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From Being Rejected By 7 Firms To Becoming a CEO At 33: Meet Radhika Gupta, Shark Tank India’s New Judge

From being the 'Girl With a Broken Neck' to selling her company to Edelweiss and becoming a judge on Shark Tank India, Radhika Gupta's journey has been truly incredible.

From Being Rejected By 7 Firms To Becoming a CEO At 33: Meet Radhika Gupta, Shark Tank India’s New Judge

Trigger warning: Mention of suicide

Radhika Gupta, the managing director and CEO of Edelweiss Asset Management Limited, oversees assets worth over Rs 1.2 lakh crore. Notably, she is the sole female CEO among asset management companies in India.

But what sets her apart is how she became CEO — “I asked for it!” she says.

After completing the acquisition of JP Morgan’s mutual fund business in India, Radhika told her bosses, “If you’re looking for a CEO, I’m up for the challenge.” And that’s the tale of how she became CEO at the age of 33, a relatively young age in the industry. Intriguingly, her journey with Edelweiss began when she sold her business ‘Forefront Capital Management’ to them in 2014. And three years later, she was made CEO.

However, this trailblazer was once rejected by seven firms. Unable to handle this rejection, a young Radhika, just out of an Ivy League college, contemplated ending her life. But it’s how she pulled herself up and learned to handle rejection, that makes 40-year-old Radhika’s story inspirational.

In 2018, she revealed her vulnerability in a speech titled ‘The Girl with the Broken Neck’. Today, she plays various roles — a CEO, a mother, an author, a motivational speaker, and a mental health advocate. Referring to herself as “a child of change”, Radhika is now the latest addition to Shark Tank India Season 3.

How did the young girl, who struggled to fit in at schools worldwide, gain the confidence to start her own venture and eventually become a CEO?

Fall down seven times, get up eight

Radhika, born in Pakistan, grew up on four continents because her father was an Indian diplomat. Complications during her birth resulted in a noticeable tilt of her neck. As her family moved every three years, before the era of social media, Radhika faced judgment for her appearance — in her own words, “chubby, wore ugly braces and had big glasses.”

“Most of the children I went to school with came from rich backgrounds. They had expensive hobbies like horse riding while I couldn’t afford any, being the kid of a Government servant,” she tells The Better India.

She competed with other children to excel academically, leading her to discover Ivy League schools. She earned a scholarship for a competitive dual degree programme at the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied computer science engineering, economics, and management and technology. She graduated with the highest honours, Summa cum laude.

Even at college, she worked three jobs to support herself. In fact, her first venture was a food business where she sold rotis in college. Apart from that, she also worked as a lab assistant and teaching assistant.

When job placements came around, ‘consulting jobs’ were the coveted positions that many in her circle aimed for. Despite internships at Microsoft and working at a college senior’s hedge fund, Radhika discovered her perfect fit in asset management. Despite her excellent academic record, she encountered her first rejection, or rather a series of rejections, during the placement process.

Seven consulting firms rejected her.

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After the seventh company said ‘no’, Radhika sat in her dormitory room on the 19th floor and contemplated ending her life by jumping. Her friend, who was in the same room, immediately called for help and Radhika was promptly assisted by the university.

“When you’re young, you feel like you’re the only one going through the rejections. We never talk about it. We don’t know how to deal with it. After that, I’ve faced rejection many times in life. But what has changed now is the way I handle it,” she shares.

“I’ve become open to having conversations around mental health. When we face rejections at a college or a job, we feel like it is the end of the world. It’s not. The world doesn’t end if we don’t clear UPSC or become an IPS officer or get into a Wharton or IIT,” says Radhika.

Thereon, she picked herself up and went for her eighth interview, which was at McKinsey & Company. And like any good story tells us, she got in!

From Rs 25 lakh to Rs 200 crore

Radhika with her mother
Radhika with her mother

After working on Wall Street for four years, Radhika decided to come to India and start an alternative asset management firm in 2009 with her husband.

“We were young, hungry, and thinking of what to do in financial services in India. We started Forefront Capital with no background and a capital of Rs 25 lakh,” she says.

She left a comfortable salary and life in the US to become an entrepreneur, which meant rough times and learning the ropes. She says that she didn’t draw a salary for the first few months as the going was tough.

Slowly, she learnt how to attract customers, deal with the regulatory requirements, and took the business to Rs 2 crore in the first year, and Rs 200 crore by the time it was sold to Edelweiss, four years later. It’s these struggles, according to the asset manager, that help her be a successful CEO today.

After the company was acquired by Edelweiss, Radhika started working for Edelweiss Multi-Strategy Funds. After she led the integration of JP Morgan into Edelweiss AMC in 2016, she thought that she deserved a promotion — that she deserved to be CEO. So she went and asked for it.

Radhika urges women to go ask for that big promotion and new opportunities because no one else can ask that for you. “At some point, we need to start asking for what we deserve. Women just don’t ask enough. Your career is your responsibility. Don’t worry about someone saying no. I felt that I was qualified and deserved it. So I went and asked, and guess what, I got the position. Even after this, I always ask for what I want. Sometimes I don’t get what I ask for, but it’s important to just ask,” says the CEO.

‘Don’t give up on your dreams’

Radhika urges women to have big dreams and not give up on them. She shares that she embraced motherhood at 39, and manages money and diapers with equal elan. To women confused about how to manage work and home or when to have a baby, she says, “Do not fall for the debate, and do things as per your time and will.”

“My mom gave me the best piece of advice on motherhood. She told me that no mother is a bad mother. You can be poor, rich, educated, uneducated, working, not working, but not a bad mother. Another piece of advice is that motherhood is a big part of your life, and six months is just a small part of your career,” she adds.

Under her leadership, Edelweiss Asset Management Limited currently manages Rs 1.2 lakh crore. She is looking to invest in young companies on Shark Tank India Season 3.

Being part of the show, she says she feels feels optimistic about India, seeing the limitless potential of the young entrepreneurs on the show. “The real takeaway from the show for me has been the fact that young Indians are truly limitless. And they are from Tier 3 and 4 towns of the country. They are doing so much with limited resources and under difficult circumstances. I’m buoyed about finding young talent,” says the investor.

For everyone young or old, Radhika says, “Find your sky and learn to fly.”

“The world conspires to make you succeed if you want it hard enough. You can’t connect the dots but the dots start connecting. Each one of us is unique and different. Celebrate your perfections and imperfections and everything in between,” she remarks.

Your story, too, can have a happy ending.

Edited by Pranita Bhat

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