Tell us about your background- your hometown, growing up, where you lived and how you came to Massachusetts.
I was born and raised in Mumbai, in India, and I did all my schooling and college there. And after that, when I first came to the United States, I was in Minnesota, and I was there for a year before we moved to the Boston area. And then did my Master’s at [Northeastern University], all my education was in computer science. I have been working all my life in technology. And then I did a brief stint for about nine years in the New York and New Jersey area, working mostly in the beginning in the telecom industry. And then I moved to working in the financial sector and from New Jersey moved back to Massachusetts. So that’s how I’m here since the last almost a few years I’ve been in Massachusetts. So in a full circle, it almost feels like Massachusetts is my home. I just came right back here. Yeah. That’s a little bit of a background about me.
What was it like going from Mumbai to Minnesota?
Oh, very cold! But, on a more serious side of it, it really was very interesting in terms of my professional career. Which started, actually, in Minnesota. Right after coming about a month or two in, I started at my first company, which was UnitedHealthcare, and I was barely there for about a year or so when I switched over to telecom. And the first company in telecom that I worked for was, uh, the company that was founded by [Desh Deshpande]. So that’s another full circle I’ve come through.
Which company was that?
It was the company by the name of Cascade Communications, and later bought by Ascend, and then later by Lucent. So I lived through all of those acquisitions and transitions.
Going through those transitions must have helped you in your current position.
It definitely did. And also to come full circle, I had heard of [TiE Boston] even back then, but, coming back to TiE now and hearing of Desh’s name, as one of the initial founders is actually really nice to see and hear about all the good things that TiE is now doing.
Tell us a little bit about your family here.
I have two daughters, both of them in college now. One is soon to graduate from Oxford, [and] starting her first job at [Goldman Sachs] this summer. So we are really excited about her graduation and her official ‘start’ in a professional career, if you will. And my younger one just left for college to [Brown University] this past fall. So in one way, it’s nice and satisfying to see both the girls leave the house and settle down in college. And at the same time, I have tons of time on my hands, which is where I’m filling with all of this work that I’m embarking on.
We talked a little bit about your professional background and the industries that you worked in. How did you get started? What led you to UnitedHealthcare and then into the telecom industry and, now to State Street Bank
I would say like most of us when we graduated in the beginning, it is, you know, we’re really excited about getting our first job. And I was keen on being in technology. hat was my education and that was my background, I had a couple of offers and I ended up joining a UnitedHealthcare Single. It was a big company, and it was a known name. And so on that point onwards, telecom was a little different in the sense-telecom was really in a booming at that time, so it was a great place to be. And of course, Cascade Communications at that time was a very big name. And I did join at that time when it was the place to be.
Lots of folks in telecom always wanted to flock towards a couple of the companies that were there at that point of time. So it was, it felt like it’s a good place to switch jobs. However, from telecom, it was a very deliberate and planned change to go to the financial sector. Based on everything I was reading and everything that I was interested in, I made that switch. An interesting tidbit of information is I was at Lehman when the bankruptcy happened. It was a very surreal and very interesting experience. I would not trade that experience for anything in my career, even though it was a very anxious set of a few weeks for a lot of us at Lehman. But it was also a learning experience.
Some of the interesting experiences that we had that I wouldn’t trade for anything else. And from Lehman, of course, we got acquired by Barclays. The best of my professional life has been when I was at Goldman. I grew tremendously both, professionally as well as what the company invests in the people that they hire. It was a very rewarding experience there. And of course, State Street enhanced on that. And so here I am.
Tell us what you do now at State Street, how you got to the position that you’re in, and anything you want to tell us about your current role?
Sure, sure. In State Street, in the organization of global markets, I have responsibility for all of the technology portfolio for several main businesses. Again, as in my entire career, I have been on the technology path. So what’s most exciting for me is when we see that technology is an enabler for the business, not just as a something who’s in the back seat, but something that sits in the front seat and is able to influence some of the key business decisions, whether it is revenue generation or enabling the business itself. So my role is pretty important in the sense that I support the business. I’m responsible for the systems there, as well as enabling the business for some of the key portfolios that they have.
What advice would you give to women who want to follow in your footsteps?
