Ranu Sharma has always been laser-focused on success—from her academics as a student into her professional career. Her eye was not just on traditional metrics, but also what excited her, transforming what a leadership role in finance can look like. And it paid off—in 2021 Sharma earned a dream promotion, becoming finance director for Vocalink, a Mastercard company. But shortly after, she faced an immense personal crisis when her infant son became ill.
Sharma spoke with our Jack MccCullough about how she carried on through a series of hardships, how they shaped her perspective as a leader, and where she’s headed now. Listen by clicking below. The Q&A, lightly edited and trimmed for clarity, follows.
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I’ve been looking forward to this guest for quite a while. Ranu Sharma is a finance director, and serves as a head for D&I efforts. She’s an interesting person. She’s a highly sought-after speaker at financial conferences. That’s where Ranu and I met a few years ago. She has also been recognized as an exceptional female role model, and not for the first time because, around the time we met, she was recognized as a 2020 Top 100 Global Role Model by Yahoo. Ranu, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me.
It’s interesting because this is going to air next February 2024. We met four years ago. February 2024 will be our fourth anniversary. We both spoke at a conference. I don’t know if you recall this or not. I was a little annoyed with you. Not really with you. That’s unfair, but I was looking at the agenda and who was speaking. We didn’t know each other at that point in time. I was in London for the first time. I’d been there on business. I’m like, “I want to check this all out.” I saw your presentation. I was like, “I want to see that.” I realized you were on at the same time as me.
We’ve got this charismatic young person versus this loud-mouthed American. I was like, “Everybody is going to be listening to her and not me.” I wasn’t annoyed with you because I saw you working in the room. You have this quiet charisma to you. I was like, “There are going to be four people in my room, and everybody else will be listening to her.” Here we are four years later, and a true friendship has been formed.
It’s a bit of all provision knowing you.
In the United States, Vocalink is not a household name. If you want, tell our audience a little about the company.
It was a standalone entity before I joined. They specialize in payment platforms. For example, the infrastructure that connects the banks to the financial institutions. It’s a highly technological business. It was acquired by Mastercard a while ago. Before I joined, it’d already become part of the empire. It’s a great company. It’s is a fantastic company to work for.
Before we get into the career journey, which I find fascinating, I would love to chat about your early years. From your accent, we can tell that you’re from East Texas. Where did you grow up, Ranu?
I was born and bred in England. I’ve been here my whole life.
You once told me you were raised by a traditional Indian set of parents. What was that like, if I may ask?
My mother was born and bred in Kenya. She’s Indian, but she was born in Kenya. She moved over to India at quite a young age. My grandfather was a father to four children. My mom was one of them. He shifted everybody over to India to start a life, and then eventually, left them behind to start a life in the UK. It’s a big sacrifice all around.
She was introduced to my father, who was from India. He moved here and studied here but was born, bred, and raised in India. He was more the traditional person, whereas my mom was slightly the more modern parent. As you can imagine, when you get married, you keep some of your background and some of your heritage, but you slowly, without realizing it, become a little bit more like your partner because two become one thing.
My dad was the most traditional. My father was the best, hands down. Everything he ever wanted for his kids was from the heart. It was all about making sure that his children had the best and could be the best. At times, traditional parenting was such that being the best meant academics. It wasn’t the best at doing something that didn’t involve studying or being the best at doing something completely different.
It was all about if you didn’t study, you weren’t going to get the grades. If you don’t get the grades and don’t go to college or all those types of things. A lot of what he taught me I’ve kept those principles like they’re engraved in me. I even apply those to my daughter. When I look back, sometimes I wish that things were slightly different. You could do a few more things outside of that wooden box. It had its challenges, but on the whole, he was a great parent.
I know you have a brother and a sister. All three of you have achieved great things in your careers and lives. It’s a positive influence on you. I want to get into your career. You’ve worked in a lot of industries that are dissimilar. You worked in pharma, the airline industry, the hospitality industry, and maybe in a hotel. Now, you’re in FinTech for a good corporation. It’s interesting that you’ve jumped industries. How has that evolved? Was there a master plan to learn a bunch of different industries?
