Bhavana Bartholf: A Multi-industry Expert helping Businesses thrive

Bhavana Bartholf: A Multi-industry Expert helping Businesses thrive | The Enterprise World

The dynamics of business leadership have significantly changed over the past few years. In addition to being innovative, curious, and analytical, leaders need to think and react faster across multiple dimensions. With people at the heart of every company, successful leaders have to be able to connect at all levels within the company. In the past, vulnerability was seen as a sign of weakness in leadership and today it is a strength. It is foundational to quickly building trust. 

Enunciating her views on modern leadership, Bhavana Bartholf says, “A modern leader, to me, should possess the following qualities: authenticity, curiosity, empathy, humility & an open mindset.” Bhavana Bartholf is an award-winning leader and a highly sought-after speaker who provides vision and accelerates digital transformation for global corporations while driving positive change. 

The Enterprise World recently interviewed Bhavana Bartholf, in which she shed light on her journey, milestones, challenges, and leadership lessons. Here are some excerpts from the fascinating conversation:

1. Please walk us through your educational/professional journey. What was the ‘aha moment’ that inspired Bhavana Bartholf to venture into the industry you are working in?

I was taught early on the importance of curiosity and that anything is possible if you believe you can. hat seemed to be how I chose to explore options for my education and career. Growing up in India people said certain engineering fields weren’t really for women. When I was young my uncle would take me to trade shows to see the equipment used in shop floors and manufacturing lines. This led me to do my bachelor’s in Math, Physics, and Manufacturing Systems. I came to the US to do my Master’s in Integrated Manufacturing Systems Engineering at NC State University. While I was at NC State, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work for ABB as an intern which gave me a good understanding and foundation. 

Microsoft recruited me right out of college and it was and will always be one of the best experiences of my life. In my 20+ year career at Microsoft, I had the opportunity to be in a diverse set of roles across support, professional services, sales, marketing, operations, transformation, client experience, and corporate. Through this experience, I have been so privileged to have worked with some of the best talent in the world and learn from some of the most inspiring and successful leaders. 

My biggest “Aha” that fueled the successes and growth in my career was being open to taking on roles that others weren’t willing to do as they saw it as risky or not well defined. That started with my first job at Microsoft and several jobs in my career that were new or created for me which helped me play a role in defining it and influencing the future of it. I also learned that my education in Manufacturing Systems Processes and Logistics has become extremely valuable in building efficient, agile, and productive organizations that can sustain and scale. 

2. Who is your role model and how he/she has inspired Bhavana Bartholf to reach where you are today?

This would be my grandfather. As a little girl growing up in India in an environment where gender-specific roles and expectations prevailed, my grandfather taught me to Simply Imagine what is possible by challenging the status quo. He was a self-made man and was of the first radiologists in the south of India. I am grateful to have grown up with him. He taught me to be curious, listen and learn, and, most importantly, always dream big—as what we can or cannot achieve is simply a result of the limitations that we put on ourselves.

My mother also taught me the importance of kindness, respect, and the power of listening. And this has been core to who I am as a person, peer & leader and it helps me be an Ally to all. 

3. Please shed some light on the significant achievements/milestones throughout your illustrious career.

When I think about significant achievements in my career, to me, it’s about the impact people have shared that I have made in their careers and life. When I create an environment where everyone feels empowered and heard/valued and they are comfortable in giving the leadership team and myself honest feedback on the business and/or their experiences, it is huge and has led to the successes that the business had. In addition, I am proud to have intentionally helped increase diverse representation at all levels of an organization and worked to create a culture where they felt like they belonged. And from personal experience and feedback I had heard from others, led me to do my TEDx at TEDxWaterStreet ReImagine on “The Secret to Self-Advocacy”

The National Diversity Council named Bartholf one of 2023 & 2021’s “Power 50” Women in Leadership. In 2022, she was recognized by Success Magazine as one of 50 Women of Influence and was one of 25 trailblazers to receive the Women in Business Award from Charlotte Business Journal. Added to her accolades was Diversity Journal’s International Women of Influence. For two years running (2022, 2021), Bartholf was on Diversity Journal’s Women Worth Watching list.

4. As a successful business leader, how do Bhavana Bartholf handle failures/setbacks? What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned throughout your journey?

“Failure is the key to Success” – Michael Jordan. As a leader, it is important how you show up on the journey to success. And one of them is accountability. At the end of the day, if your team fails to accomplish a task, as the leader you need to be accountable and focus on reflecting and moving forward. Look at each setback as an opportunity to learn, adjust, and/or reset. At Microsoft, we would say it is important to “fail fast” with a growth mindset as it helps us succeed and deliver results. I have also learned not to take it personally, as it is not a reflection of my capabilities but part of my journey that has shaped me to be the person I am today. So, in summary:

  • Be accountable and honest
  • Seek to understand why
  • Focus on how to move forward
  • Stay positive on the Journey

5. How do Bhavana Bartholf ensure a perfect work-life balance? What are your hobbies/interests beyond the cabin? 

Will start by saying, I don’t think there is a “perfect” work-life balance. To me, it’s all about prioritization and integration. I believe it was Indra Nooyi who talked about how tough it is for women to “have it all”. When we are looking to accelerate our careers, our biological clock says it’s time to have kids! And the older your kids get the more they need you. So, I have learned it is important to prioritize what matters to you and what is non-negotiable and communicate that clearly.. Then as you integrate your work and personal life it will vary by the day. There are some days when your family needs more of your time and then there are those days when work needs you to give it all you have got. And that it’s okay. The toughest thing I continue to work on is learning to prioritize “me”. This is so important for your mental health and helps you be better both at work and home. Cooking and getting a workout in, helps me recharge and relax. 

6. According to Bhavana Bartholf, what are the most critical challenges and opportunities business leaders will face in the near future?

When we look across industries the most critical challenges and opportunities that leaders will face is being agile and scaling their business to meet the ever-changing demands in the market. A big part of that is about having a pulse across your business and your clients. Data and AI are foundational t assets for a business to be the leader in their industry and accelerate its success. Embracing Generative AI and the future with Artifical General Intelligence  will be a game changer in enabling them to do that. 

7. Please share a piece of advice for young business leaders aspiring to make a mark in their respective industries.

There’s a famous quote attributed to John Wayne, “Courage is being scared to death and Saddling up Anyway”. Courage is literally not possible without fear. So, embrace the fear and hone in on your strengths. A It will start with taking that first step: to Self Advocate. 

The big secret? Self-Advocacy is hard for everyone especially hard for Women! When we self-advocate we have a great deal to gain & little to lose and when we do not: a great deal to lose & little to gain. Just ask for what you want!

Simply imagine what is possible if you did!

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