Monu Jain – Dream It, Believe It, Achieve It

Monu is a dynamic and self-reliant woman who spent twenty-four years as a banker working for big names like Indusind Bank and Bank of America. She played a crucial role in building and developing high-growth businesses during her time there. However, when she realized her learning curve was plateauing, she took on a new challenge. Now, she is an impact investor, part of a fund striving to positively impact the world through investments and guidance. Monu recently shared her life story in an interview with AboutHer.

Formative Years

Monu was born and raised in Jalandhar in a large joint business family. It was a traditional setup where the men went out to work, and women stayed back to take care of the home and family. There were no working women in the family. But despite that, her mother wanted her to become independent, so she sowed the seeds of ambition in her daughter. She was the main driver who pushed her to excel in everything she did.

Monu was academically very bright, and it was evident that she was on a different path, though, at that time, it wasn’t clear what that path would be. Being influenced by her mother, Monu grew up to be a perfectionist, which she feels is both a boon and a bane of her life.

Monu spoke about an incident from her childhood that profoundly impacted her. When she was in grade 10/11, her father fell sick, and nobody was at home to cook for him. Monu was there but didn’t know how to cook. That frustrated her, and she called her mom to complain about that, as she felt that her mom had not taught her how to cook. What her mom said amplified how parents play a critical role in their children’s lives. Her mom told her she wanted her to focus on academics and her career. She told her to make her life more meaningful with education and independence as she could always hire people for the household chores. This statement has stayed with Monu all her life.

Career Journey

With her kind of upbringing, it was given that she would take up a profession/ career. On being asked how she chose banking as an option, she says that it was like a default option as, in those days, there were just a handful of choices as far as careers were concerned. The trajectory of her life proves that things in life always happen for a reason. But it is only later, when we look back, that we can connect the dots.

Also Read: Time for Multiple Careers

As she had done very well in her 12th boards and topped the district, it was certain that for college, she would go to Delhi, where she went. Once there, she realised that Economics (Hons) was the course with the highest cutoff and Lady Shriram College was the only college amongst the well-known ones to have a girls’ hostel. So it was obvious that that was where she would go. 

Once she graduated, she took her management exams and did exceptionally well, which gave her a place in the prestigious IIM Bangalore. She did very well there and landed a job with the blue-blooded Bank of America on the first day of placement.

That’s how she landed in banking, and as her career progressed, she realised it was the perfect fit for her. The things that banking brought out in her prove that it was an excellent choice for her and would be for anyone with her background and calibre.

She lists Several Reasons to Prove Her Point. According to Her-

  • Banking allows you to leverage your education. She was an Eco grad with an MBA in finance, and it worked out very well for her as she could use all the knowledge she had acquired in corporate and investment banking. 
  • Banking keeps your brain stimulated and does not let you stagnate, vital for growth and development. Being a person who is always on the learning path, this was right up her alley.
  • Banks offer great opportunities for career growth. Since banks are large organisations, they give the option to grow vertically into higher positions and leadership roles. They also let you grow horizontally, learn different skills and explore possibilities, and she was able to experience both kinds of growth.
  • The banking experience is unparalleled. Banks have a large customer base, so you constantly face different situations. That helps you to solve problems and battle various issues. While at it, you meet a diverse set of accomplished people with whom you can learn and build relationships. Her stint in this industry equipped her with the skills to resolve conflicts and crises.
  • For her, working in a bank was hugely gratifying. Her job was to provide capital to different businesses. And when the business she funded flourished, it gave a huge sense of achievement and satisfaction and made her believe that she had made the right choice. All the acknowledgement and appreciation made the experience extremely rewarding.
  • The banking sector is the backbone of the economy, and the economy cannot function without it. So being a part of such a crucial sector was extremely rewarding.

The Transition

She feels she can take risks, reinvent, and adapt and is always on a quest to discover. However, after spending almost thirteen years in her last job, she felt she wasn’t learning anything new. The learning curve had flattened, and it was just business as usual for her.

She wanted to build something from scratch. She says, “My baby had grown, was ready to fly, and now I wanted another one.’

She wanted to create something new and add value to her life, but this wasn’t happening. So she decided to quit and explore new areas where she could put her skills to use.

After considering various possibilities, she decided to become an impact investor, supporting companies striving to create a positive impact. She is now part of a global fund that invests in Southeast Asia, Africa and India. They aim to provide organisations with the capital they need and guide them towards making their organisations and practices more sustainable. 

