On Friday July 5, the Canadian Tamil Alumni Association (CTAA), in partnership with the Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA), hosted the 3rd annual Toast to Success Networking Event. This event was an opportunity for young Tamil professionals to connect and to recognize the contributions made by Tamil professionals worldwide.
The two associations brought forth three prominent Tamil business professionals as guest speakers for the Toast to Success event: Jay Vijayan (Chief Information Officer of Tesla Motors), Poornima Vijayashankar (Founder of Femgineer) and Yoganathan Ratheesan (Co-Founder and Chairman of Lebara Group).
Jay Vijayan has over 17 years of IT, applications development and management experience. Before joining Tesla, Jay was the Senior Director of IT Business Applications for VMware. Jay led the applications development of all business for VMware including the web portal, growing the company from 700 Million to nearly 4 Billion in annual revenue in 2007-2012.
Prior to this, Jay held several applications management positions at Oracle. Jay has specialized in efficiently operating and delivering sustainable IT solutions in extremely fast-paced, high-growth organizations and in turning around large IT programs and organizations successfully.
Jay holds a Master of Science degree from University of Madras (now University of Chennai), as well as several industry recognized technology certifications and patents for tech inventions.
Poornima Vijayashankar began her career as an R&D Engineer at Synopsys and eventually became enamored by Silicon Valley’s startup scene. Her first experience was as a founding engineer at Mint.com. While at Mint, Poornima began blogging on engineering and entrepreneurship. Her goals at the time were modest: to have a creative outlet, and to showcase that women can be sophisticated, cultured and still be engineers – Femgineers!
After Mint was acquired by Intuit, Poornima decided it was time to go from a founding engineer to a founder! She started BizeeBee out of a passion for yoga. BizeeBee helps fitness businesses with customer management, and currently services private instructors and studios around the country.
Upon entering the technology field, Poornima thought nothing of being in a male-dominated field. However, she took notice of how it impacted the rate of innovation on teams, success in recruiting and retaining technical talent, and ultimately building companies.
She has since taken her six year old blog, Femgineer, and transformed it into an education tech startup focused on helping tech professionals level up in their careers, and to help tech entrepreneurs build products and companies.
Most recently, Poornima has been invited to teach as a visiting professor at Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering. Beginning this fall, she will be teaching the course How to Start New Ventures in Electrical and Computer Engineering. Poornima holds a double major in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from Duke University.
Ratheesan Yogananthan co-founded Lebara in 2001 at the age of 25. Ratheesan’s aim was to transform the international calling market by providing ethnic and migrant communities with high quality, low cost solutions for keeping in touch with family and friends.
Over ten years later, Lebara is one of Europe’s fastest growing mobile companies with 4 million active customers and over 1,000 employees with operations in eight countries. In the last three years, its revenues have grown by €278 million ($356 million). The company prides itself on its focus on the customer. In 2012, Lebara won 7 Customer Service awards.
Ratheesan holds a BSC in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Kingston. In 2012, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from Kingston Business University and he has recently been named Ernst & Young ‘London & South’ Entrepreneur of the Year.
Each speaker spoke about the beginnings in their respective careers, as well as their struggles and the paths taken to get to where they are today. Although each guest speaker came from different backgrounds, each individual has excelled and each embodies similar traits.
This was my first time attending the Toast to Success event. I came with an open mind not knowing what to expect. I was excited to not only to be in the same room as Jay, Poornima and Ratheesan, but to also the have the opportunity to hear them speak. The speakers did not disappoint. Every attendee walked away inspired and motivated to take the next step not only in their careers, but to also make an impact in the community.
There were many takeaways from this event. Three things stood out most:
1. Do not be afraid to take calculated risks. Rarely are opportunities are presented to you on a platter. The onus is on the individual to seek opportunities and push forward.
2. Surround yourself with individuals who will push you and make you strive for excellence, whether in academia, business, sports or the arts.
3. Be passionate about what you do. The road you take won’t be easy and you will hit roadblocks and stumble. But keep an open mind because it is through these mistakes that you will learn the most.
This year’s event was a great success. I am grateful that I attended, and I look forward to attending many more such events.
The Canadian Tamil Alumni Association (CTAA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing career opportunities for Tamil professionals through networking, professional development and mentorship. To learn more about the Canadian Tamil Alumni associations and to get involved, visit www.tamilalumni.ca
The Federation of Tamil Sangams of North America (FeTNA) is a non-profit, literary, cultural, charitable and non-partisan organization that aims to cultivate, promote and foster the advancement of knowledge in Tamil language, history, literature and culture within North America. To learn more, visit www.fetna.org