She is the only female head of a major asset manager in India. The chief executive officer (CEO) of Edelweiss Asset Management Limited, Radhika Gupta is also known as “the girl with the broken neck”. Her talk by the same name went viral.
The CEO, shares that her biggest learning is that the designation on the business card doesn’t mean much and there are real things you have to do as a leader. She is a graduate of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, a hedge-fund manager and an entrepreneur.
Gupta, who is seven months pregnant, also shares that the bias is often in our heads. Gupta spoke to SheThePeople ahead of the release of her book Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential by Hachette India. Some edited snippets from the conversation.
Reading your book, a key point that emerged is- at every juncture of your life when you achieved success, you were told that you are way too young to get it. So tell us a little bit about this.
I guess it is a subconscious feeling that came out in the book. Maybe it’s also reflective of corporate India where grey hair, especially in financial services, is always at a premium. Perhaps the reason is a lot of people who talk to me are young people and I think that young people are in many ways the best asset India has. When you are in your 20s and 30s you are at the peak of your energy, the peak of your potential and there is nothing that you cannot do if you get a few things right. It’s a limitation in your mind that you can overcome because you’ve so much potential when you are young.
You’ve mentioned that the book happened because of the pandemic induced lockdown. How did you realise that right now is the time to tell this story.
I wasn’t sure. I always wanted to write a book. For at least two years before this, I’ve been writing small pieces on social media and the audience has come to me and said to write into a full-form book. Writing on social media is nice but it is very scattered and a book brings everything together. I’ve been writing since I was five years old. It’s perhaps the only hobby I’ve had.
In my head, I always believed that writing a book is something you do after your 60s. It seemed like a post-retirement plan. So when COVID happened, I typically travelled 2-3 days a week to different branches, but I wasn’t travelling. Then my publisher had this conversation with me about writing a book and my first reaction was no way! As I got into it I thought about it and once I put that ‘no’ out of my head I said why not! It’s a great way to channelise the opportunity. I do believe that any challenge, including COVID, it’s always an incredible opportunity.
Tell us a little bit about the writing process.
The writing process has been entirely mine. I went through thinking about the topics that I wanted to touch upon. What were the issues I wanted to talk about, some of them were from the feedback I received from people. For instance, the whole theme around rejection and redirection is something that came up in feedback. The topic around ‘is hard work enough’ and networking and mentorship are some of the themes very personal to me. I spent time in figuring out the themes and then the stories I wanted to tell. I do a lot of planning and outlining. So I did that for months before I got into the writing and then it was chapter by chapter, example by example.
Who were some of the people you used as the sounding board for this book Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential?
I showed the book to people who will typically be the readers of this book. Colleagues of mine who are in their late 20s or early 30s because I wanted to show the book to the audience. A couple of my colleagues have given me fantastic feedback. The other thing I think is subconsciously without knowing it a lot of people who write to me on social media have written the book. They’ve written it as they have asked questions, they’ve raised topics. So, I believe that in some way the book is also crowdsourced.
Your pinned tweet currently is “From writing little tweets to finally a full book”. So how has social media influenced and helped you?
People have very different perspectives on social media and there is a lot of accusation thrown at social media for trolling but it has a positive side. I tell everyone I know that if you can leverage the positive side of social media there is nothing like it. If you’re someone who is writing it’s a great place to experiment and engage with readers. I write on LinkedIn about workplace-related issues and some of those threads get hundreds or thousands of comments and suddenly you know that this is an issue that people want to know more about.
The other interesting thing about that tweet is it is one of the themes I talk about, namely, the importance of starting small and building big. It is important to start and in some sense, social media has been my way to start small and build something bigger.
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You mention in the book that “my career is my responsibility.” We would like you to talk a little bit more about it keeping in mind the young readers who are going to read this piece.
We all have tremendous dreams for ourselves but careers are hard work and there is some degree of chance, choice and crafting. We need to have a game plan and a vision for our careers and we need to work towards it. I discuss in the book perhaps the greatest problem young Indians have is comparing. My belief is we need to stop comparing and start thinking about crafting our careers as a result of feedback, rejection, criticism, help, etc.
Throughout your career as a leader, how have you changed or what has influenced your leadership.
If I look at myself today and if I look at myself maybe 6-7 years ago I don’t recognise in many parts the person I am. Even though the core is intact there are parts of me that are influenced by childhood, my ambition levels, and my adaptability levels. I’m a work in progress and I think working with people managing people has changed me completely. I talk about some of this in the book but in some sense, Limitless is not an autobiography it has a lot of stories of me growing up and changing.
I’m a work in progress and I think working with people managing people has changed me completely.
If there is one singular difference over the last 10 years it is self-confidence which is perhaps the last and final theme of the book and it is not self-confidence that is random it is the self-confidence that has come from a journey.
If you’re to talk about any incident that particularly influenced you or changed your leadership journey, which one would it be?
My first two years as CEO were extremely powerful because I came into the role new and you’re very excited when you become CEO you expect there’s a lot of power and authority and things will just work. My first year was just grappling with the fact that the designation on the business card doesn’t mean much and there are real things you have to do. Then the second two years, were a period of turmoil for the business and that taught me a lot. One of the themes I talk about in the book is resilience. I feel in today’s time young people don’t stick long enough around in jobs.
Women must look for financial independence they take charge of their own money and take decisions for themselves. Your views.
I’ll tell you a small story that happened few days ago. My mother is a highly educated woman who went to St. Stephens and then married my father. A few days ago we were having a conversation and she said if there is one thing I would do now if I had to relive my life (and I’m about to become a mom so we have these very emotional conversations) I wouldn’t marry till I was financially independent. She said I’ve no regrets about the life I have and your father is a wonderful man.
The meta point is it is very important to earn and have your own identity which is what she said about marriage. The second is if you’re smart enough to earn your own money and manage your house you’re wise enough to invest it. Indian women have been phenomenal savers in this country. We’ve managed households very well, we’ve managed careers very well, perhaps we don’t take the last step to invest and I think it’s only laziness and self-confidence that come in the way. The answer is that this is not something worth outsourcing go out and do it.
As a CEO, how do you think can organisations create a supportive environment for women.
One of the learning for organisations is that you’re not doing diversity for a social cause you’re doing it because it helps the bottom line. In most of our businesses, we cater to a consumer base that’s usually 50 percent women. I don’t know how you’ll design products for women if we don’t have women in the designing audience. If there’s anything the listing of Nykaa and the emergence of some of the unicorns should teach us it is that women are a large market.
Second, at entry-level a lot of hiring is now at 50-50. So diversity is happening but inclusion is very very important. Women work a little differently so there is a lot of counselling with our managers and teams on how to genuinely include women as part of the work culture. Whether it is how you handle a woman who is pregnant in the office or how you handle a girl who is crying in the office. Women are just different and I think inclusion is very important. Third, the managements have to take pipelines of 5-10 women in their organisations, seeing how they can lift them to the next level. The answer to the question is not getting more women CEOs that’s an outcome.