We were batchmates at IHM Mumbai. She was friendly, lively and a fun person to be with. Her speech used to be ‘many more words per minute’ than most of us because she was a fast thinker. She worked hard and was ambitious; she was one of the toppers all though the college years. Focused on what she wanted and achieving not just that but much more. She has lived a life probably just the way she had planned it to be. She is one of the fittest women I know and also a great parent. She keeps giving people around her many professional and personal goals; making her a complete package! She is truly a star, an inspiration to many men and women. Presenting to you Ms. Vipula Gandhi, Managing Partner at Gallup Inc, and is based at the company’s headquarter in Washington DC. IWH in conversion with her.
IWH: Tell us something about you, your growing up years, life through school, college etc.
Vipula Gandhi: I am the youngest of 3 kids born in middle India to highly educated and middle class parents. I spent my early years in a steel city, Bhilai, where my father worked as an engineer. My parents had difficult childhoods in strained circumstances common to many other refugees from Pakistan. By the time their only daughter arrived, they had built a reasonable life for themselves. My father bought a car the day I was born to celebrate and ensure that his only daughter comes home from the hospital in a car! As I look back, I am in awe of my forward thinking parents, they raised me just as they did their other two boys- I rode motor bikes and was introduced to the concept of independence very early on. We were not rich but a wholesome and loving rearing made up for a great childhood for all of us. They ensured that I studied in good schools and was supported when I requested help.
I did very well in school and then met my first big failure in life – inability to become a doctor which was my father’s dream! My late father always meant a lot to me. I was lost. I knew from early age that I get energized by delivering great customer service, I applied for IHM because one of my other friends was applying and suggested I would be a good fit. So really not a thought through strategy at that juncture in my life. I just wanted to start doing something to get myself going after the big speed bump. Hospitality was an emerging industry in 1994 and not a place where many middle class parents saw their daughters working.
IWH: What made you select Hospitality as a career? Was it easy making that decision?
Vipula Gandhi: IHM, Mumbai and OCLD years shaped who I am. Hospitality industry taught me basic fundamentals of business that I still hold dear in my heart – customer is the reason why businesses exist. Everything that we do must have customers’ interest at its center. Having spent 4 years in hotel operations and Sales, I realized that my calling was elsewhere and when offered a sales role in Financial sector I made my move. Then followed 7 years in Banking sector that led me to a Corporate Banking Director role in London with Barclays Bank. In spite of success in this role and an MBA in Finance, I soon felt I needed an intellectual challenge and when head hunted for management consulting role, I changed industry again. I now feel fulfilled helping organizations grow; growing businesses have huge impact on building successful societies. This is my contribution to making this world a better place. When I look back, the industry changes make complete sense but they looked risky and out of comfort zone when life presented those doors of opportunity. I have lived and worked in Mumbai, Delhi, London, Dubai, Singapore and Washington DC.
IWH: What is your current role?
Vipula Gandhi: I am now the Managing Partner for a management consulting firm, Gallup Inc, and based at the company’s headquarter in Washington DC. My teams and I help C- Suite leaders of Fortune 1000 companies on designing and delivering on business strategy through advise and analytics.
IWH: How has your hospitality/ professional journey been so far? Pros, cons etc?
Vipula Gandhi: I absolutely love what I do! If I win a lottery, I would still be doing what I do today- Caution – I will take a 6 month break to travel the world for sure though. When you look at my success you will miss the failures along the way, I learn every day from my missteps and get a little better. You will also miss the sacrifices along the way- the dilemmas – a child with fever at home and a big pitch presentation 1000 miles away, daughter’s school concert and an important meeting in another country, long work hours and a child that needs a mother’s care and attention, workplace stress that creeps into my interactions with my family etc. I have lots of adulations but I also have numerous bruises and scars that I hold dear.
IWH: Who has been your mentor or a role model? In what way has that person helped you?
Vipula Gandhi: My initial role models were at home. My father: an honest, hardworking and loving leader of the family. My Bhabhi (sister in law), first ambitious and accomplished career woman I knew from close quarters. My mother’s gift to me has been an ability to see good in every one – I learn from everyone around me every day. Inspiration is all around us, all we need to do is open our eyes! Chairman and CEO of Gallup Inc. Jim Clifton, is my Coach as well as a mentor. I learn so much for him in every interaction. He makes me a better leader. I have never proactively looked for mentors and coaches in spite of knowing how critical they are for success. I have found that these relationships have to be authentic and develop organically to be of substance and value. I mentor and coach multiple emerging leaders today.
IWH: What have been the high points of your career? Highlight at least 3.
Vipula Gandhi: I am grateful for my professional success beyond my own imagination, from Corporate Banking to Management Consulting. When I delivered a key note talk at a conference in Ritz Carlton in 2013, I felt a sense of pride like no other as not long ago I used to arrange for these conferences as Banquet Sales Manager at Oberoi Mumbai. I was the youngest and only non-European, non MBA Relationship Director in London in my Corporate Banking team thanks to a leader spotting my talent early on. I am now the only non-American and only woman business leader (Managing Partner) in my organization.
IWH: What challenges have you faced as a woman in the industry? How did you deal with them?
Vipula Gandhi: A Woman’s leadership skills have always been negatively branded. Consider the words we use for the display of same traits – she is bossy, he is decisive; she is aggressive, he is assertive; she is a micro manager, he is a rare leader who obsesses over finding small improvements; she is blunt, he is provocative. The list goes on!
If I cared about these labels, I would be making a choice between being a ‘good woman’ and being a ‘good leader’. I don’t! I am who I am and I don’t offer apologies. I care more deeply about what our customers think and my teams think about how the work gets delivered. It’s imperative that we raise our kids to think in gender neutral ways and watch our own language as we describe the world around us. We can change these stereotypes in our lifetime.
IWH: If there was anything that you could change about your life or career what would that be?
Vipula Gandhi: The only thing I would change is the focus on healthy eating habits and exercise from early life. I am a type A personality (no shit, Sherlock!) and that drive at work made me ignore the impact on health. So missing meals, eating unhealthy food at odd hours wasn’t a smart thing to do. Exercise should be an integral part of our lives, the sooner we start the better. We live and learn!
IWH: What do you think of IWH?
Vipula Gandhi: I think it’s a great forum with its vision of inspiring and empowering woman. To bring women together to learn from, recognize and support one another will help us build
IWH: Your advice to the young professionals and students.
Vipula Gandhi: Dare to dream, be kind, be responsible, work hard, respect others, be useful and above all remember the role of leadership is to serve others.
IWH: Anything else you wish to share with our readers
Vipula Gandhi: I would like to remind the readers on the importance of relationships and over all wellbeing. Women in this forum are not just career women; they are partners, mothers, daughters, sisters, colleagues, neighbors, friends and so much more and everyone just has 24 hours in the day. As we climb the ladder of success, we need to ensure that we invest in these relationships. Research has proven that we are healthier and happier when we have wholesome relationships. It’s great to have a passion for what we do but it’s critical that we are balancing our lives on 5 pillars of well being – physical, social, career, financial and community.
It was simply an ethereal feeling connecting with her for this interview and having an enlightening conversation with the lovely Ms. Gandhi.