Girish Nair, Project Manager

Lead Project Manager - Technologies, American Express Canada

Girish straddles business and technology to ensure American Express (Amex) satisfies its tech needs across the globe.

As a liaison between the Amex technology and business divisions, Girish needs to understand both sides and have top-notch communication skills. 

He built this skill set while working with a previous employer – outsourcing specialist Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). Canadian companies – like banks or manufacturers – “outsource” some kinds of work to TCS.  It delivers cost savings by moving the work to a less expensive market like India. At TCS, Girish helped develop high levels of trust between onshore (Canadian-based employees of TCS customers) and offshore (TCS employees located in India and other countries) teams. 

Girish put these skills into action when TCS needed to create a dynamic and effective search engine function for a customer’s website but was hampered by miscommunication and a lack of understanding between the onshore and offshore teams. Girish stepped in to help out.  “We built trust and created a great environment within the team. We were able to deliver some big things in a short time.  The success lead to multiple job offers.” One of these landed him a job at Amex.

Girish's CareerMash

Girish is the middleman between Amex internal customers (business side) and its development teams (tech side).  “The technical guys don’t speak the business language, the business people don’t speak the technical language, so you need someone in between to be a facilitator. That’s how you succeed in bringing both together,” he says.

Girish works in the accounts receivable technology department for Amex international markets. He deals with business and technology teams from around the world.  A current project involves making credit card statements easier to understand for customers everywhere, especially with respect to interest rates.  It sounds simple, but involves complex mathematics and programming of Amex software. Girish communicates with all involved departments to ensure everyone is on the same page.  He makes sure the project is on schedule, tests and troubleshoots any issues, and solves problems.

A day in the life

Girish often works on about 10 projects at a time, so he must manage his time well.  His job requires a lot of interaction with developers and business professionals across the business.  He provides presentations and updates on the projects throughout their lifecycle, from design to building and implementation, and ensures they’re on target.  

For example, he may meet with the testing team to determine the status of a new tech development such as the credit card statements, raise any issues and highlight any risks. He then reports his findings back to the “requester” (the person/department that sought the change).  Business requests vary in nature, ranging from a simple change to an internal interface to complex projects designed to improve the Amex customer experience.

Girish also oversees project budgets to define current costs and what is needed for the future.  He volunteers on a committee with other project managers to swap tips and share lessons in an effort to improve his own practices in technology project management. 

Why this job rocks

Girish is a talkative and social guy, two attributes he’s happy to bring to work with him. “My job requires a lot of interactions with people and multitasking, and its exciting!” he says.  “I simply love American Express in terms of work culture, the environment and the respect they have for everyone. It’s a mature place and a happy place where we work together as a team to reach a common goal.  Everyone works hard, but it’s very positive.”

Roadmap

  • Girish grew up in India where he studied electrical engineering in university.  He realized engineering wasn’t for him, but his analytical skills lent well to business so he decided to also get an MBA and, later, project management certification. 
  • After graduation, he found himself at a media company during the dot.com boom.  The company operated between venture capitalist (investors) and start-up entrepreneurs. He worked on the company’s publication platform and discovered his love for technology.
  • He then jumped on an opportunity at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).  He was part of a key project that analyzed what customers were looking for and what they required from a technology perspective. 
  • He realized he didn’t have enough experience working with customers directly, so he transferred overseas to a client facing job for TCS at American Express in Phoenix, Arizona. He wanted to learn how corporate strategy affects customers. He worked his way up from business systems analyst to project manager to an account manager for TCS.
  • When it was time to settle down, he moved to Toronto.  He worked briefly though TCS at Scotiabank before landing the job at American Express.

Speed Bumps

Girish finds setting and meeting expectations to be the most challenging part of his job.  When he starts a project he has to plan everything from the budget to the launch date.  He needs to determine the best people for the job.  He has to break the projects down into simplified and achievable goals.  If anything is missed, he needs to figure out how to fix it.

One of the toughest things is deciding what is important for the business and weighing the significance of each project as not to overwork his team.  “This impacts your team, their work load, their satisfaction level. If you say yes to everything, your team will be overloaded and their satisfaction will decrease.  You are there to meet business requirements, but also make sure your team is happy,” Girish says.  Finding the right balance is the key.

Tips for success

Communicate well: Good communication, especially writing, is essential. You need to get things done without being pushy.
Understand different roles: Business and tech people think differently, so you should know how to logically break down a problem to suit any audience.
Make decisions: Be a good decision maker in terms of analyzing/judging a situation and reacting to it. Determine what needs more attention, what can be left as is and what needs escalation.
Teamwork: Girish’s job requires a lot of teamwork, so start understanding how teams work together now.  Set goals for yourself and learn group dynamics.
Soft skills:  The accumulation of different education and different experiences can make you a more ideal candidate.  Try out different roles and learn from them.  Every role you play as the potential to be a valuable experience.
See the big picture: “My philosophy is nothing that you learn goes to waste. In your real life you will find direct and indirect application of your learnings,” Girish says.
Look for challenges: They make you grow and enhance your skills!

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