I would say, first of all, follow your passion. You really thrive and you do well when you follow your passion, because it naturally comes out in everything that you do, and you do it the best. That said, I have two daughters, so this is a dinner table conversation that we often have. The thing about it is that you always set aside a way, a place where you are thriving and you’re doing something for yourself and be happy. If you’re spending about eight to ten hours in a day doing something that you are not happy about, that’s a lot of time spent in doing things that you are not happy with. So definitely follow your passion. Definitely your work should align with what you enjoy. The natural best will come out in that setting.
For people who are having a similar journey as myself, I would say there are always obstacles, there are always challenges, and that’s an actual course of life, but when the obstacles are bigger, take one day at a time, one week at a time. When they’re smaller, you have a line of sight of how you’re going to get past it, and over time, that only gets easier. Whether you are a woman or you’re a male, a lot of it doesn’t matter. Those obstacles and challenges are there for everybody. Some are more vocal, some are less vocal. But I would say that I have had a very good journey and always look out for mentors. Mentors are very key because sometimes there is a wisdom in some of the advice that they give, that it is hard for us to see the forest from the trees because we are so close to the problems.
Thank you for sharing that advice with us. What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women entrepreneurs and professionals today?
I think that the challenges necessarily are a lot more in our mind than anywhere else, really. There are always the external factors, you know? Yes, there are challenges in terms of getting in through the door, whether it is for an opportunity or for funding. But what I would say is that the thing that holds us back is oftentimes more in our own mind than what we are capable of, on what we can do. I read an interesting book, one of the authors had come in and spoke with us [at Goldman Sachs State Street]. We all tend to kind of work within the boundary conditions. If you take out those boundary conditions, which are in our mind, doors open up sometimes when you think out of the box, there are things that happen that are solutions that people before or after us have not thought about, but you have broken those barriers. So definitely the challenges I would say is from, first, from the mindset, that is within ourselves that are easily fixable. The second thing is, try to push the envelope a little bit. When you push the envelope,you will find that sometimes there are things that can be done and are achievable. Um, don’t necessarily take a ‘no’ for an answer. Push that through even a little bit further, and then you will know, one way or the other, where things can go. And I go back to the same point from before saying, oftentimes there have been several mentors that have come into my life at different points of time who have been very influential in my decisions. So the challenges can, and are surmountable, if you take a step back and think about it.
Who have been the biggest role models in your life, whether they’re just a friend that’s a mentor, or a career mentor? Are there just a couple examples that you can give us of people who have had that influence in your life?
Yes, for sure. I think, growing up, in the early stages our parents are our biggest mentors or coaches. Which has definitely been the case. I think my father has been very influential in my life. He has been one of my guiding stars, until the point I got to my professional life. And that’s when he has become more of a friend that I could speak with about certain things professionally. I think over the period of time, different people have different people who they often look up to as mentors as somebody who is senior or are somebody who has done that already. But for me, mentors have not necessarily been one person, but different people coming into my life for different contexts and different ways.
Sometimes they’re friends and sometimes they’re my own managers, and in some cases they have been far more senior than me. It’s not always that there’s just one mentor. Sometimes you read certain books, and you take a lot of motivation and inspiration from the author who wrote the book.. That in itself can be somebody who can guide you. So I cannot necessarily say it’s just one person that I can credit to, but I have been fortunate to be surrounded by some of the good people that I have been able to draw on their experiences even today. Um, I draw on experiences from other people, pretty much very frequently, I would say.
What is a tech trend that you are currently following, and why are you following those trends?
Yes. I think I would be remiss if I didn’t say ChatGPT and GPT-4. Everything that’s going around that is absolutely fascinating. It’s fascinating in so many different ways that it’s mind-boggling on what it can be and, the way we think about what the future holds for us and how we protect ourselves from certain negative aspects of the future, as well as what are the immense amount of possibilities for the positive [change] that can come about [from it]. Something that I am keenly following, of course not to forget, just as not just the generative AI, but AI itself. Whether it’s healthcare, life sciences, or it is any part of the industry. That is very, very interesting to me. More recently, I have started reading up a lot more about sustainability and ESG, and that is another trend that I find very fascinating. Of course, being in the financial sector, I think blockchain is something that would be very near and dear to me in terms of the digital transformation that is happening all around us, especially impacting the financial industry. That is close to my heart, given my own professional career.
How did you find TiE Boston, and what prompted you to become a member? Can you tell us about that experience?
