A Day With… Ananya Mukherjee

We’re going behind the scenes with communications professionals across the APAC region, learning more about their diverse roles, what they love most about their jobs, and how they got there in the first place. In the seventh part of the series, we sat down with Ananya Mukherjee, Global Communications Director, Narrative & Content, at Cargill.
Briefly describe a ‘day in the life’ of you as a communications professional 

There’s never a dull day in the life of a communications leader and no two days are identical. Having said that, in my current role at Cargill as Global Communications Director, Narrative & Content, my manager, team of direct reports and peers are based primarily in the US. My day typically starts early around 8.30am with one-to-one and team calls, catching up with various partners and stakeholders, with whom I collaborate on a regular basis. They could be leaders from the business or global communications team. The discussions could vary from developing a brand new narrative strategy, brainstorming over compelling corporate stories, fine tuning the nuances of the corporate narrative, working through dashboards and identifying patterns of audience reactions and behaviours across media and social media, designing training modules for storytelling, creating corporate content that matters for relevant stakeholders and of course, firefighting crisis and developing communications for crisis management. 

I would wrap up my morning calls by noon, take a break, grab some quick lunch with a colleague or spend some time reading in the afternoon, completing my personal assignments for the advanced leadership management program I am currently pursuing at the Graduate Business School, Stanford University. I would return to work after a short break in the afternoon and spend the next two to three hours reviewing content that need approval and answering emails until it’s nearly evening and I would step out for a 30-40 minute walk to unplug and recharge my body and mind, and come back after a quick dinner for more team calls in the evening that sometimes can linger until midnight in order to accommodate different time zones. On a good day, if I am not burning midnight oil or drafting a crisis message, I would read a couple of pages from a book before I doze off.       

What’s the best part of your job? 

Everything! The variety of creative work, the diversity of my teams and audience, the opportunities to create something unique and impactful every day and the flexibility to manage my time. In my previous roles, as a business communications lead, I was managing an entire gamut of corporate communications responsibilities. This particular role, that has been tailored for me, leverages my biggest strength and greatest interest – storytelling. So, it’s almost like I am being paid to follow my passion. 

How did you enter the communications industry? (i.e. university study, internships, worked your way into communications, another route?) 

Apart from being an avid reader as a child, I had always wanted to be a writer and a journalist. I knew my calling since I was in grade 6 in school. Any other option was out of the question. In hindsight, I consider myself one of those fortunate few who had not only been able to identify their passion early in life but made the most of opportunities thrown their way or grabbed them with both hands. Of course, there were challenges and social stigmas. Back in those days in the country of my birth, high-potential, high-performing students weren’t expected to shun the path of brilliance to engineering and medical schools and end up studying an ambiguous and new subject such as communications. What’s worse… it meant signing up for a shoestring budget for life! Yet, my focus was clear. I wanted to be a journalist and ultimately an Editor (which sounded like an accomplishment worth writing home about then). 

As I always knew my interest was in Humanities, after high school I majored in Philosophy and studied Political Science and Sociology as supplementary subjects. I did my Master’s degree in Mass Communications and then specialised in Television Journalism. 

I pursued my passion despite the roadblocks, became the Editor of an esteemed international trade title in Singapore just before my 31st birthday in August 2006 and lived my dream. At that time, I was the youngest editor, the first female and the first Asian to grab that role. My dream shattered several glass ceilings. I hadn’t ever thought I would get too comfortable in my seat. Yet, writing the 18th article on work-life balance and the 5th cover story on the impacts of a maturing workforce on the business landscape made me wonder how long could I rehash my creativity. So after nearly ten years of my super successful career as a business editor, I took a leap! Blindfolded, into the corporate world.

Having spent substantial time using borrowed wisdom on business, human resources and employee communication in particular, for my business magazine, and partnering with some of the biggest companies of the world, I opened my mind to exploring the opportunities of corporate communications. It was a mid-career switch, a conscious decision and a significant one. I wanted to make use of the insight I had gathered by understanding some of the best corporate comms practices across the world and was super excited to be in a role where I could implement all that learning. I joined Olam International as the Group Head of Internal Communications.

This August, I complete 12 years of my career in corporate communications and as I look back on the journey, I have much to be grateful for. The timely opportunities, the right organisations, the right leadership coaching, the right career moves. And most importantly, the right moments of truth when I have stood in front of the mirror and asked myself, “Is this what I can do best? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?” Don’t simply rehash your passion; regenerate, reimagine and reinvent a new you! 

What’s the best piece of communications advice you’ve been given? 

Simplify, simplify, simplify. Drop the jargon, forget the management lingo, tell a story in a way that even a 13-year old would understand, connect personally and emotionally, make it memorable and impactful.  

What’s your superpower as a communications professional? 

Empathy is my secret sauce. It allows me to step into the shoes and minds of my audience. 

Looking ahead, what are the three most critical skills comms professionals should develop to meet the business needs of tomorrow?
  • Storytelling – no one is interested in your glorious dry facts. Tell them a story that they will remember. 
  • Agility – move fast, measure, course correct, change and move on.
  • Empathy – understand your audience, become one of them, speak to them in a language they understand, go where they are, don’t wait for them to come to you.