Our Leadership, Stylish interview series celebrates stylish women in leadership and executive roles. You’ll get personal insights about their role models and inspiration, how these amazing ladies get their teams excited, and what wardrobe and grooming choices they make to give their performance an extra boost of confidence. — Share it with your friends and colleagues if you find yourself inspired by it.
Today’s stylish leader is Darshana Zaveri. We love her for being one of those strong ladies who are expanding the spectrum of possible career paths for women. As a venture capitalist who is both a woman and from India, she is about as rare as a unicorn. Just recently she spoke to a roomful of Future Entrepreneurs, all high school girls from New York, who can now add “Venture Capitalist” to their list of viable career options. — Read below to find out about the working women of Mumbai and why a pair of jeans with a shirt can be your best bet when you want to come across as approachable.
Tell us a little bit about who you are and where you are in your career!
Darshana Zaveri: I am a General Partner at Catalyst Health Ventures, a healthcare-focused venture capital firm financing start-up companies. As a venture capitalist, I raise funds, find promising medical technology companies to invest those funds in, and then actively manage those investments through Board participation and guidance. For example, one of the most exciting companies in my portfolio will help to diagnose ovarian cancer early in women who are at high risk of developing the disease.
I was born and brought up in Mumbai, India, although I’ve lived in Boston for 20 years and met my husband here during graduate school. We have two young, very active daughters who keep us busy outside of our work lives.
Do you have role models you draw inspiration from for your life and career?
Without a doubt, my biggest role model is my mother for so graciously achieving that elusive “work – life” balance. I remember, when we (my brother and I) were growing up, she would wake up early every single morning, cook breakfast and lunch, get us ready for school and then was impeccably dressed for work by 7am. Like most Indian working women of her generation, she completed so many household tasks, even before her professional work day began. Yet she was flawlessly attired and not a hair was out of place. The local trains and buses in Mumbai were — and still are — full of such women. Today there is so much discussion about whether women can have it all — and that is the right dialogue to be having. But there is something about her stoic simplicity, work ethic, and uncomplaining attitude which has taught me so much about self-reliance and just getting things done.
I also greatly admire Chandrika Tandon. She became the first Indian woman partner at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. But, being an amateur musician myself, what I find fascinating about her is that she gave up a very successful career as a management consultant, followed her passion for music despite having been away from it for a long time, and is now a Grammy nominated singer.
What are typical situations in which you get to show off your leadership qualities?
I face a variety of situations on a daily basis where I have to use a great deal of influence and collaborative effort to effect a particular outcome. Whether it is convincing my partners to vote in favor of financing a new deal or influencing organizational and strategic changes within my portfolio companies or managing investor expectations — every day presents new leadership challenges. And, since I serve on several boards at once — to be really effective, I have to constantly adapt to the unique dynamic of each company and leadership team.
Are there any habits or rituals that make you feel at the top of your game before a public appearance, a client meeting, or a critical team meeting?
I spend a lot of time developing the concept for my presentations as my audience can be so varied (entrepreneurs, investors, general public who know very little about venture capital) and their interests are often very different. My most effective tool is a good sounding board. For important meetings, I use my husband and close friends and take their feedback on everything — my talk, my outfit, even my expressions when I am presenting. There is no substitute for that kind of upfront preparation and practice.
If you have to get a group of people excited, what works best for you?
For me, motivating people comes from being passionate about my work and a single-minded focus on end goals. As an investor in early stage, very risky companies, I deal with a lot of uncertainty and constantly shifting business realities. Being personally committed to the final outcome — which is not just financial return but also saving lives with the products we fund — is absolutely key to energizing others. We just raised a new fund and getting investors excited about investing in “idea stage” healthcare companies — at a time when investors are very cautious about venture capital in general – was extremely challenging. But the passion we (my VC partners and I) share for bringing to market important solutions to big clinical problems was a major factor in helping us get to our goal.
If we asked the people around you what your leadership style was, what words do you think would come up?
Decisive, Unafraid, Independent Thinker
What are some of your go-to outfits, hair or makeup styles that make you feel most confident in any business situation?
I love Ellie Tahari – a well-cut dress or a skirt and jacket are my favorites for a formal presentation or investor conference. On a day-to-day basis though, I try to keep things very simple and prefer jeans and shirts. In my job, it is important to look pleasant and approachable. Entrepreneurs, particularly scientific founders of companies want to work with people they can relate to.
If you were giving a piece of advice to a group of young women about to embark on their careers, what would it be?
- Take risks – there is no time like the present
- Know your business inside and out
- Listen carefully to everyone around you but do only what you think is right
- Most importantly, be nice to everyone regardless of position and stature – there is no upside in rudeness and you never know who could be of help in the future
Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us, Darshana.
Check out the other interviews in the Leadership, Stylish series. And share it if you found it inspiring.