As a student in electronic engineering with a focus in technology, Swatee Singh’s graduate work involved working on clinical trials for an imaging device to detect breast cancer. While that may seem far removed from her current work at American Express, it actually epitomizes the defining characteristic of her varied career.
“Whether you are working in retail, finance or the power industry, there is a focus on predictive analytics at every level. Over the course of my career, I have gone past my initial hesitation about feeling comfortable in a new industry to realizing I can diversify and bring value to any industry through my experience with analytics.”
Her first post-graduate position was with McKinsey as a management consultant, where she brought her expertise to a wide variety of industries, from retail to finance and utilities. She soon learned that while McKinsey offered excellent exposure to strategy, the implementation was frequently carried out either in-house or by other firms and therefore she decided to investigate other opportunities.
Singh decided to focus on the financial industry, realizing that it was going through what she calls a quiet revolution. “They seemed very nascent in their collection and storage of data. If you don’t have the right kind of data, you can’t do predictive analytics, and I saw enormous growth potential.”
While researching opportunities, she ran into an acquaintance who worked at Amex and ended up interviewing and accepting a position there three years ago. Joining the firm as lead business architect, her ascension was swift: within 13 months she was promoted to director and after two years promoted to vice president.
Values Drive Corporate Decisions
Singh says that when she first started working in the private sector, she was surprised to learn that companies operate from more than just a profit and loss viewpoint. Instead, decisions are often made from the perspective of the company philosophy — where they want to grow and the core values for which they want to be recognized.
For example, she’s found that Amex is going through constant change, but its value proposition has always been superior service and delighting customers. One of the initiatives she works on to fulfill that value is to serve the customer better though data-driven information, which manifests itself as offers that are specifically tailored to each customer and their interests. She is also working on consolidating data to drive more value for merchants. “The companies that get stuck in a rut are the ones that die out.”
True Mentorship and Sponsorship
Singh says she feels blessed for all the support she has had at Amex, attributing her fast rise within the company to sponsors she had up the leadership chain and the visibility they afforded her with the senior executive leadership. “Now I see the process by which they recognize, categorize and grow talent. The company has a process that works.”
And while she has a number of professional role models in her current position and during her prior stint at McKinsey, she cites a key influence as one of her graduate advisors, Georgia Tourassi, who is currently a director at Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
“Though I admired my mom and her role in our home, Tourassi was the first woman I knew who showed me that you can be successful on both sides of your day-to-day life — an excellent mother and also a career woman. I was enamored of this highly recognized, intelligent woman, and to this day I stay in touch. She has been very influential in my life.”
Teamwork Makes it Happen
Singh says that a pivotal point in her career came the day she transitioned from thinking like an individual contributor, as in “What can I do?” to a shift in mindset to “What can my team do?”
“It was a big learning moment when I realized that trusting the team and giving them responsibility without micromanaging is the only way you can do something impactful at scale. But this only works if the team buys into your vision and broader company vision.”
And, she has realized that the team dynamic only works if members are motivated, and believe that their individual needs and personal goals are accounted for as they all work toward a common goal.
“Success depends upon much more than thinking, ‘Can I come up with the best algorithm or be the most efficient?’ Now I look at what can we do cross functionally, focusing across hundreds of team members, and this has taken my career to the next level.”
Support from Within
As the new mom to a daughter, Singh appreciated the support system that Amex provided as she was going through her pregnancy journey, including a dedicated nurse who could offer practical solutions to any issues that arose.
On the professional side, Singh says that Amex offers a lot of emphasis on diversity and inclusion, specifically for women in technology, adding that she is personally involved in three robust networks. “There are well-defined career paths, which doesn’t mean you can’t jump around but it allows you to see where and how you can grow, for example from a project manager to becoming a director and a vice president,” she says.
Singh also emphasizes, though, that the company culture doesn’t differentiate between men and women. “The programs are there, but I never once felt as if I as a woman was treated differently on the whole than my male counterparts.”
Outside the Office
Singh says that a key priority for her and her husband has been to travel – both exploring within the United States and to other continents. That wanderlust has been tamed by the birth of her daughter, Akshra, who is now one year old. “She helps me be more patient because she has her own agenda,” Singh says with a laugh.
She has also been a regular blood donor, a priority for her since her work inside hospitals showed her how vital the need is. “I couldn’t wait until I was cleared to resume my donations once my baby was born,” she says.
Her other charitable endeavors revolve around company-sponsored activities, which she typically does with her product team to build a sense of purpose and camaraderie. “Amex does a wonderful job of developing these opportunities for us, and we know our impact is much greater with a large team.”
By Cathie Ericson