Setting an Example for Life on Both Sides of the Boardroom Doors
You can almost consider this post as part two of my April Blog, “Sensor Technology – It Runs in the Family.” My mother, Shashi Prasad, built Sensor Technology alongside my father from the ground up. They incorporated the business in May of 1983 when I was just two years old. She continued this path until her retirement in 2011, raising me to know a board room and airport as I knew my own home. She taught me how to be a mother and run a business simultaneously. She passed along that legacy the same day she and my father sold the company to my management team and me. That day, in January 2011, I became a CEO. I was also six months pregnant. This year I will celebrate my 11th Mother’s Day and 11 years as President and CEO of Sensor Technology Ltd.
In 2010 my new husband and I were finalizing the purchase of the family business, helping my parents transition out as management, and thrilled to find out I was pregnant. Three months later, I experienced a devastating miscarriage. It was extremely hard, and I was very fortunate to get pregnant again shortly after, but it was a tumultuous time. Work simply compounded the mental and physical fatigue of growing a human inside me. By April 2011, newly a CEO, I found myself entirely unprepared to look after a baby while running a business. When Anouk was born, her dad and I had agreed that we would both work part-time for the first three months. Since we both had significant responsibilities within the business, neither of us could take full leave. With my parents recently transitioning into retirement, we leaned on them a lot to help when we had clients in town, especially when we both needed to attend meetings. They knew what it was like to be running a business with a little one in tow. It was a juggle, but it was manageable with some help. When we both went back to work full time, we brought in Andrea – to care for Anouk while working. Andrea lived with us and was a keen traveller like we were, so soon after starting, she and Anouk hit the road by our side.
It was a scene I knew very well. A young child travelling alongside their parents, seeing the world while mom and dad saw the inside of many a board room. The extra hands meant Anouk could enjoy the travel while I was working, and I could still see my little girl while on the go. But Anouk’s early years were not typical, to say the least. She had her first swim session in a hotel pool at an Oceans Conference in Hawaii, and she first crawled on an overnight flight from Toronto to London. We were creating a life that was unique to us, our responsibilities, and our interests. Anouk was clocking more miles than any toddler (or adult really) that I knew, and the poor kid suffered from permanent jetlag as we were travelling internationally at least one week a month.
Then, two years later, Nora arrived, and we somehow felt outnumbered. For anyone that has kids, you’ll understand that two is exponentially more work than one. This time, when Nora was born, I only took two weeks off work before going back. We had settled into our careers, and our pace at work had also ratcheted up a few notches. There was an increase in business travel, Anouk was old enough that she now needed her own ticket and dragging double strollers around the world was not as fun as it sounds. Yet it was important to me to spend time with my girls, even on the road. If anyone were willing to be dragged along into helping, be it a nanny, grandparents, aunts, or uncles, I would sooner have an entourage than spend that much time away from them. Those early years of minimal sleep, cooking multiple meals a day (I’ve always been the cook at home despite all the help), and working full time while raising babies is a blur. I was so fortunate to have the help that I had, and I credit my family and friends for keeping me sane while I juggled it all.
A few years later, the girls were starting school and we had all fallen into a nice rhythm when life threw some curveballs at us. The business hit a rough patch, my marriage dissolved, and I faced life as a single mom. Shortly after my separation, I took the girls (then aged 5 & 7) on our first solo trip together – a Disney Cruise. At that point, any vacation we had taken had included the aforementioned entourage, but this was the first time it was just us 3 and I was on their schedule, at their beck and call, for a whole week. It was the first time the three of us had so much solo time together and it sparked the beginning of a new relationship between us, separate from work life. We share more hobbies and interests than before. Nora developed a love for baking, music, and fashion. Anouk enjoys sports, binge-watching a great show, and can eat more sushi than me in one sitting.
As my girls have gotten older, I’ve shown them more and more of what my life is like on the other side of the boardroom doors. I need them to understand the types of things I am doing when I am away from them and why it is important. When COVID hit and our time together was limited to being under the same roof all day – all evening – all night, life got interesting, and they got a first-hand look. I distinctly remember one day, when I was dressed in my finest, despite working from home, as I had a big client pitch to do. Later that same day, they found me on a call, fixing lunch, while blow-drying their artwork on the kitchen counter. It’s a huge balancing act that they are just beginning to actually understand.
I’m not winning any mom of the Year awards, but I’m hoping that I’m setting an example of what a mom with a big career looks like. I’ve had several people over the past few years ask how I do it. Between the travel, the responsibility of my career, managing the kid’s schedules and needs, and looking after myself and pursuing my own interests. If I am being honest, the simple response is – “It’s hard! And in a given week, something always suffers”. There are weeks that I’m a better Mama than I am a CEO. There are weeks when I’m excelling in the boardroom, but not spending enough time looking after myself. I just have to trust that it will all balance out. While I’m a master logistics coordinator, I’m also a terrible multi-tasker. I’m learning that creating boundaries, reasonable expectations, and being honest with both myself and the kids have helped me balance all the important things in my life. I can only hope that the example I am giving to my girls will show them that, by working hard, they can have both a family and a great career – if they want it.
– Niru Somayajula, President & CEO of Sensor Technology Ltd