It was a bit of that, but the reason for me doing that was because I was not content and happy with what I was doing. I was happy in the job, but there was something deep down inside me that was being deeply unfulfilled. I didn’t quite work out what that was. I always knew that I was a finance person. I was good with numbers and business strategy, but I wasn’t like one of those typical accountants who would be doing all the stuff in the back office, then not talking to the business and not doing anything else.
It’s only now, in the last few years, that a finance business partnering has catapulted and come out of its shell. People realize and understand the value of not just having an accountant but having someone who understands numbers and can present them to the business and make decisions with them. Back then, that was virtually unheard of. I was one of the few who wanted to take finance to the next level.
I was on a mission to find a job that would allow me to do that. Every time I got a job, it was like, yes, you’re in an interview. They dress it up for you. Yes, you will be talking to this person, and you’ll be doing this. When you go into the job, you’re stuck doing the reporting and doing the numbers. You think, “I want to go and speak to that person, but my boss is doing it. I can’t do it. I want to go and speak to that person, but I can’t.” I felt restricted.
When I went into hospitality, that’s when I was given the independence to go out and do more business partnering stuff. In each job I got after that, it just got better and better. I found my comfort zone. I found my spark. Now, I’m not doing finances, but I’m walking around entering meetings with a bunch of people who have nothing to do with finance, and now I’m finding my mojo. That was how it evolved.
You gave a TED Talk. It is a couple of years ago now, but it was changing the stereotypes. I don’t know if that was the particular word that you used. I don’t know if it’s true in England or not, but young people are not going into the profession because the stereotypes persist. I’m telling people, “Why don’t you have young people who think it’s a dull profession?”
It’s easy to understand what people think it would be until they work on it. It’s a dynamic profession. It’s a great career path for the right people. If people watch that, young people in particular, they might be inspired to pursue the profession a little bit more. Most CFOs that I spoke to had a lot of mentors or role models along the way. Do you have any that played a significant part in your own development?
I seek out mentors silently. I never go out of my way and say, “I would like you to be my mentor.” It was more a case of I love speaking to people and learning things from new people. I can learn something from a Starbucks staff who’s serving me coffee. They might share something compelling that I’ve thought, “That’s inspiring. If they can do it, I can do it.” People from all walks of life inspire me daily, from senior to less senior. If you have something worth sharing and you’re saying something valuable, and I hear it, I’m going to take that on board.
The mentoring aspect has become even more imminent in the last few years when I’ve had personal struggles with my son. That’s where I’ve had sounding boards in the company where I work when I’m faced with key decisions about work life and all the rest of it. You naturally evolve into finding a mentor in the workplace. That’s the best way to describe my mentoring journey.
It’s interesting because there are people who’ve told me that I was the best mentor they ever had. I didn’t even know that they thought of me that way, but it was an informal type of thing. I like your comment about how you can go to Starbucks and learn from people online or the people working at the counter. My mother made a point to me. I hope it doesn’t come across as sexist. She just chose the male gender, but she said, “A wise man will learn more from a fool than a fool will from a wise man.” The point is we can all learn from everybody. Are you mentoring anyone right now in your career? I imagine a lot of people would love to have someone like you as a mentor.
I get a lot of messages via LinkedIn. They’ll say, “I’m looking to apply for a job. I can’t get into FinTech. What can I do?” I’ve had students that I’ve mentored in the past. One in particular is part of the girl’s network. She contacted me the other day because she’s looking for work experience. She doesn’t quite know how to tailor her resume to make sure she gets what she needs.
I’m getting people. There are graduates in the UK. I don’t know if it’s the same in the States, but you get to go to college, then you do a year job in a company. You then go back to college to finish your final year, and you have that on your resume to say that you’ve done work experience. We did a lot of that in the job before I went on maternity leave. It was a case of mentoring/coaching/being their manager on a day-to-day basis. A lot of mentoring was done throughout my days. There was another lady who I mentored who used to work with me side by side. She left the company, and she’s now rejoining the organization as a step higher. That was good to see.
I mentioned earlier that we met at a conference. You’ve done a lot of public speaking. You spoke at the Woman in Finance Leadership Summit. Is this something that you actively seek out public speaking opportunities, or do they find you because you’ve got a great story to share?