So I had heard about TiE, as I said earlier, many years ago, as part of being in Boston in the early years when TiE was founded. Now, apart from that, more recently when I officially joined TiE Boston, the interesting thing about it, is the community spirit. That is the most fascinating part, given how I see my interactions with the various people that are part of TiE Boston. It is almost like a family that is growing up together. Some of the relationships go many, many years back. Some of the relationships are fairly new, but embrace helping each other. I was recently part of a fantastic debate about whether somebody should pay for this a particular program or not, and how TiE Boston should look at it, as if it’s our own family. Why should somebody pay for this program? That principle of looking at the whole community as a family in itself, and how they support each other and how they foster entrepreneurship as part of the family of fostering entrepreneurship, really is fascinating to me. That is by far one of the best things that I’ve seen about TiE Boston. So many people who have been supporting me as part of being the chair [of TiECON East 2023. It’s amazing how many texts I get through TiE, that is ‘can I help with this?’, ‘how can I support you?’ or just encouraging me. So I’m loving it.
Can you tell us what your current involvement in TiE is, and what you’re doing as the chair of TiECON East?
So, I think around July/August, I raised my hand to be the TiECON East chair. Little did I know about the amount of work that was going to be cut out for me! Although I have to admit that my predecessor, Kiran Uppuluri had told me a little bit and coached me a little about what is involved. I think so far it’s been a very interesting experience. A very engaging experience from the time that we started out, with ‘what is a theme for TiECON?’.,going through that and coming up with this year’s theme.There was a moment of time and I sat there and I said, ‘oh my God, how are we going to get all these speakers? How are we going to kind of line up all of this?’ And about roughly four weeks away from the date, I’m actually thrilled and amazed at how everything has come together. While I have the responsibility of being the chair, it would be not fair if I didn’t mention that more than me, there is a team of people who are there, who have been pulling the weight, and there are so many people who are doing so much work day-in and day-out, on weekends, late evenings. Tuesday evenings are late night meetings that we sit there until 9:30, 10, 10:30pm sometimes, going over some minute detail that has to be ironed out. So it’s been a good journey. It’s been fantastic. And I’m just amazed at how much this team does and that too. A lot of them are doing this part-time as volunteers, so I’m immensely grateful to all those people who are putting in so much time on weekends and weeknights into this.
I see these volunteers and these people who are investing all this time to be true believers of the cause for TiE Boston.
Tell us more about what to expect on April 27 and 28 at TiECON East.
I eat, live and breathe [TiECON East] these days! So, it is basically over a span of two days, or to be precise about one and a half days. The first day is going back to the core mission and objective of what TiE Boston is all about. It is about entrepreneurs, so it’s all about entrepreneurship, from the sense of a startups coming and looking for investing and mentoring needs. So we have the Entrepreneurship Showcase, a curated session where investors and mentors will be meeting with startup founders. Then we have another session being held in parallel, where there will be more mature startups, or also actually not even startups anymore. They’re companies who have gone through in some form or shape through the TiE Boston Ecosystem. They’re back again at the conference to pitch and do presentations, either for their products or their services, or for partnerships or collaborations. So, we have exhibitions and booths as well for them, including, of course, our, near and dear TiE ScaleUp cohort startups that will also be having exhibitions and booths as we are talking about the entrepreneurship showcase and companies. A very important aspect of all of this is a panel with very powerful VCs.We’ll be talking about what are the trends and the challenges in getting funding and see, uh, you know, which startups often wonder as to what it takes for us to get series A funding or a seed funding. So with all of this in place, we also plan on having in parallel our new real estate special interest group, where they would be talking about passive investments.
So it’s all around, startups, entrepreneurship, investors, and venture capitalists. So that is the evening on the 27th, which we’ll be finishing off very nicely with cocktails and networking, and dinner.
On the 28th, it is more focused around what are the latest trends, whether it is healthcare or it is in the financial sector, or it is manufacturing and materials, which isa very big industry trend, with the latest developments happening there. And it is all around content. Name it, whether you are in academia or you are a young professional, or you have been, you are an entrepreneur, whether you are an investor, there is a panel and there is a keynote and there’s a topic for you that is of interest to you. So, we have very interesting keynotes, very established accomplished keynote speakers, the likes ofJohn Sculley, who is an ex-CEO of Pepsi, and Apple, and Pooja Ika, a young professional who is extremely successful as well, both of whom will be speaking on the 27th. The next day, on the 28th, our keynotes are Jeff Bussgang coming from Harvard Business School, and he himself is a VC. We have Helen Greiner, who’s an ex-CEO of iRobot, and Rama Ramakrishnan, who is a pioneer in his topic, ChatGPT, which he has published several articles about recently.
