Switzerland or Pakistan?
The choices before Radhika Gupta’s diplomat father couldn’t be clearer. For an Indian diplomat, Pakistan would be a career-defining posting – the two countries have constantly been in conflict since their partition in 1947. He took the plunge, and Radhika Gupta, the now 39-year-old CEO of asset management company Edelweiss, was born in the diplomatic quarters of Islamabad.
Immediately after her birth, the nurse placed Gupta in an incubator in a slightly tilted position – she became “overweight and her neck permanently tilted.” The tilt became all the more prominent after she lost that weight.
“I must be the only woman in the world who regretted losing weight at some point in her life,” she said in a speech three years ago.
Becoming widely known as “The Girl With the Broken Neck” after the video of the speech went viral, Gupta proudly owns the moniker. In her new book, Limitless: The Power of Unlocking Your True Potential published by Hachette, one of the most pertinent chapters is titled: TGIF: Thank God I’m Flawed.
“You have to accept that you’re not unique in being flawed because it really makes you very normal,” Gupta told VICE. “If you can use your flaws to your advantage, why not? Out of all the things I thought I’d get half well known for, a slightly crooked neck was the least. So, if you can make an edge out of your flaws, [do it] by all means.”
"You have to accept that you’re not unique in being flawed because it really makes you very normal." – Radhika Gupta
Gupta had to navigate an arduous road to getting here though – from facing innumerable rejections to contemplating suicide.
“You really can’t let your flaws hamper life because flaws are a source of taking away tremendous self-confidence – some little thing and it constantly eats away,” she said.
Although she’s a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton, people still go out of their way to pull her back. “Someone commented how there is a squint in my eye in a picture that was about how I manage my money. How is my squint relevant? People will troll you, regardless of what you do.”
Ironically, she was trolled even after the release of Limitless. A Twitter user commented that she should rather focus on creating alpha (excess return on investment) for them because “distractions like writing a book” were better for when she retired. She responded to the troll by citing the example of Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella and how writing a book, Hit Refresh, doesn’t make him less committed to work.
“Can we lead a life where we are both committed professionals and can pursue our other hobbies – writing, sports, music or whatever they may be?” she asked in a LinkedIn post.
But growing up, Gupta couldn’t participate in traditional hobbies that her classmates did – sports or otherwise. She found “identity and solace” in academia, particularly during her schooling years in Nigeria where she felt like a “gross misfit” studying alongside daughters of warlords in the late 1990s.
“The experience of constantly moving around really made me very amenable to change,” she said. “And the reason Nigeria affected me so much was that it was the first time I realised my father was a diplomat. It was such a whacked country to live in at that time – we lived on milk powder, there was no mall or a movie theatre.”
Radhika Gupta (left) with her mother, Arti
She recounted an incident of a charity auction where the entry car drive to the school was auctioned – one could buy the school drive and name it after their child. “It was a strange, surreal place to be raised in,” she said.
The rest is history. She went from being the “strange, awkward nerd in Nigeria grappling with her accent and looks” to setting up India’s first domestic hedge fund, to now leading a $13 billion asset management firm. We down below want to know: What really is the scale of her position? What are the stakes?
“To put it simply: We manage money for people,” she said. “These are common people who have given us their savings for a year or three years or even seven years, in the hope that we will create wealth for them so that they can achieve their goals of studying or even buying a home.”
Every night as she hits the sack, it is not lost on Gupta that she ultimately manages the dreams of people and it needs to be done responsibly.
“Managing my own money and screwing that up is still OK, but managing their dreams and hard work is really stressful,” she said.
Managing a million dreams is anything but easy. “One of our products wasn’t doing well and we had not done a few things right from our end, too, and the distributors were angry,” she said. “I went for a meeting in a basement in Delhi and people were literally throwing tomatoes at us.
One of the biggest lessons she learnt: Say an honest sorry when you mess up and people will respond to it positively.
“For those of us who come from middle-class households, we know that people really work hard to save. People look at movies such as The Wolf of Wall Street where our life is portrayed as an alpha male with yachts, fancy buildings and all kinds of excesses. But it’s really not so, because most of us are just simple, nerdy people managing money everyday.”
"Managing my own money and screwing that up is still OK, but managing their dreams and hard work is really stressful." – Radhika Gupta
For women, particularly Asian women, Gupta has a piece of advice: Have control over your money.
“I’ve seen countless women from the most educated strata of society who don’t have access to their savings,” she said. “Wherever I go, I repeat the same thing: Please outsource whatever you want but not your money. Investment is really not that hard.”