I was sought out for that opportunity. It can be a mix of both. I’m a big believer that you have to create your own opportunities. You can’t just sit and expect them all to fall out of the sky and land in your lap. If it were as easy as that, we’d all be doing it. It’s both, especially at the beginning of my journey into propelling myself into a career of public speaking outside of my day job. There are a lot of opportunities I had to seek out because you have to start doing it yourself proactively to build your brand.
As the years went by, I had the TED Talk under my belt, and it put me in Forbes. I’ve had Yahoo Finance, blogs, and magazine articles. Eventually, people started to see, and they were like, “We would like her to come and have a conversation with us all to speak for us.” That’s how it has all evolved. People will say, “Would you like to come and speak at our summit?”
It’s weird because, in many ways, I still think of myself as the knucklehead I was when I was 17. Someone reaches out and says, “We would love you to speak at our conference.” My first reaction is, “Why?” I have a wife who says stuff like, “Couldn’t they get anyone better for what you are going to do?”
It’s great that you’re able to do that because you’ve got not a unique approach, but one that you created for yourself that’s relatively rare even today amongst financial leaders. Another thing that has always impressed me about you is you’re committed to making society better. You’re philanthropic. You’re involved in a lot of charities, and you’re particularly supportive of women’s leadership. I want to talk about some of the things that you’re passionate about in that realm. What drives you in that?
I always like to be honest and be real about who I am. Sometimes, as human beings, we like to be real, and we can be real. When we’re faced with a difficult scenario, we sometimes can, more often than not, forget that authentic side of us and try to say things that might not necessarily be 100 percent true about who we are so that we can get past that challenging situation or fit into something.
A great example of this was when I was pregnant with my second child. I was on the cusp of being promoted to financial director. I was quite heavily pregnant. I was only going to be in the business for a few months after that before going on maternity leave. I’m at a crossroads. I’m thinking, “What do I do? Do I tell my boss that I’m pregnant? Do I not say anything because technicalities dictate? Legally, there’s no issue with you being pregnant. You get the promotion. You can tell him after, and it’s fine.”
When I tap into my true self and think, “What would Ranu do? Ranu at work, according to the legal guidelines, doesn’t have to tell him, but take the legal guidelines away. Look at the professionalism and the fact that your relationship with your new future boss has to get off to a good start. If you don’t tell him this, he’ll close the hiring process, and you say, I’m going again in 90 days.” That’s not something I’m comfortable doing. That’s what it was. It was about having the uncomfortable conversation to feel comfortable again rather than feeling uncomfortable in order to try and feel comfortable for a short period of time.
I decided to have a conversation with him and say to him, “Thank you for considering promoting me, but there’s something that you need to know. I’m pregnant, and I’ll be leaving the business in three months to go on maternity leave.” The support that I’ve got was incredible. He said, “You didn’t need to tell me that. That doesn’t affect anything because I’m hiring you because I think you’re right for the job, not because you are pregnant.”
The promotion was mine. He gave it to me with open arms. He was appreciative of the honesty. In hindsight, looking back at that, it was the best decision I made and the most challenging situation. That short phase of being uncomfortable and having that dreaded conversation led me to a big sigh of relief, and our relationship got off to the best start.
Talk about a way to build trust in both ways because you had to trust he would react as he did. You’ve mentioned that story to me before. Everybody should have a boss like him. “There’s a bigger picture here. It’s not about the next three months and family matters.” Every company and manager says it. This is a company and an individual who believes in that. Good for him, and good for you for doing that because you’re right. A lot of people would just comply with the law and nothing more. I don’t fault them.
If you feel comfortable doing that, that’s your gut instinct saying that’s the right decision for you. For me, I didn’t feel right. I felt bad and guilty. I felt like, “I can’t do this to him. He’s giving me a promotion. He’s about to change my whole life. He’s got a hand in my career, and he is about to make my career dream come true. How can I do that to him?” That’s my authenticity box coming in. That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what felt right for me.
It’s funny how sometimes doing the ethical thing ends up working out for your best interest rate. Who would have thought it? You’ve twice been recognized as being a great female role model. Is that correct? How does that make you feel?
