Meet the SHEROES - Madhulika Gupta
Today we share the interesting story of the former Head of Corporate Affairs, Citi South Asia, Madhulika Gupta. She tells us about her venture – “REPUTE” which is a Public Affairs and CSR Solutions firm.
We can definitely learn a lot about Public Affairs and CSR from this story, so let’s read on…
Tell us about yourself and how the idea of “Repute” came about?
As the name suggests, our focus is on Reputation Management. In my previous job as the Head of Corporate Affairs, Citi South Asia I had the opportunity to build my own job profile and it evolved into a very interesting and multi-faceted one. It helped me demonstrate that the role could be leveraged across the franchise to integrate many touch points, and over the years the role helped in building an admirable reputation for the India business, both externally and internally, in India and overseas. In the process, I gained tremendous experience, knowledge and expertise. So when the idea began to germinate of venturing out on my own that is about two-three years prior to actually doing it, I did not feel the need to stop and wonder what would I want to do…it seemed a natural corollary that I could offer the very same services to a whole bunch of diverse clients. I believed since my approach and methodology had worked well for my employers, it would work well for other organizations, who would be my clients.
As Head of Corporate Affairs and Corporate Citizenship for Citi South Asia - What was your experience and biggest challenges faced? How long did you serve this term for?
I could write a book in response to this question! Some of my former colleagues have done exactly that. The institution is such…it inspires books by insiders and outsiders.
I can say working at Citi was a great experience, professionally and personally. Six years later, I count some of my former colleagues amongst my close friends today. I worked there for almost a decade. Diverse in many aspects, it offered unparalleled opportunities, working with exceptional quality of people, international exposure, cross-cultural learnings, freedom to experiment and try out new approaches and new things. Bring about change for the better.
As Head of Corporate Affairs, I was a member of the Policy Committee, the management committee and the operating committees, which ensured I got wind of all the good on the anvil and also a chance to place my finger on any decision that could affect us negatively. Being so globally connected meant the business was running 24x7 regardless of time zones. It also meant that someone, somewhere else in the world could take an action leading to a ripple effect across other countries. That brought along challenges, in my role for instance, I could be called for a ‘heads up’ just 12 hours or less at IST 11.30pm from the US team to manage an issue that would hit the press in the morning; or be faced with managing a potential crisis emanating from a senior foreign national serving in India being accused of ‘racial slur’ and drawing attention of political weights.
I will always cherish the opportunity at Citi to serve as the Head of Corporate Citizenship. It was here that I discovered my passion for social development.
When it comes to the realm of Corporate Affairs, what does it take to get to make a mark? Especially as a woman?
First of all, I think the company must believe in the significance of this role and how it can bring positive impact for business, especially as it does not carry a P& L responsibility.
The Head of Corporate Affairs should be a true partner to the CEO for building and managing the company’s reputation, in much the same manner as the CFO is to him/her for the company’s financial health. The job requires a wide set of skills, which includes, but is not limited to ability to think and plan strategically, ability to navigate the management structure and systems, organizing abilities, internal and external communication, the ability to anticipate a potential problem, figure out how to pre-manage it before it turns into a situation for damage control.
Becoming the company’s spokesperson, and some basic skills like writing and research. I feel most of these skills are a gift of nature to women.
To make a mark in this realm, a woman needs to have her ear to the ground, be ahead of the curve, it could mean extra hours put in, staying alert at all times, networking within the corridors of the company as also externally with a host of stakeholders, and staying updated with political, environmental, and industry trends. I felt it was a role tailor-made for a woman.
Why did you decide to take the plunge towards entrepreneurship vis a vis a corporate career?
I was already in the highest position of the job at a country level, in order to enhance my role, I would have to move overseas, which I didn’t want to do. At the same time, I got spoilt by Citi and working with another corporate in India, did not excite me either. While mulling the question of “what next” I was ‘Bitten by the bug’ as they say. I started to think about it two or three years prior to actually setting up on my own, and was urged forward by the thought that if I didn’t do it soon, I might even give up the idea.
Women today are making a mark in several professions the world over. What are your top most thoughts regards women at the workplace?
Sure, women are becoming super achievers today and across several professions. From what I have observed of successful women that I know personally or those that I have read about, a common thread that seems to emerge is these women have learned to ‘lean in’, be assertive, be a change agent or a catalyst, both at work and at home. They value their roles and responsibilities at work and home equally and do not seem to let their dual roles become a pressure point. They achieve their goals. All the while ensuring they leave negativity, if any, or any angst outside the door.
What is an average work-day like for you?
My day starts with two cups tea, a walk, and the morning papers along with my breakfast… I start catching up with my emails or messages on the way to work and reach my office by 9.30. At Repute, we make it a point to leave the office latest by 6.30pm. I encourage my colleagues to be focused during the day rather than drag on long hours in the office. I continue to be connected on phone or email for any calls from clients or colleagues till later. Once home I look into household matters, like to play with my pet dog, listen to music and read alongside or watch TV. At least once a week, I need to attend industry events as I’m quite active on a few committees of Industry bodies, and CSR fora.
What are your future business plans in terms of expansion / starting a new venture?
I set up REPUTE as a boutique consultancy on Public Affairs and CSR, with a focus on providing depth of expertise. By choice we serve a select group of clients from different sectors and industries with a customized offering. We have thus far been called to provide our services and have not been required to make cold calls to get business. This has worked for us as we are not chasing scale, as that would necessitate a cookie cutter approach as opposed to personalized and customized service. It keeps us compact and in control of the quality of our service. Many of our clients have been with us on long term mandates and are there since our inception. In the long term, I would like to introduce centres of excellence through partnerships for this business. At present and for the near term, I am looking at enhancing our knowledge based services under CSR and aligning the requisite team.
Can you leave our readers with a few thoughts?
I’d like to share a small story of a motivational guru that crossed my screen recently.
During a session, the Guru pulled out a five hundred rupee note for all to see and asked a simple question. "How much is this worth?" "Five Hundred rupees!" the audience yelled in unison. "Right," said the speaker. He then took the note and crumpled it into a ball and asked "How much is it worth now?" "Five Hundred rupees!" screamed the audience.
He then threw the note on the ground, stamped all over it and picked up the note and asked one more time: "And how much is it worth now?" "Five Hundred rupees!" was the response.
"I want you to remember this," said the speaker.
"Just because someone crumples it, or stamps on it, the value of the note does not diminish.
We should all be like the five hundred rupee note.
In our lives, there will be times when we feel crushed, stamped over, beaten. But never let your self-worth diminish. Just because someone chooses to crush you -- that doesn't change your worth one bit! Don't allow your self-worth to diminish because someone says something nasty -- or does something dirty -- to you."
'Never let your self-worth diminish…