From battling low self esteem to setting up India’s first domestic hedge fund, Edelweiss CEO Radhika Gupta decodes her journey
Becoming one among youngest Indian CEOs at 33, setting up India’s first domestic hedge fund at 36, appointed CEO of one of India’s fastest growing asset management companies, and the country’s only female head of a major asset manager are only a few inspiring milestones of Radhika Gupta, Managing Director, and CEO, Edelweiss Asset Management.
“Life’s ups and downs give you something. At the very least, they leave you with a good story to tell,” she remarks.
Popularly known as ‘the girl with a broken neck’, Radhika’s story includes moments of immense low self-esteem because of physical disability and ‘flawed’ appearance as per ‘acceptable’ society norms. Not only did she rise up to these physical and emotional challenges, today, Radhika is a businesswoman, author, TEDx speaker, and is soon going to be a mother. She is also a powerful voice on LinkedIn and is admired by people across age groups for her slice of life nuggets. Instead of treating these as “individual roles”, she believes that these are all beautifully interlinked.
Speaking with YourStory in the season finale episode of the ‘HER Leadership’ series, Radhika shares her insights on how diverse experiences have shaped her worldview, the essence of diversity and inclusion, her learnings over the years, and more. Powered by AWS, the conversation was steered by Chandra Balani, Head of Global Enterprise India & Lead - ID&E initiatives, India, AISPL. The series puts the spotlight on some of the most successful and prominent enterprise business leaders in India.
Girl on a mission
“I don’t think we are a single identity. We have multiple facets to us that truly come together,” mentions Radhika.
A hustler, Radhika is grateful for being a part of the mutual fund industry that brings financial services to ordinary Indians. Moreover, her current role offers her a platform to promote financial inclusion, and in turn, make an impact.
She speaks about being in constant search for opportunities to maximise her potential and widen the impact she creates. “For me, the definition of living a successful life is making a positive impact [on society and ecosystem at large],” quips Radhika, highlighting that her ambitions are getting bigger and hence the mission of creating an impact is ever-evolving.
Turning challenges into opportunities
Born in Pakistan, where her Indian diplomat father was posted, Radhika had a challenging childhood as an introvert, who had to move cities or countries after every three years. While it was challenging to settle and flourish in new environments at regular intervals, today, she feels grateful for the rich experiences she gained out of the length and breadth of her travels.
Her tilted neck and squint in her eye shattered her confidence every now and then, and repeated rejections in job interviews pushed her towards depression. She even contemplated suicide. The turning point arrived when she appeared for an interview with a McKinsey & Co. partner and landed the role. After this, Radhika headed to AQR Capital Management, the $186 billion investment firm co-founded by Cliff Asness, but it was during the global recession that she decided to start up.
In 2009, she along with her husband Nalin Moniz and a colleague from AQR, founded Forefront Capital Management to focus on alternative investments. This was also when they set up the country’s first domestic-registered hedge fund. Five years later, the firm was sold to Edelweiss Financial Services.
Leading by example
Although Radhika has grappled with severe self-confidence issues, she believes that her TedX talk ‘The girl with the broken neck’ gave her the confidence to accept herself. Over the years, she has landed incredible opportunities that she could never even dream of.
“Whether it is the opportunity with the World Economic Forum or the chance to work with LinkedIn, it's just absolutely incredible. I think two things really helped - one is having a real ambition and that's something I would encourage all people, especially women, to think about the aspirations they need to be up there. Once you have that in place, you need to be out there and at it,” she adds.
As someone who is a powerful voice on social media, Radhika believes that there is nothing more powerful than sharing stories. In fact, this also influences the organisational culture wherein women champion and mentor more women, thereby transpiring change.
During her stint as an entrepreneur, Radhika learned some life lessons that she swears by even now. For one, it is essential to think and be local, and a great global education doesn't mean one carries the arrogance of living abroad; instead, it teaches an individual to adapt to any environment they are in.
Even in her book Limitless: The power of unlocking your true potential, Radhika touches upon how we aren’t taught how to cope with failure. “Young people just assume that CEOs don't have bad days. The reality is they do, and I think it is important for leaders to speak about it. It's something I didn't do very well in my 20s but today, I have enough forums, which are trustworthy, where I can talk,” she shares, adding that people should always remember that rejection isn’t the end of the world.
She also believes that no one is a born leader and leadership is a skill that people learn along the way. “It is all about bringing your authentic self to the workplace… I have made mistakes during my early stint as a people’s leader. I grappled with the superhero syndrome where I wanted to do everything myself… Leadership is about living each day and learning how to get a little bit better at working with people. Perhaps, it’s not very different from parenting,” concludes Radhika.