It makes me feel humble and good. One thing I’ll always say, think, feel, and live by is that no matter how many successes come your way, always remain humble because there’s a long story behind all of this. Sometimes, people look at the surface and think, “She’s got it.” People don’t know the history of how hard it’s been to get to this point.
It feels amazing, but I never allow that to make me feel like I’m suddenly this amazing person because the higher you rise, the harder you fall. I’m always humble wherever success has come my way. It also makes me feel good because there are younger women or younger girls who are coming out of college, who are starting new jobs, who need that reassurance that it is a competitive world. It’s not easy, but there are people that still do it.
For me, it’s from different perspectives. You can get a girl who’s a woman of color who might look up to me and say, “There’s a woman of color who has made it.” There’s somebody from a strict Asian background like I was, who can look up to me and say, “She still managed to come out of her shell and be who she wanted to be.” There are lots and lots of different cuts and perspectives. It is good to be put in those categories so that I can allow younger generations to look up and say, “I want to do that.”
I understand why you mentioned being a role model to females, but where I think you’re selling yourself short is you’re a role model to everybody. Any working parent, mother, or father, there’s something to be learned from your own experiences with that. I don’t have daughters, but I hope my nieces and the young professionals that I work with look to me in some ways to be a bit of a role model. I make my mistakes, but I learn and keep doing my best. I hope people can take something away from that from time to time. You mentioned your son, and I know you have a story to tell about some challenges that you and your husband faced being a parent. I’m sorry. I forgot your son’s name.
He was born in January of 2022.
Yeah, shortly after my promotion.
I want to give you the opportunity to chat about that and share the story that you shared with me about some of the challenges.
Shortly after he was born at five weeks, we had a scary turn of events. His life was at stake. He suddenly started breathing funny. He had pale skin and blue lips. He wasn’t getting any oxygen. It was in the nick of time that we managed to get him to a hospital. They tried to stabilize him. They didn’t know what caused it, but they felt that it was a problem with the heart or something was going on with his lungs. It was one of the two, but it was serious, so much so that he nearly passed away.
At that moment, they tried to stabilize him. They had to send out a specialist team to come and spend three hours trying to stabilize him before transferring him to a specialist hospital. In transit in the ambulance, he almost passed away again, and when he got to the intensive care unit, where he would remain as an inpatient for two and a half months. There was no hard evidence as to what had caused it, but there was COVID in his blood, which presented in the form of antibodies. For someone who’s only had five weeks of life, you’ve already produced antibodies from a virus. He must have had it at some point in five weeks.
The same night that he got taken in, my daughter tested positive for COVID. There’s a bit of a red flag around as to what may have pushed him over the edge. He came home after two and a half months, not cured, but was on a bunch of medicines. It was difficult because a lot of the meds were playing with him a little bit in terms of making him sick all the time. We ran into a food issue, weight issue, and all these multiple problems. I’m losing sleep with all the stress.
I was supposed to go back to work on multiple occasions, but each time I wanted to, something kept happening. I was supposed to go back in October 2022, after nine months, which is the average leave you get or most women take in the UK for maternity. Because his health hadn’t improved, I pushed it back and said, “I’m going to go with Jan 2023.” In December of 2022, he caught COVID again. My daughter caught it again, and I became sick.
With all the lack of sleep, I ran into immunity issues. I became ill. I had the dreaded conversation with my boss to say, “Jan 2023 can’t happen. I’m mentally not ready for this.” My final bid was to come back to work in July 2023. At the end of May 2023, he had another relapse. It spiraled into cardiac arrest. He was revived on the scene at our home. He had to be resuscitated. He was taken to a child specialist hospital. It is one of the biggest children’s hospitals in the world. He was put on full life support again.
About two days into his being on life support, they said that we had to intervene because max medical therapy had been reached, and he was not responding. The intervention would’ve involved putting pipes here, manually getting blood out of his body, putting oxygen into it, and physically putting it back into his body again to reach the vital organs.
The caveat to that is that he would have to go on blood thinners to avoid clotting in the machines. That would increase brain bleed chances by 20 percent. At this point, my husband and I were faced with the decision of either signing this form to give them the consent to go ahead and do that if needed or not. I decided that we weren’t going to go ahead with it. I said to the guys, “There’s a medical aspect, and there’s more of a spiritual aspect.”