Dealing with Obstacles and Hurdles

It is normal for someone to encounter numerous challenges in a career spanning twenty-five years or more. Monu is no different. She shares some of those with us to help others learn from her experiences.

After several years in her career, she reached a point where Monu felt she was stagnating, and she couldn’t afford to let that happen. So how did she deal with the situation?

Quoting Sheryl Sandberg from her book Lean In, Monu says that women generally do not reach out and ask for what they want. They hope and expect that either people will discover them or be able to read their minds. But that doesn’t happen. Therefore, one has to communicate and reach out. So when she felt that she was not growing, she reached out and asked for more work. And she was pleasantly surprised because by reaching out, she made herself visible and available and got what she wanted.

She also faced certain challenges because of her gender. Monu feels that being a woman, she had to stay in Delhi, where her family lived. Unlike a man in a similar situation, she could not uproot her family to be where her job required her to be. Being in financial services, moving to Mumbai would have been the obvious choice for growth and career progression, but she could not do it.

But then, the kind of person she is, she decided to work around this challenge. So she decided to extensively travel so that she was available whenever and wherever she was required. She did not let the inability to move locations affect her professionally. 

Along with that, she also adopted some other measures which helped her grow in her career. She decided to increase her visibility within the organisation by taking on cross-functional projects crucial for the bank, even if they were not within her usual responsibilities. This helped her be in the right place at the right time with the right people and develop skills she may not have been able to develop if she had confined herself to just what was assigned to her.

She also feels that internal networking is essential for growth in an organisation, especially if you are in a different location because that can lead to communication gaps which can be detrimental to the growth of the organisation and the people involved. She prevented this by building solid relationships within the organisation and being in regular touch with the people.

She believes that being a woman, she had to work harder to prove that she was equal, especially in the early days when her credibility had not been established. Also, few women were in the workforce when she started her career. So it was difficult for women, on the whole, to make a difference or make their voices heard. However, the situation eased out with time, and eventually, working hard became a way of life for her, which turned out to be a blessing.

A great way to turn a disadvantage into an advantage!

Monu had long stints with both of her organisations, which meant they all grew together and went through a lot together. She got a lot of appreciation and acknowledgement for her contribution but sometimes did feel that there was some gender discrimination.

However, diving deep into the gender divide, she feels that things that seem discriminatory are not always that. This was especially so until recently when fewer women were at the top. At that time, it always seemed that men were getting more opportunities to progress and grow. But she feels that was obvious because there weren’t enough women. Also, it is natural for someone to believe more in someone like them, so men, as a default, gave more opportunities to men than to women. 

Quoting an instance from her life, she feels that sometimes men don’t know how to approach a woman or whether to approach her at all. Very early in her career, she was in the reckoning for a project with a male colleague, but her manager chose him over her because it involved working till late in the night, and he probably didn’t know whether he could approach her.

But now, thanks to the digital revolution, things are at par. A woman cannot be left out of anything because she can join virtually, if not physically.

She also feels that as women go up the corporate ladder, they can support and promote other women. It can be their way of doing away with the gender divide. She has done her bit by mentoring and coaching other women and helping them navigate tricky situations. Since she didn’t have that kind of support, she feels a greater need to support other women.

Balancing Multiple Roles

Women have to juggle many roles throughout their lives. Every role always seems to be competing with some other role. So how does one juggle between them?

Monu believes there are many roles to balance and balls to juggle, but she wouldn’t want to drop any of them because she loves them all. Juggling the different balls makes a woman creative and innovative and adds mystery. She feels that this kind of variety makes a woman’s life interesting.

But yes, the roles have to be balanced, and the best way to do that is by knowing when to do what. She feels thatprioritisation is the key to managing everything. She thinks one needs to remember that 80% of the value is created by just 20% of the tasks. So therefore, one has to focus on those 20% first, get them out of the way and then get to the rest. It may be challenging, but it can be done, and she has done it.

Another thing that has always helped her is being able to trust other people. Whether at home or work, one must believe in people and teamwork. No one can do everything on their own, and we always need the support of other people. That’s why working in a team is so critical. According to her, if you have a good team, you can delegate effectively, bringing efficiency to your work. When you trust, you can give the right task to the right person.

She quotes Indra Nooyi, who said that I focus on things I need to do personally and never do anything that does not require my involvement. 

In life, one should accept that you cannot carry the entire load on your shoulders. You have to share it with people. That will make you vulnerable, but that’s ok. Monu feels it is not about being independent but about being interdependent. When you realise this truth, you will all grow together.

