start-up lab’ focused on developing human centred design inside Ford Motor Company. Basically, putting the customer at the centre of everything Ford does to discover their needs and challenges and building the right solution for them in the future.

I have responsibility for Labs based in London (UK), Sao Paulo (Brazil) and Melbourne (Australia) and my remit within Ford over the last 15 months has been looking at the biggest challenges the company will face and affecting change on a 117-year-old company. I encourage my team to problem solve and bring these solutions to the real world.  Driving cultural change, getting new ideas through the system and seeing the company embrace it are my real passions.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

When I started at Ford on the marketing graduate scheme, I always had a five-year plan which I’d consult with my mentors and people I admire for input. I would always have lots of different alternatives of what I wanted to do, and I’ve been lucky enough to hold challenging marketing and communications roles in Ford in Europe and US and leading the electrification team in China.  Now my list of jobs I’d like to do in my five-year plan are smaller as I look for anything super challenging that includes a very high degree of customer understanding, strategy and something I can create from scratch. Any role that combines all these appeals to me, especially if it is future-leaning.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

Being a senior woman in the auto industry is a rare thing in itself!  But I think one of my biggest challenges recently would be coming from a marketing and comms background and reinventing myself to take on a broader innovation design role.  With the pace of change in world around us and speed of digital and data growth we need people who can take on multidisciplinary challenges. I am creative and passionate about people and culture building but I’ve needed to learn other skills pushing myself in new areas to be successful.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

Super proud of my current role becoming the Lab Director for D-Ford in London, Melbourne and Sao Paolo. Building a team from scratch, hiring diverse people from inside and outside Ford, setting up an innovation ‘start-up’ and effecting change on a 117-year-old company is no easy thing. Challenging and rewarding at the same time.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I have always had great empathy for others, even as a child, and working in the US, in China and in Europe for Ford Motor Company has helped me get an even broader understanding of different cultures and behaviours.  This helps me see the world through the eyes of our customers, our team and our stakeholders – and I think it’s been an invaluable strength as I have progressed through my career and also particularly helpful through all the challenges we have faced during the pandemic and lockdown.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Make sure you’re thinking about the people you are trying to serve – don’t over think – bias towards action – try lots of things with your customers – don’t worry and test some stuff out – you learn more quickly.  Make sure you get loads of external inspiration. Be resilient if things don’t work out and make sure you pivot and get back out there.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

Yes, unfortunately I do. I think access to funding for new start-ups, access to support and networks are all hurdles to cross. Also, if you’re a woman from an ethnic minority then it makes it even harder. What could help?  Organisations proactively offering opportunities and growing a talent pipeline and opportunities to build new skills as the environment changes.  Critical for schools to encourage girls and for female role models in tech to encourage them to pursue careers in Tech in the first instance.  We also need more support systems throughout their careers to support them with as needed flexibility to retain them in the workforce.

D-Ford is moving into new premises at Here East in East London this year and we have a dedicated space for a start-up in residence for us all to cross learn.  We would love to give a circular tech company and especially any female founders join us there in our new Lab space!

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

I find that women tend to go for the job they know they can do rather than something that can stretch them. Companies need to encourage women to grow and encourage talent pipelines. Building resilience and finding female and male mentors inside and outside of the company and also outside technology as leadership and growth advocates would also help.

There is currently only 17 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Encourage girls to take up tech in schools and internship opportunities. We also have a responsibility to celebrate woman in technology more.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

In addition to technology, I’d encourage folks to read about topics like leadership development, emotional resilience, managing change/ empathy and a broader range of organisational learning.

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