For me, it’s a spiritual aspect to say, “Don’t bring this child more suffering than he’s already been through.” As a mother who gave him life, I want him to live more than anything, but not the cost of a stroke, going into the hospital with two problems, and coming out with a multiple of five. For the sake of me wanting to keep him alive is a selfish thing for me.
I can’t imagine you and your husband making that decision.
It was brutal. To say that you are going to, in a way, allow your child to die, you almost feel like, “Am I making the right decision?” I always look back and think about that day. I always think that was the right decision. It would never have been morally correct for me personally when to allow doctors to do that to my son.
Yes, they’re trying to save him, which is commendable, but at the risk of those other things that could potentially change the quality of his life, affect the quality of my daughter’s life, who will be the one taking care of him when my husband and I go from this world. All of these things you have to think about, which don’t involve you and your emotions. You almost have to detach your emotions from the situation and think with your head. Think what is best not for us, but what’s best for him.
I have two special needs kids myself. They haven’t dealt with any of the things that your son has dealt with. God bless you for being able to take emotion away from your child and being able to do that. When he had issues, you were at a family party. Is your sister-in-law a doctor? Do I recall that correctly?
No, it’s my brother from Australia with his fiancé. We were celebrating his engagement in my back garden on the day it went wrong. I had 45 people in my garden. Two hours into the event, we were upstairs in the bedroom trying to save this kid. It was bad.
Thank God your brother was there.
The silver lining is that after a month, he fought his way out. He did a 360. He didn’t need intervention. He fought it himself and came off all life support. He’s now back at home, and he’s doing so much better. He’s on a wire that goes into his chest, and it’s connected to a pump. That infuses medication 24/7. The stress of the parent never ends, but the quality of his life has increased massively. He’s happy, and so are we.
We live in a time when medical technology is amazing.
Several years earlier, it would’ve not been possible.
You don’t get through this, no matter how smart, strong, or tough you think you are without a good support system, personally and professionally. Can you talk about that? You and your husband, I’m sure, were brought closer to it. Talk about that if you would please.
The support function has been amazing. I would never be able to sit here blue in the face and say, “I did this all on my own.” There is no way in hell I would’ve been able to do this on my own. My husband has been great. He’s been through it with me. He knows better than anyone what we’ve had to face. It’s nice to know that I have someone to help me when I need it and who understands it as well as I do. My son’s primary care before I went back to work a few weeks ago, and I would always be. As the mother, I would always know that a little bit more than him, but he was present at all the training that we had to do at the hospital and everything.
It was nice to have that mate to cheer on and vice versa. My husband and I have known each other for more than 20 years. There is a friendship element there, as well as a marital element. It was nice to know that the friend that I was friends with at school is on this journey with me, and I’m not on my own. That would be the first person to address.
My mother, mother-in-law, my father-in-law, and my dad passed away many years ago. It’s the family. My aunties, uncles, cousins, sister, and the whole family have all rallied together, sister-in-law and brothers-in-law, to help in the ways that they can help best. Some are good at cooking. They could cook the food and drop the food. I don’t have to cook. Some are great at babysitting. They’ll take my daughter for the weekend. Some are great at listening. Some are great at doing the shopping. Whoever was there to help was able to help in a way that they were the most helpful. It helped us massively. I couldn’t be more appreciative. My company is phenomenal.
The same boss is still there, right?
Yeah. They’ve been incredible. They’ve kept my job. We have all honest conversations from both sides. I sometimes look back at my decision when I told my manager that I was pregnant. I always think if I hadn’t done that, would it have been the case? Probably, because the company prides itself on decency, which you can feel in all parts of the organization to whoever you speak to.
There’s always that extra little bit that people will always go the extra mile for you if they feel respected and valued. I would like to hope that I made them feel that way because they’ve made me feel that way. I’m lucky and grateful. I wrote a note to the CEO on my second day to say thank you and called out the names of the people in particular who had been a great help. It’s important that they get recognized for the good work that they’ve done and how they’ve helped a person in need because it was a tragic time. They’ve been incredible.
