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March 25, 2013

Neelam Dhawan-From Rejection to Managing Director of HP India

A mother of two children, a cooperative wife and CEO of a leading IT company Hewlett-Packard India, Neelam Dhawan is an icon of women in the corporate world.  She has also worked as the head of Microsoft India for quite some time.  In an industry, which is predominantly male oriented, her rise to the top echelons of IT industry is no less than a miracle.  She faced terrific challenges and fought her way up to grab the less crowded top positions.  Her story is quite inspiring to the young females, who think it is very difficult to survive as a woman in the tough corporate world.

Early rejections and fierce struggle to survive

She has had her fair share of failures before she acquired this glorious success.  In fact, companies like Hindustan Lever Ltd. (now Hindustan Unilever Ltd.) and Asian Paints did not hire her as the HR people of these companies thought she did not have the spark in herself.  It was largely a stereotypical bias of the 80s and 90s that a woman cannot handle the role of the successful marketer.  But Neelam Dhawan was not among the quitters, who accept failure too quickly.  She was among the rare species, who are stronger than most of their contemporaries, including males.  She was determined to venture into the unchartered territory of the IT industry of that time, that too in the role of a marketer, where no Indian lady had ever claimed any noticeable achievement.  But, she successfully created history and became an inspiration for thousands of young ladies, who quit midway getting disheartened.  It is difficult to believe that she was the face of Indian arm of Microsoft throughout her stint, especially in the light of the fact that she ended up working for IT industry accidentally.  The employers of her main field FMCG had closed doors for her and it led to her entry into IT and software industry in the field of marketing. Childhood and schooling Neelam Dhawan had a privileged childhood, where her parents never discriminated between girls and boys.  She did her BA (economics) from St. Stephen's College, New Delhi in 1980, followed by an MBA in marketing management in 1982 from FMS New Delhi.  When she was rejected by the FMCG giants such as Hindustan Unilever and Asian Paints, she was extremely dejected, but she had an undaunted conviction that she's made for marketing and her qualification at FMS New Delhi was a call of destiny.  She refused to surrender in front of the insurmountable barriers and joined HCL, an IT services company.  Her decision to join HCL was not inspired from any IT boom theory as nobody could have predicted the phenomenal growth of IT industry, way back in the 80s.  It was just to continue her marketing career and learn new insights.  Surprisingly, she joined HCL as a trainee executive and continued over there for the next 14 years.  Her career also flourished with the growth of HCL until it became a brand name in IT industry.  Her marketing challenge grew with the rising stature of the company. 

A quantum jump

Her 14 year long stint at HCL not only polished her marketing and administrative skills, but also ascertained the fact that she was meant for the field of marketing in the IT industry.  It clearly charted her career path and she joined Compaq and worked there for six years before joining IBM, where she stayed for another four years.  At IBM, she was designated as VP and also a member of Board of Directors.  It was a huge jump that established her as a leading name in the entire IT industry of India.

It was in 1999, that she joined Hewlett-Packard as a VP, Customer Solutions Group.  It also established her as a renowned name in the corporate sphere.  She is an unconventional story of success in the IT industry, where the ratio of female employees is less than 18%.

Becoming a face of Microsoft India

After that, she started with Microsoft India in 2005.  It was the first time that she walked into the corridors of a software major because till yet she had worked only for the hardware industry.  She was the head of sales and marketing operations at Microsoft, where she also learned to deal with both the customers and channel partners.  She also tried her hands on people management and brand awareness.  She made such a remarkable impression that Microsoft Corporation declared Microsoft India as its subsidiary in the entire APAC region in 2006.  Soon, she became the face of Microsoft India despite the fact that there were many senior leaders in the company at the time.  During the course of the time, she assumed the responsibilities of managing director (India) for Microsoft Corp and later on went back to her passion “hardware.”

Homecoming to bringing the sinking HP back to life

In 2008, she again joined HP, the company where she had learned a lot about IT industry, but now she took on a more challenging role of a managing director.  It was a tough time as the company was faced with many troubles.  Competition was increasing and dollar was depreciating, so the ride was not so smooth.  She put on the leadership cap and successfully sailed the company out of the trouble waters.  Impressed with that, Meg Whitman, another woman stalwart and the global leader of HP assigned her an extended portfolio of IT services and software engineering research.  At present, she is working as the director of HP India Pvt. Limited and at the same time also a member of the supervisory board of Philips Electronics NV. 


Neelam Dhawan is married to Atul Dhawan, who is very cooperative and doting husband.  Her mother-in-law, who was also a working woman, resigned from her job to take care of the second child of Neelam Dhawan, only to enable the ambitious lady to focus on her enhanced responsibilities.  Her two daughters are named Naina and Nupur.

Awards—International recognitions for a female business leader from India When someone achieves so much, despite rejections, challenges and friction, the world comes out to salute him/her; and the case with Ms. Dhawan is no different. She was featured as 37th “Most Powerful Women in Business” in the entire world in the Fortune’s annual global list in 2009.  Bill Gates of Microsoft had declared Microsoft India as a subsidiary of Microsoft Corporation in the year 2006 in the Asia-Pacific region, being impressed by the leadership and performance of Ms. Dhawan in the capacity of its managing director. It’s a huge recognition for a female business personality from India that has earned respect for the country as well.


When we live, survive, struggle and thrive in the real world, the controversies are quite natural. Though, there are no noticeable controversies related to Ms. Dhawan’s career, but she was in news in 2008, when she resigned from the prestigious position of managing director of Microsoft.  According to several microblogs, Microsoft India was under scrutiny at the time, for various irregularities; and the investigation was being initiated by the Microsoft Corp. Seattle. She resigned 10 days before official announcement, citing a family bereavement. People still believe that she had some differences with her colleagues in other departments of Microsoft India and that was the reason she wanted to keep herself away from all the controversies.

She calmly denied all such allegations and reiterated that she wanted to be a part of a major change going on in HP India, which was struggling with various issues at the time. It was like homecoming to her, where she shouldered the responsibility to pull the company out from troubled waters. Both HP and Microsoft India must be indebted to this lady, who restructured their brands and took these companies to glorious heights in India.    

Tags : Neelam Dhawan, Microsoft India, HP India Pvt. Limited, Philips Electronics NV., IBM, HCL, IT industry, Hewlett-Packard India

About Nashaat Quadri

Freelance Content Writer (Compare Infobase, New Delhi.) Ex Sr Content Writer, Western Software, New Delhi. Ex Relationship Manager, Mashreq Bank, Dubai.