Multiple Rejections to one of the Youngest CEOs: Radhika Gupta's Journey

Radhika Gupta, MD & CEO of Edelweiss Asset Management, at a young age, is a name known by multiple titles, positions, and successes. However, when we asked her, what is the one thing that she would like to be known for and measure her success by at the end of her career, the answer she said would be found in the number of people she has positively impacted. Her story today is yet another step in that very direction to share, inspire and impact.

What is your Unique Selling Proposition?

Radhika’s father is a member of the Indian foreign service and owing to his postings, she moved around between countries and schools as a child. Studying alongside children of CEOs and business tycoons, who vacationed in Paris and learned horse riding as a hobby, she grew up focusing on her academics and playing bridge as a pastime. It was thus a probing question when applying to the top universities and later to jobs to find out what unique value add did she bring to the table. After seven consecutive rejections at job interviews despite a degree from Wharton, Radhika found herself losing faith. It was on her eighth interview, which she attended right after a few mentally taxing hours at the hospital to say the least, that she was offered a job on the spot. And it turned out the woman interviewing her loved bridge and that’s what kept their conversation going! In this monumental moment Radhika realised two important things. One, that rejection is simply redirection and two, no skill learned ever goes to waste, even if its playing bridge!

With first-hand experience, she thus urges people to not take rejection to heart and to look for and understand two things from the disheartening feeling it brings. Firstly, to recognise that it is an opportunity for feedback if you choose to listen. And secondly, to acknowledge that sometimes you may think you see a fit when there isn’t one.

Often, someone does not see the value in you that another person later goes on to notice.

She cites a beautiful example of how your mother’s saree while precious to you might be seen as old and useless to someone else. Sometimes, value too lies in the eyes of the beholder.

How to take risks in investment life?

The ability to take risks starts with a shift in mindset. Radhika points out that we must first be willing to rewire our normal way of thinking. Once we graduate, we immediately have our eye out for a good brand and then each next step in that ladder. However, she advices us to instead start looking at years through learning. Ask yourself – what did I learn this year? And risk taking is not limited to working with start-ups. It could be working with an unconventional boss, a novice industry or even a new project. A new challenge can be found in various forms out of our comfort zone, pushing us to learn.

Most people are risk averse and in the time of a crisis this fear only further intensifies. Most of us, for good reason, hold on tighter to our safety nets and fall deeper into our comfort zones, afraid to rock the boat. During the 2008 financial crisis, Radhika was brave enough to leave the security of her job and pool in all her savings into co-founding a company, despite being advised against it by most. She says one can only make a move like that if you have a burning desire, a concrete idea and in her case a backup plan to go back to business school if her plan failed.

Today, once again we find ourselves in testing times and Radhika is of the opinion that we must not shy away from risk if we believe in our ideas but we must also take these steps fully accepting that we could fail and must thus have some sort of second option to fall back on.

She also thinks that when you are pushed against a wall with no choice, your most creative and driven part emerges.

In her own beautiful words, she says that it is in these moments, the brilliance that eludes us is suddenly reborn.

Women are ready to lead:

Oprah Winfrey defines luck as when preparation meets opportunity and Radhika believes our Indian women have been preparing to lead for a long time now. Thus, all that remains is the opportunity. She draws a beautiful parallel to our Indian mothers who she believes have spent their lives managing different types of people and being that empathetic leader who makes sure every member of her team (house) is ready to give their best every single day. And these are the empathetic leaders the world needs today. Even Forbes talks about how the leaders of tomorrow need not be the smartest but need to be empathetic and know balance. Radhika highlights that even after we have these statistics, why is women’s success in the workplace only limited to a select few inspiring stories? Only 27% of Indian women participate in the workforce and if we add a mere 10% to this, we would be adding 700 billion dollars to our GDP.

Radhika believes that the current crisis has brought with it a ray of hope in the form of flexible/remote work. At the Pink Thread, we have been conducting research to learn how this could impact the women in the workforce and Radhika is of the opinion that this shift will open the doors for the numbers above to jump in the desired direction. She talks of conversations in the corporate world already taking place around hiring freelancers for different jobs or hiring housewives to make cold calls in sales. This is just the beginning of the future of work.

Radhika doesn’t like the term work life balance and prefers work life harmony wherein the two co-exist and one takes precedence over the other as required. She thinks the terminology balance makes work sound like an evil or unwanted part of your day which shouldn’t be the case.

It is here that she adds, and we second her plea to women reading this, to please ask for opportunities much more than we do today.

Ask for that job, ask for that experience, negotiate for yourself.

And if you have received a part of what you set out to achieve already, share that wisdom and support with another woman. The change begins with us. Even at Pink Thread, this is our strongest vision – to ensure we collaborate and not compete.

Habits of Effectiveness:

Radhika maintains for herself what she calls a personal advisory board and she suggests you do the same. The simple rules to bear in mind here are to ensure your board is actually not too personal in the sense that it does not include your family or friends but does include people who would want the best for you. Secondly, it must of course include people who can make time for you. There is a list of people you may admire who would not have the time to be part of your inner circle. Lastly, as much as possible this board must be diverse ranging across different age groups and backgrounds. For example, in hers, Radhika has two people who do not come from the corporate world.

She also keeps what she refers to as her inner score card wherein she lists out the broad categories that make up life from health to work to family to hobbies and more. She then goes on to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of priority. Once this is done, she has three categories in front of her – the important, the neutral and the unimportant. It is here that she points out how important it is to have the unimportant in that list because if we chase everything, we often end up with nothing.

We were curious to know what was missing from a resume and LinkedIn profile that already encompasses so much within it. And when we posed Radhika with this question, her answer was –

‘I handle chaos and change very well. I thrive in it.’

And for us, especially in the world we live in today, we know this is what is truly going to set her apart. She is everything we want in a leader today and everything we need to nurture more leaders like her in our country.

More power!

Radhika Gupta is the Managing Director & CEO of Edelweiss Asset Management Limited (EAML) one of the fastest growing and young AMCs in India. It is part of the Investment & Advisory line of Business of Edelweiss Group. Apart from leading teams and building businesses, Radhika is a writer and storyteller, TEDx and Josh Talks speaker.