Like many tech professionals who hit the ground running early in their careers, Sameer Purao wore the hat of a product-obsessed specialist. Whether he was writing code for complex programs or building category-leading features, he leveraged his expertise to elevate the user experience.
While Purao enjoyed honing his tech skills and building his career, he noticed that some of the teams he was part of needed more direction and leadership. If no one stepped up and maximized the value proposition, all the resources that went into rolling out innovative products and services would go to waste.
“I realized that technology is great and I’m passionate about it. But that’s just one part of the value equation,” Purao says. “It had to be something else that really mattered, and that’s when I started looking more from a process and people perspective.”
Since then, Purao has approached his job with a different lens. Not only did his department need to save time and money when developing ERP products, but they also had to streamline operations and foster a collaborative culture. So he focused on finding new ways to make processes better. He learned more about the business. And sure enough, he grew into the strong business partner he is today.
“I was able to create a much bigger impact than what I was able to do in writing complex programs,” Purao says.
Two decades later, Purao is now the global chief information officer (CIO) at Celanese Corporation, which produces differentiated chemistry solutions and specialty materials used in most major industries and consumer applications. In this role, Purao is responsible for driving value through the digital transformation of a century-old enterprise in addition to overseeing the IT and cybersecurity efforts of more than eight thousand employees.
When Purao joined Celanese in 2021, the company was working to embrace the digital transformation that it needed to help its customers and advance its global manufacturing operations. Celanese was in the early stages of optimizing its customer journey and was just beginning to implement a digital manufacturing strategy that would help transform several of its manufacturing plants to smart plants.
“We’re doing a lot of discrete digital initiatives and improvements, but without an integrated approach you cannot drive a transformation,” Purao explains.
He drew up a new road map that allowed Celanese to build a scalable secured foundation while accelerating the digital journey to contribute to increases in productivity, reliability, and safety of its manufacturing plants. “It’s not just like we do a process manually today with fifteen steps and then we are automating to five steps. We are helping build our manufacturing capabilities for the changing needs of our customers and people,” Purao says.
Purao has also collaborated with colleagues outside the company on digital transformation efforts. “It has been a pleasure working with Sameer and his leadership team on strategic programs at Celanese leveraging digital technology to transform the customer journey, manufacturing operations, and provide a scalable cloud platform for future growth and innovation,” says Matthew Smith, chemicals and natural resources lead for the US South Region at Accenture.
In addition to all of this work, Purao needed to instill a winning culture in his department. He leans on a transformational leadership style that inspires employees to operate as business partners who are as invested in Celanese as its shareholders. “People expect me to talk about technology, and I keep talking about people,” he says, noting a certain irony in the assumptions that are made about him because of his role as CIO.
Purao also emphasizes that it’s important for the firm to prioritize diversity and inclusion initiatives, noting that diversity within a team leads to more diversity of ideas within the organization. “The culture within the team should be to value those diversity of thoughts, to respect those thoughts and encourage them in the team; that’s immensely useful in scaling and growing the organization,” he says.
From a talent development standpoint, he aims to cultivate leaders on his teams—building skills and competencies along the way. Purao believes that having a strong mentorship program is key for developing leaders.
“People think that you first need to have a seat at the table to be a true business partner. And that’s why they always get caught up in that loop of waiting to get this seat. It’s actually the other way around,” Purao explains. “That is true for any role: if a manager aspires to be a director, for example, he needs to be performing as a director first before getting the corresponding title.”
Purao’s knack for leadership and collaboration hasn’t gone unnoticed. “When helping solve business problems, Sameer looks for an integrated set of capabilities from his strategic collaborators—teams across strategy, deals, technology, change management, and cyber are working together to reimagine the business capabilities enabled by digital,” says Kumar Krishnamurthy, a principal at PwC.
Beyond his affinity for entrepreneurship, Purao also holds his team accountable for delivering value. “Technology alone cannot create value. It is the people who create value, leveraging processes and technology,” he says. “Change management is often seen as non-essential overhead but it is extremely critical to drive value.” Purao believes that to be a successful IT leader, one has to master the art of driving organizational change management.
In addition to buying Santoprene’s TPV elastomers business in December 2021, Celanese announced its intent to acquire a majority of DuPont’s Mobility and Materials business in February 2023.
Purao and his team have to perform a balancing act between carrying out organic growth initiatives and supporting transitions associated with inorganic growth. He feels confident about this challenging journey, he says, primarily because of the highly skilled professionals in his IT organization and strong partnerships with the company’s third-party service providers.
“Expediting a successful integration will drive synergies from the combined organization,” Purao notes. “And that is the highest priority for Celanese as well as for our shareholders.”
NTT DATA Services is a recognized leader in IT and business services including cloud, data and applications. A division of NTT DATA Corporation headquartered in Tokyo, the company leverages consulting and deep industry expertise to help clients accelerate and sustain value throughout their digital journeys. Visit nttdataservices.com to learn more.