For anyone to succeed, they have to have a supportive family. Having a solid support system of friends and staff is extremely important. She is grateful that her inlaws and husband have always supported her career. Her husband Abhishek values her career as much as he values his own. She firmly believes that having the right partner is the key to happiness and success.

Accomplishments

When Monu reflects on her life and success, she categorises it into personal and professional.

According to her, professionally speaking, building her own business in the last organisation was a big challenge but eventually became a huge success. She had come from an MNC bank with an established setup to a totally different business and client set. She had moved to a private sector bank which no one knew about and didn’t have a name or credibility. She was also new to the business and had no idea about it. There was a lot of uncertainty, but she took on that challenge. She dived in because of her confidence, risk-taking ability and self-conviction. 

And the result was that she created something that made a meaningful contribution to the organisation, gave her a tremendous sense of satisfaction and helped her learn new skills.

As far as her personal life is concerned, her ability to learn and grow, which has been tested repeatedly, is her most significant success. At every stage of her life, the desire to learn has taken her from one level to another. From a small town to a large city to a great college and then to her MBA was a journey fraught with risks and challenges. But she did not let that bother her. 

This continued in her working life, where she flipped jobs and roles, always believing in herself and her abilities and changing from one level to another to now a totally different kind of work. 

This self-belief and conviction and the resultant growth as a human is a huge personal celebration.

Good and Bad Days

Everybody has their share of good and bad days, but one has to learn to deal with them. Monu feels the best thing that works in such a situation is not having a choice. You will do it when you know that the task in front of you has to be done no matter what. So even if you are down and out, you will get up and get going. So not having a choice works really well.

Another thing that has worked for her is calendaring everything, including the smallest task she has to do. According to her, time is her biggest enemy and also her friend. She likes to pack 30 hours in a 24-hour day, so she can only do it by putting everything on the calendar. And when it is on the calendar, she has no choice but to do it, good day, bad day notwithstanding. Also, when you have a lot on your plate, that helps because you know that if you don’t do it, the tasks will keep adding. So she says that it is easy to push away a demon when there are too many to do.

Also, she believes that even on a bad day, your rationality does not leave your side. As a rational human being, you understand that if you don’t get going, you will suffer, your business will suffer, and people who depend on you will suffer. So you have to get up and get on with the day.

When you do something productive, it gives you creative satisfaction, and so whatever was pulling you down just melts away.

She says that our mind is smart, so once you dive into work, it will forget what was distracting you.

What Lies Ahead

Monu began a spiritual journey of meditation and self-reflection a decade ago to improve herself. She also obtained certification as an executive coach and completed the Vipassana course, which enhanced her emotional intelligence and benefitted her finance career.

Ten years from now, on the personal side, she sees herself building on a giving journey. She wants to give back to society, and she wants to do this by embarking on a coaching journey where she wants to coach young women who are starting their careers. She wants to help them navigate their journey so that they can resolve their inner conflicts and grow faster and better in their careers. Moreover, she enjoys coaching and thinks it is her calling. She has already embarked on the journey and does 2-3 hours of weekly coaching. 

Also, she wants to get into mental and physical fitness to lead a long and healthy life. She feels there is so much one wants to do, and the body must support it.

On the professional front, she sees herself setting up multiple impact funds. Through that, she wants to create a meaningful difference in her corner of the world by making an impact on some entrepreneurs around her.

Some Lessons That She Learnt in Life

After spending over twenty-five years in the corporate world, she has a wealth of experience and shared some of what she learned.

According to her, command over your domain is non-negotiable whether you are building a business or starting a job. You cannot compromise on that.

She spoke about what she learnt from the book ‘Start with the Why’ by Simon Sinek and how she implemented what she learnt. The book talks about creating great businesses with happy teams and personal satisfaction. It says that to create anything, you must be clear about the why, the what and the how. These three questions make a golden circle, the framework you need to create your business. 

It’s essential to understand the reason behind your actions and clearly understand what and how you are doing it.

The vision must be clear to the leader and every team member for them to understand and then own it. It has to be clear to the last person in the team because, as she puts it, the last person is not just laying the brick but is building the cathedral. The answers to these questions will create tangible deliverables, keep everyone on track, and help them grow and evolve. 

She also feels that as you rise the ladder, what starts to matter is your softer skills, that is, how well you can handle people. Domain knowledge is no longer that significant because, by then, it is obvious that you have it. 

Your leadership qualities and your being a team player are all that matter because you are only as successful as your team. These skills will also enable you to spot the potential and capabilities of people so that you will know who can do what and delegate accordingly. She feels that effective delegation leads to performance efficiency.

