May 25, 2021
W.L. Mellon Speaker Series: Gunjan Kedia Defines Where She Belongs
Gunjan Kedia (MSIA '94), Vice Chair of U.S. Bank Wealth Management and Investment Services at U.S. Bancorp, spoke on March 3, 2021, as part of the W.L. Mellon Speaker Series at the Tepper School.
Ms. Kedia has navigated many difficult pathways that often lie ahead of women from other countries who are trying to find success in a globalized American economy. Now the Vice Chair of U.S. Bank Wealth Management and Investment Services at U.S. Bancorp, Kedia might appear to outsiders as though she has seamlessly built her career, but she is adamant that has never been the case for anyone. Significantly, she says, it’s the tumbles and downturns that have shaped her success.
“Your resume is all about the peaks that you achieve in your life, which happen sporadically,” she said. “People forget that a lot of character and skill is built in the valleys, not in the peaks. The peaks happen because of lessons learned in the downtime.”
Reconstructing Obstacles as Opportunities
While Kedia’s career journey might especially resonate with international students, her insights are universal and demonstrate why everyone can benefit from hearing from diverse perspectives.
Growing up in Delhi, India, she chose to study engineering partially to make a point since few women entered the program. After graduating from the Delhi School of Engineering, Kedia was accepted to Carnegie Mellon University’s MBA program. It was thrilling for her to come to America to learn, but navigating a new culture was challenging. Luckily, being one of the few women in her engineering program had taught her how to embrace her own obstacles and accept that others must face their own challenges, too.
“Have the confidence that people who seem to be homogeneous or of the majority have their own differences,” she said. “Many of them are showing up to an advanced education for the first time, many of them have never left their hometown. There are stories behind everyone, so believe that about yourself.”
Kedia leaned into a network of friends and classmates to help discern subtle cultural differences such as how to eat in a professional setting or discuss national sports during job interviews. Ultimately, though, she realized her greatest strength in relating to others came from taking interest in their business and being able to articulate how she could improve it. This set her on a path that included leadership roles at McKinsey & Company, BNY Mellon, State Street Corporation, and now U.S. Bancorp.
“My experience with diversity was that it was an amplifier of all things wrong and all things right,” she explained. “When I did something well, I sometimes felt I got extraordinary kudos for it because of the context of not being from this country, of being a woman, and being a person of color. The wisdom I gained was to first make my presence felt somewhat unapologetically instead of waiting to be asked to speak up or being defensive about the fact that my opinions were different."
Strong Leadership Is Always Rooted in Humility
Kedia’s ability to announce her presence while still keenly observing others has helped launch her into a leadership role at U.S. Bancorp.
“A lot of leadership is really about watching what's happening,” she said. “Life in the C-suite is really one of real humility.” The financial world is hardly a static place, as recently illustrated by the goliath changes already set in motion by the COVID-19 pandemic or from erratic investor activity such as the recent Gamestop short squeeze. Kedia believes that strong leaders must be prepared to accommodate these sudden dramatic changes while easing the burden of pivoting for those below them.
“Most of us [in the C-suite] are not people with swagger and arrogance,” she laughed. “Most of us are listening, learning, and trying to understand how to help people along the way. We’re very aware of the responsibility we shoulder for a lot of people's livelihoods, hopes, and aspirations.”