Getting Stuff Done' at Zoom
Aparna Bawa,COO and Interim Chief Legal Officer, Zoom Video Communications
Execution and Aparna Bawa are synonymous. A reason why her team calls her by the moniker GSD — Get Stuff Done. The 43-year-old's "I just need to do what it takes to get it done" outlook has rewarded her handsomely. Bawa was the only executive at Zoom Video Communications (Zoom) to receive a base salary increase (from $312,500 to $400,000) in the last fiscal following her promotion to the role of chief operations officer (COO), a first for the San Jose, California-based company. "There is a whole lot of stuff that needs to happen in the background to get this product (Zoom) to come to life and I am part of the team that does that," she explains.
Bawa, who holds a B.Sc. in accounting from Marquette University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School, was also awarded a hefty compensation of $10.62 million as part of her promotion in June 2020. The majority of her package consists of stock awards valued at more than $10.2 million, according to the company's latest proxy statement. A more recent filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission showed that Bawa holds shares in Zoom worth over $25 million.
While Bawa has played a key role in scripting Zoom's growth through the pandemic — revenue has gone up 326% in fiscal 2021 and net cash flow has increased 869% — she shies away from taking credit. "Billions of minutes are being utilised by Zoom. Over half a million businesses use Zoom to conduct their daily corporate/enterprises functions. It's widely used now throughout the world thanks to the pandemic," she tells Fortune India over a Zoom call. The company's total revenue for fiscal 2021 stood at $2.65 billion, compared with $622 million a year ago. Net cash from operating activities was $1.47 billion, against $151.9 million in the previous fiscal. "My own specific role — it's hard to describe. COO is a title, but it could mean a lot of different things."
In May, when she was appointed to the board of Palo Alto Networks, a global cybersecurity leader, its chairman and chief executive officer (CEO) Nikesh Arora said, "Aparna is a proven leader who has helped technology companies rapidly scale." He went on to add that "her unique perspectives" would help the firm achieve its stated goal of being the most "innovative cybersecurity company in the world."
In addition to the COO's role, Bawa is also the interim chief legal officer of Zoom, both of which make her responsible for oversight of people's experience, government relations, security, privacy, compliance, trust and safety, and legal functions.
"Aparna brings to Zoom an expertise in building operations and infrastructure for rapidly growing technology companies," reads her bio on the company's website. Prior to joining the communications firm, Bawa served as senior vice president and general counsel of Magento, Inc., an e-commerce platform, from June 2017 till its acquisition by Adobe Inc. in June 2018.
Zoom's financial results for fiscal 2021 were a reflection of the new normal: video communications being the new human connect. As the company's founder and CEO Eric S. Yuan said in its annual report, "We saw adoptions, mortgage appointments, yoga classes, weddings, parliamentary sessions, and much more taking place using our platform."
In December 2019, Zoom hit a peak of 10 million daily meeting participants, which by April 2020, averaged 300 million. By March 2021, the company had 467,100 customers, a 470% increase from the year-ago period.
"It was a herculean effort for the company to rally around connecting people and providing that human connection during a very disastrous pandemic," recounts Bawa.
"We were an enterprise platform largely focused on workplace collaboration and all of a sudden my kids were on Zoom, my mother-in-law was on Zoom, there were weddings and funerals on Zoom," says Bawa. The ability to address the need, which those different use cases brought up, "was tremendous." A standout moment for her was when the former governor of New York Andrew Cuomo, in April last year, made virtual weddings legal in the state through an executive order. Thereafter Zoom weddings became a rage. "From a personal standpoint that really touched me," she says. The order was lifted in June this year. An nytimes.com article in September quoted Shams Tarek, a spokesman for Cuomo, as saying, "Get vaccinated, kiss your new spouse and dance the hora if you want — New Yorkers worked hard to get where we are now and we celebrate the return to normalcy every day."
As a former investment banker, Bawa was surprised by the take up of virtual meetings in the financial services space, given the controls they are expected to have and maintain. "I know the controls that are put on employees' daily lives and that was forward thinking," says Bawa, who early in her career was an investment banker at Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank, where she executed multiple equity and debt-financing transactions for technology clients. She also practiced law as a corporate and securities attorney for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.
The tele-health use case of Zoom, according to Bawa, has changed the way people think about service delivery in healthcare. "Scrapes and bruises — We don't have to see a doctor. Just share the injury with the doctor over video... so productive..," she points out. Delivering such video services to rural India, she adds, "can change the game for how we access healthcare in the country."
For India, she says, the growth plans are very similar to those elsewhere. "We want to be the place where the knowledge worker spends their day — whether that's in a meeting or virtual conference; and be able to take meetings from phones to desktops seamlessly," says Bawa. Zoom, she adds, has the ability to deliver "very good" video and audio quality "in any WiFi situation". And that to her is going to make a huge difference to a vast majority of Indians. "It has made a difference, which is why we have such a big uptake in the region."
While offices and people quickly adapted to Zoom, the growth in the platform's user base brought its share of challenges as well. Disturbingly, random people — exploited by hackers — started finding their way into Zoom meetings. In many cases, hackers disrupted meetings by putting up offensive images.
"It's not a secret that in March-April (this year) we had an onslaught of what I call 'meeting disruptions', but what you guys in the press called 'Zoom bombings'," clarifies Bawa, as she went on to explain the root cause of the problem. "If you actually see, we were really, and are still a very flexible platform for IT departments all over the world. They can tweak it — dial up their security provisions, privacy features, dial down usability. And there is a bit of a trade off between privacy, usability and security," she adds.
While many Indian women CEOs narrate gender biases that they have had to deal with in their journey to the corner office, for Bawa that journey in the West has also been strewn with challenges. An existential question for her is why do women need to walk that extra mile to prove themselves capable? "Sometimes you don't even realise it, but do so years after when you are thinking back on a situation," she says. "I do want to make things better for women in the future, but there is a level of practicality — you do have to learn some tips and tricks to adjust in your daily life," she adds.
Back at Zoom, is she concerned what would happen to virtual meetings once people are back in offices? Her answer: The future of work has changed. Even at her own company, she adds, "we have realised that our employees are very productive when given the choice (of working from home), or some sort of hybrid model." Yuan, too, is optimistic. "As we enter FY22, we believe we are well positioned for strong growth with our innovative video communications platform, on which our customers can build, run, and grow their businesses; our globally recognised brand; and a team ever focused on delivering happiness to our customers," he had said early this year. According to the company's guidance, total revenue in fiscal 2022 is expected to be between $3.76 billion and $3.78 billion.
But what excites her most is the platform's ease of accessibility to a broad range of people. "My own mother-in-law signed up for Zoom, got her own account and is having meetings with her friends," says Bawa, while emphasising on the platform's reach to young and old alike. "Sometimes I even think that my own kids know how to use it better than I do," she adds.