A good leader must empower his team by providing all the necessary resources to succeed. The leader has to visualise their success in the team’s success. She has lived by following the mantra of creating a common objective through a pull and not a push. So she never believed in telling her team what they had to do; instead, she discussed it with them and explained why the target was critical for them to succeed. She motivated her team member by impressing upon them the need to be a part of performing rather than a non-performing team. That created a pull for them.

A leader she feels has to take ownership of the team. If the team’s success is a reason to bask in its glory, then its failure must also be accepted and taken ownership of. A leader is with the team, whether it fails or succeeds. That works really well in building loyalty and motivation in the team.

From her career growth perspective, she believes that in a corporate job, there is a constant focus on reaching the next level and never being content with one’s current position. But she says you must understand that sometimes you need to do unsung jobs, laying a brick even if you don’t know that you are building a cathedral. You must remember that the work is imp and therefore must do it. So you need to be patient and not be demotivated if you are not getting the next thing.

Also, it is easy in corporate life to get swayed by position, money, status and stature. They come as you climb the ladder, but remember that they are transitory and will not last forever.

These things, along with your pride and ego, are the water that can enter your boat and take it to the bottom of the ocean, so you need to keep them at bay.

She also feels that one must be patient to wait out a lean period. It is crucial to have a long view of the future; one needs to understand that career growth is not always linear. It could be in steps, and though the steps will take longer, they will eventually make up for the linear growth. 

Also, one must remember that you can only control your actions; you cannot control the outcome. You need to understand this and trust the process. Sometimes things take time to work out, and you can’t do anything about it. What you can do is do your job well, and the results will show. You have to have faith which is what she has done.

She believes that these things helped her a lot while navigating the uncertainties of life in the corporate world.

Successful Woman and World

She feels that in today’s times, we have reached a stage where women achievers are getting recognition and appreciation, which was uncommon in earlier days. The world is beginning to recognise and applaud their accomplishments. This is huge and should encourage young women to work towards their goals and passion with vigour. But here, she adds a word of caution. While being upbeat about their prospects, they need to have patience and resilience. They should know that not everybody will get it and not every time. 

So she advises all women to focus on the controllable and not worry about what others say or think about them because that can mess you up. You need to focus on the job and not on people and what they have to say.

Shifting Gears

Nowadays, we see people shifting gears and jobs in their mid-lives. On being asked about this phenomenon, she says it is very pleasing to see it. But she feels this was bound to happen considering the world we are living in, which is changing so rapidly. The change in the technological and digital world is exceptionally rapid. Also, societal expectations are changing, and people have become more accepting of things and situations. As a result, people are reinventing themselves and exploring their passions and desires.

Earlier, there were only a few professions like doctor, engineer, banker etc., but now these are old-world school careers, and so many new things are coming up. With financial security levels being much higher than before, people today can experiment and take risks. We are living in an era of abundance and want to explore.

She feels this trend will continue in the next generation, where people will have greater financial security and be more experimentative. 

Tips for Young Girls

A woman who is independent in every sense of the word, Monu has some valuable advice for young girls on the threshold of their personal and professional lives.

She says that no matter what one chooses to do, domain knowledge is absolutely essential. So you have to be very sound technically.

But along with the knowledge, there should be an attitude toward learning, adapting and changing. She says that we are all living in a fast-paced world, and in this kind of setting, the winner would be the one who can spot the next trend and then have the ability and desire to reinvent. So one will have to learn new skills and flip.

This ability is even more vital for women who, considering the many roles they have to play, can be easily left behind if they don’t adapt. She advises that for women especially, time is precious, so we need to use it judiciously.

We must also learn to prioritise, lean on people, and build teams that can support us. She feels women should create a network of like-minded women who can be there for them. They should be there to guide, mentor and open doors for each other. She feels this can go a long way in bridging the gender gap at work. It is like unity is strength; women can fight anything when they are united.

She believes that now is the best time to be a woman. There are so many opportunities and so much awareness about the gender issue; regulations and initiatives are in place, and to top it all, the digital revolution is dissolving many of the inequalities between men and women. So it is the time to shine.

Financial independence is a must because there is no future without it. Monu believes it is necessary because it brings a lot of confidence and self-belief. And once you have it, you can’t walk away from it.

Can a Woman Have It All

Monu answers this question with a counter question; Why not? She says it is the perfect time to be a woman. We just have to work through the obstacles and resolve them. It is possible to have it all, and we should. We have so much variety and so much going for us that it would be a shame if we did not try to have it all.

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