Good for them, the company, and the individuals they interacted with. It’s hard to say this was a positive experience for your family, but it has to be somewhat gratifying that you have those types of relationships that you can count upon and a true emergency. You’re back at work. Remind me, how long have you been back at work, Ranu?
Not long, just a few weeks. I started off part-time. I’m doing three days a week. Hopefully, as I get my feet under the table, I get back into the rhythm. In 2024, it will go up a bit more, and I can slowly get back into full-time work.
My sense is that before all of this, you were a good leader. You have a high level of emotional intelligence, but has what you’ve gone through with your family changed your leadership style in any meaningful way? There are people who look up to you, and you report to them.
I’ve always been quite an empathetic leader. My number one rule is when somebody is snappy or doesn’t seem quite right, always ask, “Are you okay?” They could be going through something like how I was. Some people find it easy to come forward and tell you, “This is what I’m going through. Can I chat?” Some people don’t always find it easy to open up. You have to maybe ask them in order for them to be like, “Thank God, somebody asked me. Now I can talk.”
It’s always important to remember somebody might be going through something, something might have happened, something might have been said that we have no idea about that could be the reason why they stopped, or that could be the reason why they haven’t finished what you asked them to do. I’ve always been quite empathetic. I’ve developed a lot more patience. I’ve always been a patient person, but this has tested two years of constant testing everywhere possible, which makes things like managing a team, yourself, and workload. These things pale in comparison. You have more patience for it because you’ve been through something so much worse. You put things into perspective.
Becoming a parent makes you more patient. I’m certainly more patient than I was when I was a young man. I’d hear a baby crying in a restaurant. I’d be like, “Shut that kid up.” Now, I don’t think that at all. That was not a nice thing to say, but I would imagine going through this. It helps you prioritize and know when to get frustrated. Unfortunately, this is a rare thing, but there are people who are going to be faced with a crisis in their personal life. What’s some advice you can give other professionals who might be faced with a life-altering personal crisis like the one your family has gone through?
I would say always be empathetic. I would say to every corporation out there, if you come across a staff member or a member of a team member who is going through something horrible, don’t measure what’s horrible according to what you would deem as horrible. What might be horrible for someone else might not be horrible for another person. Another person who is hearing my story might be like, “I lost my child also. That’s nothing because I’ve been through worse.”
Remember, everyone’s walk of life, background, tolerance levels, and emotional tolerance are different. Some people would commit suicide over this stuff. Some people would walk out of their marriages over this stuff. Everyone has a different limit. It’s all about trying to do the best for them. If they are going through something tragic and it might not affect you in the way it’s affected them, always remember it’s about how it’s affected them. It’s not about how it would affect you. Therefore, you would then do what you would expect someone to do for you. You’re dealing with somebody different from you.
Always take into account how the person is feeling, how they’ve been impacted, and how you can help them. That leads me to my second point, which is always be kind. Is there anything you can do financially to support them? Extending out that pay, giving them extra holidays, giving them therapy, or whatever that help might look like, always be mindful that what you do to help them is going to have a massive impact on their life.
Their life is already crumbling and falling apart. You can have a hand in making that life better for them. It could be the difference between them wanting to wake up in the morning and not wanting to wake up in the morning. It’s that impactful. Always be kind, always try to lift each other up. Don’t assume, “It’s not hard for me. It’s not hard for them.” That’s not a measure. It’s about what’s going on with them, how they are feeling, how they are impacted, and how they can be helped. It’s all about trying to help them.
In the law of America and a bunch of other countries, it was the reasonable man standard. What would a reasonable person do in that situation? Maybe that’s fine for 70 percent of people, but what about the other 30 percent? We’re all unique individuals. Just because most people would react a certain way doesn’t mean that’s always the approach that we have to take for everybody. It’s great that you thought that.
From prior conversations, you’ve always been thinking about work-life balance. It’s always been important to you since I’ve known you. At the same time, you’re a high flyer. You’ve accomplished a lot in your career. You can’t do that if you’re looking at the clock and checking out every day at 5:00. Has this changed your perspective on work-life balance? If it has, how does that change you at work? It’s one thing to say, “Yeah, it’s changed us.” There are tangible things in your leadership style and your own work habits that are changing as a result of this.
