Executive of the Year Nitin Sethi is cooking and dreaming with eyes open
By Katie Martell
Posted on 09-10-2020
Tandoori chicken is a mouth-watering dish.
The smoky, spicy flavors and bright red color are imparted by a combination of chili powder, cayenne, and a blend of myriad other spices, all caramelized and seared into the meat by the high heat of a tandoor oven.
It’s a delicious achievement when it’s done well.
But it takes a thoughtful blend of ingredients, developed and refined over time, the right equipment, tasting, testing, and continually striving to create a perfect, memorable experience.
Meet Nitin Sethi, chef of digital experiences
I recently learned this is exactly how Nitin Sethi, Executive of the Year winner in the 2020 Adobe Experience Maker Awards, approaches his role. As the vice president of digital at IndiGo Airlines, Sethi is like a chef on a continual quest for the perfect dish.
As you’ll hear in the interview above, Sethi’s leadership at India’s largest passenger airline is grounded in a passion for putting customers first, masterful use of Adobe Experience Cloud technology, a culture of experimentation, and a design-thinking approach to orchestrating digital experiences.
“I always feel that there’s a better way of doing things,” he says. “It’s the design thinker in me who has a craving for more, a fire in the belly, and [seeks] continuous improvement. You need to have a great appetite, with a lot of hunger.”
I had the honor of hosting this year’s award show from the safety of my dining room, so it was fitting that our conversation began on the topic of food.
With our geographical distance, it was nearly lunchtime here in Boston, and Sethi had just wrapped up dinner with his family. Naturally, I wanted to know, “What was for dinner?”
As Sethi described what was on the menu that evening – including Tandoori chicken – he revealed a passion for cooking (particularly Punjabi cuisine) in addition to the incredible passion he has for his role.
The pioneering chef Jose Andres said, “As chefs, we cook to please people, to nourish people.”
In that sense, Sethi is also a remarkable chef. His ingredients come from a dedicated team, his equipment is a digital technology stack focused on CX, and his dishes are served as simple, hassle-free digital experiences for IndiGo’s 1.3 billion potential customers.
A growth mindset despite challenges
With our Meet the Experience Makers interview, I sought to understand the recipe for Sethi’s success.
He sits at the helm of a digital operation within an airline that has continued growing and gaining market share, even within the tumultuous travel and hospitality vertical during COVID-19.
“You have something to win, too,” Sethi says about the immense challenges facing the travel industry. “Look at challenges as opportunities. Think like an entrepreneur.”
One entrepreneurial move has been the company’s shift to cargo, a pivot that allowed the business to diversify. “We’ve created new synergies,” Sethi explains. “We’ve tried something new. Fear of losing is not right, especially once you are leading the team. You need to be composed. You need to have a mission.”
You can never take out the salt
This fearless approach was evident throughout our conversation and reminded me of a common experience we all have in the kitchen.
I call it “pantry pilot-testing.” Sometimes you just need to throw some ingredients from your pantry into the pan and see what happens! Your best culinary creations could be discovered this way.
“You have to keep tasting the dish to make it right, right?” Sethi asks.
I agreed, as we laughed over the golden rule of cooking – you can never take out the salt.
“That’s the craft. If you love to build, you have to keep testing. Nothing is perfect. Something which was working with amazing results today may not work after a month. So you need to continuously inspect and see whether consumers are happy with it. You need very active social listening, as well as platform listening. What’s not working? Are customers having a more simple experience somewhere else?”
Sethi’s team is focused on a seamless experience for customers based on a 360-degree view across channels, from the time they research a flight, to the proactive fare-drop feature Adobe helps to deliver, to service and support if an issue arises.
“When a family comes together to make a dish, everybody contributes,” he says. “That’s what a digital journey is. Everybody needs to contribute and do their part.”
Think beyond ROI
But, for him, it’s not just about ROI.
“A lot of leaders only talk about return on investment. But they should think about return on experience,” he explains. “That’s the secret formula. People don’t buy products or services anymore. People buy experiences. When someone buys a ticket, they are buying an experience.”
Sethi was recognized this year for being a visionary leader driving digital transformation that delivers advances in customer experience that achieve significant business impact. He blends an understanding for what individual customers need with an ability to see the big picture at 30,000 feet. From here, he approaches the customer experience like an end-to-end canvas.
“Aviation is not a very exciting market,” Sethi explains to me, “and it’s highly regulated. There are a lot of challenges, but once you start creating experiences for people, and once you start defining a bigger canvas, that’s when you’re dreaming with eyes open.”
Customers are more than transactions
All digital leaders, regardless of industry, are making the same shift Sethi and his team have – to become experience-driven businesses. At the core of this shift is what Sethi’s leadership represents: deep empathy for what customers need and investing in the role that digital plays in helping them achieve it.
“Don’t only talk about money, and don’t treat your customers like transactions. Empathize with them. You make their life easy and you transform lives. And once you do that, you win brand ambassadors. That’s the shift. Amazon has done it. Instagram has done it. Google has done it. Now, IndiGo has done it.”
It’s no surprise why Sethi is this year’s Executive of the Year award winner.
The results are delicious.
Honoring the movers and shakers. Learn more about the Adobe Experience Maker Awards.
Topics: Customer Stories, Digital Transformation, Experience Cloud,