After a childhood spent growing up in the sleepy city of Calcutta, I chose to follow what was then a very non-traditional educational path, and went off to study at the University of Rochester in the U.S.
This was a learning experience. A U.S. education taught me not only about thinking ‘out-of-the-box’, but also that I had to do my own laundry and get a part-time job - not because it was a necessity but a norm.
In 1997, I graduated with an MBA – the path had been a little longer than the average as I had completed a dual degree program – a BA Economics with a minor in Information Technology, and an MBA in Finance, finished in five years. While at the time it looked great on paper, in hindsight, I would probably not do it again. I was the youngest in my class, and realized that the learnings at B-school are only really maximized after one has worked in the ‘real world’ for at least a few years. Nonetheless I did leave with a degree on paper (which satisfied my parents) and a slight advantage in the job market.
That same year I joined what is often called ‘the Wall Street slave trade’, as a part of the investment banking class at Salomon Smith Barney. Our class of 100 graduates, there to learn on the job, worked hard, and partied just as hard. I learned an awful lot – about analysis paralysis, attention to detail, face-time, and about waiting at the printers until your VP summoned you just as you has just logged off! I also met my two best friends, both of whom continued to remain by my side – Microsoft Excel, and my husband. Working in banking was hard work, but I left two years later – better and brighter. Our mantra while on Wall Street, and also my most important lesson - one I still turn to, was ‘what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger!’
After banking, I moved on to work at General Electric (GE), which offered an unsurpassed training-ground, where I continued to learn. I learned about investing and corporate governance but most about process. My biggest learning at GE was what CEO Jack Welch always said, ‘If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.’
I spent the next nine years in New York and London, working in various corporate positions in corporate strategy, product development, operations and finance. I moved around within Marsh & McLennan, working for CEOs of different divisions, and I learned about something completely different each time. I was given new opportunities and I never thought once about what I was capable of or qualified to do. I just did it. I had started out learning about corporations from the outside, now I was learning about running them from the inside. I learned about people and about motivating them; I learned about compliance and I learned about budgets; I learned about what was real and what was needed to simply tick the box and I learned how to discern one from the other.
But my biggest learning experience was an international assignment – a start-up off-shoring business for a big American corporate in Pune. It brought me back to my roots after 11 years, and showed me a different India. An India, whose intellectual prowess combined with its manpower, was ready to take on the world. We had zero computers on the floor when I first landed in Yerawadi in Pune, and when I left six months later, we had a hundred highly trained individuals, interacting with people in the U.K. and were processing millions of pounds worth of business. Going back into a normal job after such an exciting project was tough. I loved what we had created and wanted to do more of the same – more startups.
A few years later, while on maternity leave with my second child, I worked on my second start-up - a mother and child center called ‘Tiny Feet, Giant Leaps’ - in Chandigarh. This time around it was for myself rather than as part of a larger organization, and in conjunction with a local partner. I found myself using all the knowledge I had picked up over the years - from IT and contracts to budgets and building a brand. It was so exciting that I even wrote the curriculum for the centre. While I am no longer involved in this business, it continues to be an experience I loved, and gained so much from.
Two babies and 15 years later, I now run my own social consultancy, Empower (www.empowerbizsupport.com) focusing on providing business start-up and small business advice to female entrepreneurs and business support to charities. I love what I do. It gives me the flexibility to work around my two children, age 6 and 3 while also making a social contribution to people around me. I enjoy working with women from different backgrounds and helping take them from idea to execution by putting a business framework around it. I also provide career counseling to some clients. Sectors I am passionate about include retail, education, arts and the charity sector. I have a few clients in the non-profit sector - something I decided to focus on given the lack of a corporate-support framework for such ventures.
I have learned a lot through all my experiences and but firmly believe that learning is a journey and not a destination. I now learn as I empower.
Deepali Nangia studied at the University of Rochester. Now a focused mother of two, she runs her own company, Empower, based in the U.K., providing support to start-ups, small businesses, and charities; www.empowerbizsupport.com