I’m quite lucky. Company culture and the manager that you work for have a huge role to play. If somebody believes in work-life balance, and they want to promote that and live by that rule, it’s difficult to do that if you are in an environment where your manager will promote it and allow it, or you’re in a company that does not have a culture that promotes it.
I’m fortunate to be part of a company that has a culture that’s centered on decency. I have a boss who has kids who understand that if a kid has a nativity play you have to get to, a parent-child school evening that you have to get to, or you’ve got kids that are hungry and pulling you by the leg while you’re on a conference call saying they want their dinner. Working for people who understand what that’s like has a big hand in allowing you to have a work-life balance.
Having said that, you have to be open enough and honest enough to ask and agree on a way forward that will allow you to have a type of work-life balance. COVID is a great example of forcing companies that never believed in working from home to have no choice but to allow their staff to work from home, Call me crazy but most of the world managed to do their jobs in two years at home from their kitchens or from their dining room. That’s propelled the way work-life balance is now looking versus what it was before for a lot of companies.
The conversations nowadays are easier to have because you already have that foundation built where you can say, “In COVID, we all worked from home five days a week for two years. Why can’t I do three days a week now? What’s the issue?” Companies need to understand that flexibility is key to being more productive, and it’s the employee’s responsibility to have those conversations.
I have been open with my boss about what I’ve been through. He knows everything. He’s supportive enough to understand that I won’t always be able to get a train into London every day. He also understands and knows because I’ve built that trust from before until now. I’ve been on lockdown for several years. Believe me when I say that I want to come to the office so much so that if I don’t make it in, you know that there is a genuine reason why I haven’t made it ill and trust that I am at home doing what I need to do.
You need to have those powerful conversations and sometimes be like, “This is what I need. This is the reason why I need it. Rest assured, if you give me what I need, this is the result. I will be more productive behind my laptop for three hours than stuck in traffic for three hours.” It’s someone about having those conversations. The employee is responsible for starting that conversation if they want it.
Early in COVID, we had a conversation about working from home. I don’t want to paint brushes too broadly, but Boomer, for the most part, didn’t think the work from home would work. They thought you have to get to work and build relationships. The network is by our nature. Younger generations were like, “No. That relationship-building is overrated. We can work productively at home.”
What we learned is each generation learned from the other. Let’s be open-minded about this. Let’s use the technology. Let’s give our employees two hours a day back that they’re not commuting and trust that they’re going to get their work done. The younger people were like, “There is value to coming into the office and forming these types of relationships and that informal mentoring that goes on formal and informal mentoring and relationship building that you can’t get over Zoom.”
In my world, and I don’t know that it’s a snapshot of the entire world, but with the people I interact with, we’ve achieved a good middle ground here with people in a couple of days a week to their companies. My company is all virtual. It was before this, and there’s no reason it ever won’t be. My biggest concern is that my team wasn’t turning it off at the time. You don’t have to send emails at 9:30 at night. I get it. There are situations where you do. Many of you were doing this as a lifestyle, not as a firefighting exercise. At 6:30, have dinner, watch Netflix, or do whatever it is that you need to do in your life.
I’m wondering if you guys are hiring because it sounds like a successful company and a great place to work. What are some of the lessons that other companies can learn from the way your company has supported you and your family? I’ve always worked in smaller companies. It doesn’t mean they can’t support their employees, but they have to think about it differently than a large company like yours. What are the things, as leaders, people can be thinking of?
One of the things that’s greater is there’s no feeling of hierarchical behavior. I wasn’t nervous about opening up an Outlook email template and writing to the CEO. I’ve never met this guy. He’s extremely busy. He had appointments at the White House. He is a sought after chief executive in the world. The way that they have set that whole decency culture and have that trickle down the organization, there’s never a real sense of feeling that I can’t talk to that guy because he’s two steps higher than me. “I can’t talk to that person because he’s the CEO.” There’s none of that. I can talk to anybody. I get addressed with respect and decency. That’s it. When you strip away the job titles, at the end of the day, we’re all human beings. No one is better than the other.
I said in my conference keynote speech that success is not defined, at least for me, by the amount of money in your bank or by your job title. Success is about how many lives you can touch, change, and impact in a positive way. As a person, for me, that is my success measure. None of the job titles and hierarchy should ever come into it.
