Managing Director & Lead for Marketing Services & Transformation ME & Growth Markets at Accenture Interactive
With 18 years of experience in digital and product management, including a history of successful team-building and performance growth, TJ Lightwala has a proven track record in development and launch of strategic programs around marketing, ad tech, centers of excellence, operations, innovation, and business-case-led value creation.
Lightwala previously held roles at GroupM MENA, Mindshare MENA, Aegis Media Dentsu USA, KLM, FedEx, and Bank of America-Merrill Lynch USA.
How would you define leadership today?
Leadership is not a title; it’s a state of mind – a commitment to creating a conducive environment and respectfully doing right by the people, clients, and communities. Every day is about example-setting and being present. Leaders bring others up and along. You place the right people at the right place and at the right time. I have an entrepreneurial background and don’t believe in pre-set molds as such, so what works for one geography or client is not the same for another. It’s about being adaptable and moving along the marketplace with value creation outcomes. We need the right mindset to achieve this, and with empathy.
What’s the most important decision you have taken as a leader?
I can’t say there is one important decision but several. I consider myself a lifelong student and cherish conversations, diversity of expertise, skills, and views on the table both internally and with the clients. It took me time to be mature enough to say, “I need you to take this forward or delegate.” I took on a lot of additional roles at different moments in my career to carry businesses and sometimes new ideas forward. It is an evolutionary process, but I am blessed with a strong group of open-minded professionals who are authentic, willing to admit when we don’t know things, learn from each other, and collectively support our common goals.
In your opinion, who’s the most powerful leader globally today?
I have been inspired by several noteworthy leaders, such as Oprah, Indra Nooyi, Mother Teresa, and Stephen Hawking. But today, Julie Sweet, Chair and CEO of Accenture, takes the prize. She’s on Forbes’s Most Powerful Women List and is a beacon of inspiration. She is at the forefront of key topics around sustainability, climate change, equality in the workplace, and global topics around responsible AI, design, experiences, metaverse, etc. Three months back, under her leadership, Accenture has planted one tree for every person of the 699,000-people strong Accenture family. Heartwarming to operate with a human lens to business and people.
Who’s your role model?
My parents are my ultimate role models. I grew up striving to be more like my father, with his astute entrepreneurial success and flair for details in business and relationships. It was visible by the numbers who visited our home at every celebration. Meanwhile, my mother exemplifies patience, compassion, and endurance through and through. I respect that; we all have learned to embrace our individuality.
What’s the most important quality that every leader should possess?
For me, it’s decisiveness and authenticity.
What’s the one mistake that leaders most commonly make?
Managing conflict is easier said than done. Certainly, it impedes collaboration and alignment toward common goals.
Secondly, not understanding employees’ true motivators. It’s not always about compensation; capitalizing on intrinsic motivators is an accurate yardstick of culture and belongingness. At Accenture, we have recently launched flex-time models in the UAE and KSA. We also have sabbatical benefits, MD Open Hours; we truly believe in enriching our people personally and professionally.
What’s the most critical threat that every leader in our industry should pay attention to today?
Don’t compromise your values and character. They define a person and are what makes one a leader people grow to admire and trust. Often, there are threats with situations that could create grounds for susceptibility. My learning has been that values are to be clear and non-negotiable.
What’s the most important risk you took?
I tried my hands in as many areas as possible. I started my academic pursuits in medicine and completed them in marketing and econometrics. I believed that a journey embarking multiple business streams would help me evolve and take a multi-dimensional perspective on life and work. At Le Meridien, KLM, and FedEx, the internships set solid foundations for me as I transitioned into full-time roles in the private sector at FedEx, BofAML, Dentsu Aegis, and WPP. I’ve now been with Accenture for three years. It all worked out! :-)
What resources would you recommend to someone looking to become a better leader?
• Make time to listen to the team, and be present.
• Watch and read content, from books to podcasts, for perspective.
• Keep a close circle of trusted friends; mentor/coach; you can use them as a soundboard and for feedback and ideas.
• Reverse coaching – be mentored or paired with the younger generation.
• Give back to the community, e.g. universities, schools, charities…
• Invest in hand-on cross-skilling initiatives.
• Lead with purpose that’s close to your heart.
What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow as a leader?
For me, this year is about focus. I established further commitment to the firm when I was nominated as Accenture’s Inclusion & Diversity Lead in the region. It has been a great program, an imperative, [and] a privilege to work closely with our executive committee, HR partners, global leaders, and a team of volunteers to accelerate the sprints around talent recruitment, retention, development, and industry partnerships.
I am also deeply passionate about the future of marketing transformation, creation of adjacencies in portfolios, building new businesses, and growing existing models with innovation. I’m a board member of the Mobile Marketing Association, a global jury member of ICom Data & Creativity and MENA Effies; an avid coach and mentor to female-owned startups in the region, and currently have five mentees in the Middle East fraternity. Each one of them is trailblazing! These are all fertile knowledge conversations. I am still learning, and my focus is FORWARD.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever received?
Stay true to the course; there are no shortcuts in life. No hard work is ever wasted even though, sometimes, success or acknowledgment is absent. Recognition does come as a surprise at the right moment. Patience and maturity are key.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve ever given?
Be humble. I admire humility. Humility enables us to be authentic, vulnerable, trustworthy, and creates closeness with others. People go above and beyond for leaders they trust, and that’s incredibly attractive to me. The results speak for themselves in these vital relationships.
You can see the full ranking and methodology here.