Radhika Shrivastava is Executive Director at Fortune Institute of International Business (FIIB). She has been in this role since the past 5 years and has been constantly striving to make FIIB an educational institute that is focussed on teaching students to transform lives and lead sustainable lives. Radhika had a glorious stint in private equity previously, but switched to education and is now dedicated to improving education in India through her efforts at FIIB. Radhika is extremely grounded in her values and is set out to build a world-class institution from India. HerStory spoke to her to find out what makes her tick.
Childhood was about a huge focus on education
I was born in Delhi in a family that deeply believed in the power of education to transform lives. My father came from a village and he went on to educate himself as an engineer and then did MBA; he was a part of IIM C’s third graduating batch. He was able to create opportunities not only for himself but his siblings as well. And when he had children, it was very important for him and my mother that we appreciated the value of education.
I always wanted to be an engineer. I did part of my schooling in the US, and my engineering from Tufts University. In India, I went to IIM Bangalore for MBA.
Climbing up the ladder in Private Equity
I have worked with Deloitte Consulting in Philadelphia, and World Bank Group. After that I did private equity investments. I was really taken in by the developmental story helping World Bank with a very lofty goal and helping alleviate poverty in the world.
IFC’s belief was that poverty will automatically be alleviated if private sector grows. I got to see every sector from cement to textiles to oil to construction to everything in countries like India, China, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, and Madagascar. It was a great learning experience on the ground.
There is no substitute for hard work
The big lesson I have taken away from my journey is that there is no substitute for hard work. Being an analyst, consultant and rising to an investment officer, was all hard work.
The next lesson was learning is a continuous process. Even to this day, I learn from everyone I meet. Learning can come from anybody and anywhere.
You also need to have a very strong value system. Whenever you have a conflict you should think about what your value system is and what does that tell you to do. This is my operating principle in life.
Why the education sector after private equity? And transforming lives through FIIB
I moved back to India eight years ago and stepped full time into FIIB five years ago.
Private equity was great, but you are not in the driver’s seat. My father had already built FIIB and I had an opportunity to grow it. My father passed away and FIIB needed someone — and I happened to be the right person in the family. And the whole developmental story has struck with me from my PE days; education fell in that category.
FIIB seemed a good fit because I had an opportunity to work with young people and transform their lives. I have been doing this full time and it is very fulfilling.
Biggest lessons from managing and growing FIIB
The biggest growth for me was learning to manage people from peons to senior management people. PE is all about graphs, numbers, and research, but you can do that work by yourself, but in academia you have to work with people all the time, you have to pick the right people to work with. I have to think a lot about how to manage people, and how to train them to create an environment for people to succeed. It is challenging to do this for the faculty and come back and do this for a librarian and program officers assistant. It’s very diverse.
I have also learned about closing loops with people. Once a task is assigned to people, you need to check how they are doing and if they need any help, and once the task is closed you need to come back and do a post mortem of what went right and what went wrong and how do we perform better next time.
During PE, I worked on pitch decks, information memorandums, and I used to pitch to boards but I didn’t really have to manage teams. FIIB is very different here I had to invest very heavily in people emotionally, because my success lies in other people’s success.
I have also learned that in PE things move fast once a decision is made, but in academia and entrepreneurship you need a lot more patience.
We have chosen to be a school that is focused on imparting the right kind of skill sets and make the students employment ready. 50% students come in as freshers, so it is necessary for them to graduate with employability skills.
Another big theme for us is sustainability. We are big on teaching students what it takes to be better citizens of the world, not just India; and what personal choices they should make to ensure they are better citizens of the world.
Our class size is 120, which is split into groups of 60 each. I would say we have 40% girls and 60% boys.
I have taught for the last four years, now I am focused on administrative roles.
Observations on India’s new generation
One of things I have learned about the new generation is that there is not enough patience. Convincing people to go for certain interventions which may not have immediate results has been tough. What the young group does really well is spotting ideas and opportunities; they really think out of the box. We have a very vibrant student community and there are many great things that have come out of this.
They are also very persistent and they do not take no for an answer.
Observations about women students
Our women students make really informed choices based on the role models they have in the society. We also see that lots of women do not take up sales jobs. We see women taking up corporate finance or HR roles where you do not travel so much and the timings are not very erratic. So the fact that they are going to get married in a year or two restricts their career choices. This is a pattern we have seen.
But we see something very different with our alumni. For instance, there is a lot more drive among the women who have graduated four years back. Their career paths have been a lot steeper than men.
Incidentally, our toppers are always women. They are more dedicated to their work. In India especially, there is a lot of support system for women. There is some pressure on them however to take up easy jobs, but the drive in them kicks in their third or fourth year and then there is no stopping them.
Life outside FIIB
I am raising two children and two puppies. I am trying to raise children who are happy and connected and know their roots. This is something that is very important for us.
Books & movies
I watched a movie with my children recently called, ‘The Miracle Worker’. It was released in 1962 and I highly recommend it. I have learned that patience and consistency are super important. One of the books I have enjoyed a lot recently is ‘Girls on the Edge’, I recommend all women read this too.
As working women, we juggle a lot of balls. It is okay if some of the balls fall down; we do not have to be so hard on ourselves. Stop trying to be perfect. No one is perfect, not men and not women.