My advice would be to strip away the masks and job titles. You are all people and humans. You can all learn something from one another. You can all teach each other something, and you can all talk to each other. We can be colleagues or teammates. You don’t have to think, “That’s high. I better not go there.” Come on, it’s 2023.
We’re all stripping away everything else. Fundamentally, we’re decent people. You are back in the workforce for a few weeks. You are getting used to it. As you’re looking to the future, are there any specific goals or initiatives that you’re particularly passionate about that you want to pursue? I’m speaking professionally at this point.
I would love to write a book. It’s something that I know you and I have discussed in the past. That would be a real stepping stone for me. I always wanted to be a financial director before I was 40, which I’ve achieved. That was a goal that I’d already always set and promised my dad before he passed away. I maybe would try and see if I could push the boat out and get to vice president level, but we’ll see. I still need at least another several years before I can do that.
I’ll give you a little hint. You can get there. It’s not a prediction. It’s finding the opportunity, and the timing is right. There is zero doubt in my mind that you will achieve that if that’s your goal. No doubt at all. I would like to conclude this episode by asking if you can give some advice for the next generation of financial leaders, things that they should be thinking about as they start their careers. It can be anything. It can be technology.
I don’t mean this in a patronizing way, but at your age, the next generation of financial leaders, you’re the next generation of financial leaders, but there’s always one younger. What I’m talking about is my niece, Sophia. She’s a genius. She’s 16. She’s a robotics genius. She’s designing all these robots. Important people are looking at her. She’s mentoring young girls to get them more excited about opportunities in science.
It’s rewarding to help the next generation. I was working at Burger King when I was 16. What do you mean by mentoring the next generation? Where’s that coming from? What’s your advice for the up-and-coming generation of financial leaders? You’re passionate about what you do. Why should they enter the profession at all and stick with it?
The first piece of advice I would say is don’t pressure yourself into thinking that success is a one-shoe-fits-all definition. What I mean by that is when I was growing up, I thought success was academics, exams, grades, and all that stuff because that’s what I was taught when I was growing up. Whilst academics are important, what I’ve also come to realize in my 40-odd years of living is that I finally found my success point about a couple of years after my dad passed. It was never anything to do with academics. Success is something that comes from discovering what you are most passionate about and not allowing the pressures of other people’s thinking and thought processes to cloud what success looks like for you.
To any of the younger generations, find what your passion is and stick with it. If you get a sudden light bulb moment or that warm fuzzy feeling inside like, “This is what I’m good at. This is what is good for me. This is what I’m going to thrive on.” Stick with it because that’s your passion, and that’s what you’re going to do well in.
To enter the world of finance, everybody needs to remember to let go of the stereotype of finance, which is that we do numbers and nothing more. Finance is a massive field of partnership, strategy, business partners, and presenting. It can be whatever you want it to be. You have to be the mastermind and drive it to that point. Whatever you want your role to look like, and you want to make it your own, you’re in control of that.
Don’t be put off by going into finance or that field because you think, “There’s only one way, and that’s numbers.” It’s a heck of a lot more than that. If your passion is, “I love talking to people,” you can make a financial wealth yourself and still be involved in talking to people. The two will go hand in hand. What are you passionate about? What are you good at? Carve out your finance path to almost being the same frequency as that desire or that passion that you have because that’s what I did.
Always remember that no matter what you’re doing in your day job, always do something outside of that to stand out from the crowd. That could be something that I’ve been doing, which is keynote speaking or mentoring. It could be something completely different. Whatever your desires or your hobbies are, keep those things going outside of your day job because they shape you as a person and affect how you perform at work.
It affects how you perform in the financial sector or whatever company you’re working for. Your confidence will skyrocket. You’ll do more great things. You’ll be able to wow, impress, and showcase what you can do in your company. Keep doing all the things you love outside of work and allow them to shape your career path in the company that you work for.
Ranu, thank you so much for being on with us. I encourage you to follow her on social media. We’ll put her LinkedIn profile on the page. Thanks so much. This was a wonderful interview, and it is always great to see you.
Thank you so much, Jack. I appreciate it always. Thank you.