Finishing up very nicely with another panel conducted by Raj Sharma, which basically says, “Okay, you have been successful, you are a successful entrepreneur. What’s the next chapter? What do you do next?” Talking about philanthropy and what else to do beyond that. So it brings together a very nice roundup of not only entrepreneurship, startups, venture capitalists, academia, learning content, keynotes, and then a nice finish with what’s next, once you’ve been there already and you’re a successful entrepreneur.
What do you find most rewarding about being the TiECON Chair outside of everything that has come to fruition at this point?
I think it’s truly the passion in the people. The people truly believe in the cause. I talked to Yash Shah, the president of TiE Boston, on a daily basis. . And every time we talk to each other, I definitely see the excitement that, he keeps, coming back with saying, “wow, Sunita, this is coming together really well.” And I walk away saying, “wow, this is fantastic. It is truly coming together very well!” So, um, I think the passion and the people, there are several people that I had never met before, and just in the past few months, I have grown to respect them for everything that they have accomplished and how they’re really keen about, uh, giving back to the community. On top of it, they truly are passionate about entrepreneurship and, all the latest trends around it. I talked to several people who are now on my speed dial, if you will, on our phone on a regular basis, whether we are looking for a keynote or we are looking for a speaker, or simply looking for volunteers? Rakesh was another person who’s been sending all the volunteers in my direction.There are so many names and so many people who are so passionate and working long hours. I think it’s truly the passion and the people who are getting all of this done that has been the fantastic part of being chair, really.
How can people, from your perspective, engage in TiE Boston to help their personal and professional growth?
That’s a good question. I think if you’re looking for funding, and if you’re looking for an opportunity and you have a great idea, or you have a startup, I think that there are ways that you can embed yourself and get something out of TiE Boston, for sure. There are very many programs, no matter your age, starting from, um, um, TiE University , ScaleUp, TiE Angels. There is an opportunity, to TiE Women, not to forget, which is an important part of everything that we do. There is a way that you can reach out and you’ll get help. There is mentorship that people can provide. This charter member community has got such a wealth of knowledge and wisdom from experienced entrepreneurs and corporate executives, and a lot of folks from academia as well.
So depending on what you’re looking for, there is a program that you can apply to or participate in. Now, if you’re on the other side, where you already have the experience, there are various ways, whether it is maybe an hour in a week or it is just maybe a few hours in the whole year, there is a way that big or small, that you can give back, whether it is time or it is money. Because there is that other part also, which is equally important, even though we are nonprofit. That said, if you are interested in only contributing for a short period of time in a year, do what I’m doing. You can be a chair. You have put in a lot of time in a very short period of time, and, you know, you have done something good for the greater community. So I think if nothing else, you’ll get some good friends and good relationships out of it. I’m in here for the relationships. I’m here to make some good connections and friends. And I did get a lot of good friends and connections out of this, and I’m very happy about it.
Are there books or podcasts that you think would be worthwhile reading or listening to?
SK: Podcasts, of course, the New York Times’ the Daily is something that is one of my favorites. But apart from that, one of the things that I turned to on a professional side as well, is the Harvard Business Review articles. Some of them are short, where you get something quick or, ‘oh yeah, that’s common sense, why didn’t I think about it?’ kind of a thing. Sometimes it’s very informational in terms of the trends that are happening. So I’m a big reader of Harvard Business Review articles. I love them. I often am known to take some of those articles to my own team at work to say, “hey guys, you should read about this, this is really interesting”, and maybe talk about it in one of our staff meetings. On a lighter reading side of it, if I’m on a vacation and I’m just looking to do some light reading. I read a lot of ‘criminal investigation’ books, I love those. Apart from that, every night I watch an episode of Seinfeld before I sleep. Yes, no matter how many times I watched them, I can still watch them.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give?
I think my philosophy has been that no job is too small or too big. You’re not above or below any particular job or a task. When you roll up your sleeves, when it is needed, go into the details. When it’s not needed, look at the big picture. But don’t shy away from doing anything because with everything, you get a new experience and every experience teaches you something. And so far that has worked for me and, I do enjoy the details, but at the same time, don’t forget the overall strategy and vision that you had applied. No matter whether it’s a conference, it’s not small, it’s a conference and there is a lot that goes into it, or it is a job, or it’s a profession, or even at home. So that’s basically my motto and that worked for me so far.