SPOTLIGHT ON SHRUTI RAO, T’18
“It’s hard to really get excited about something until you understand the ‘what’ and the ‘why,’ which is much more compelling and easier to explain when you leverage the power of narrative.”
JULY 28, 2020 | BY LILY ZHU
Shruti graduated in 2018 with a Program II major in Global Value Chains and a certificate in Decision Sciences. She loved being a part of BOW and served in several roles on the executive board as well as Spring Business Conference chair. At Duke, she was also involved as a Baldwin scholar and is passionate about supporting women in business and in finance. She spent two years working in Investment Banking at JP Morgan and will start as a Private Equity associate at New Mountain Capital. She is also the host and producer of a podcast called, “Counting on Capital” about private capital.
What is your most meaningful accomplishment from your time at Duke?
I think a younger version of myself would answer this question by describing something that eventually ended up on my resume, like publishing an academic paper or creating my own Program II major.
However, now that I’ve spent two years in the “real world,” I find that my perspective has changed. While the academic achievements from my time at Duke were absolutely critical to my development, they are not what I am most proud of. Instead, I find myself proud of the deep relationships with students and professors that I forged and how I have been able to keep those relationships alive post-graduation.
I think you learn this as you get older, but there is always going to be another job interview or graduate school application or something else that you are vying for. The friendships and connections that I built at Duke have helped ground me. I’ve been able to call professors to discuss my next career steps and have had friends to cheer me on when I’m unsure of myself. More than anything I did inside the classroom, the community I built at Duke has prepared me for life after graduation and I am incredibly grateful for that.
How do you find a balance between mentorship/learning from others and forging your own career path?
Finding mentors who support you and help you learn is a critical part of forging your own career path. That being said, I think it’s really important to listen to your own voice and maintain your own sense of individuality even when you join a company or a team.
I think open, honest communication about who you are and what you are looking for in your career is key. That way, you can be a selective consumer of the knowledge and learning that your mentors and others are presenting to you and work toward building a career that you want, not the career that other people want for you.
You previously worked in investment banking at J.P. Morgan and are moving to a role in private equity at New Mountain Capital. Why did you decide to make the transition from investment banking to private equity?
One of the best things about starting your career in investment banking is that you get a great foundational skill set that can be transferred to a lot of other industries. Private equity is a pretty natural transition from investment banking and many recruiters (sometimes also ominously called “headhunters”) recruit young investment banking analysts for private equity. I think it’s really important for young bankers who are being recruited to be thoughtful about why they want to do private equity instead of just blindly assuming that this is what they are supposed to do.
I chose to go into private equity because I really wanted to get a hands-on approach to working with businesses. While investment banking teaches you a lot of the core, foundational skills in finance, it is also a service and client-oriented business. That means that you’re often doing transactions, but you’re not there to see how those deals actually play out. Private equity, on the other hand, actually delves into the businesses in their portfolio and allows you to really understand business from an operational perspective as well.
How do your values intersect with your career?
I recently read a book called Designing Your Life that leverages ideas from Stanford’s Design program to help people in their careers. One of the opening exercises of the book is to write out your “work values” and I had to reflect on basic questions like, “Why work?” “What does work mean?” and “What defines good, meaningful work?”
I won’t bore you with my entire answer, but I believe that work, at its finest, is a medium for one to engage meaningfully in society through a contribution of one’s skills and talents. It is a privilege for work to provide meaning and fulfillment and to align with a person’s higher ideals and goals. I think my values of authenticity and respect have really helped me in my career so far and have also helped me gain clarity on the kind of work and kind of career that I envision in my future.
Let’s discuss your new podcast on private capital and private equity, Counting on Capital: Private Equity Perspectives. What was your inspiration for the podcast, and what is your vision for it?
I love stories! To me, hosting a podcast was a chance to hear about private equity in a new way while featuring voices from different parts of the industry. This podcast is a space to better understand the private equity industry. We don't just ask, "What does private equity do?" but the more important question of "Why does it matter?" Often, young people who are interested in finance are told to read the Wall Street Journal or become experts at using macros in Excel. However, I think that it’s hard to really get excited about something until you understand the “what” and the “why,” which is much more compelling and easier to explain when you leverage the power of narrative.
This show tells the stories of people who study, work for and work in private equity. It is a three-part podcast series that takes a holistic look at private equity from three major perspectives. Part One features academics who research the private equity industry and share their findings on how private equity impacts job creation, innovation, and the economy as a whole. Part Two features founders and executives at private equity portfolio companies who share the stories of their founding and growth and provide a first-hand view on their experiences with their private equity partners. I think this is powerful because you don’t just read the financial statistics about different deals, but you actually hear the life story of someone who created a business and learn about why they chose to partner with private capital. Part Three features conversations with leaders at different private equity firms who share their career paths and their take on private equity’s role in the economy.
If you’re interested in the show, check it out here or listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify. Please feel free to reach out as I’d love to talk to anyone about the show and engage with listeners!
What are some of your key takeaways from creating and hosting your own podcast? What were the most difficult and fulfilling parts of the process? It was a very humbling experience! When I first set out to create the podcast I definitely didn’t appreciate the wide range of skills I’d need and I felt like I was flailing. I had almost no experience in audio editing, logo design, or RSS feeds and learned most things by doing research online and asking friends who had different skill sets for advice.
I think one of my key takeaways is how important it is to be resourceful, ask for help, and not be afraid to try something and fail. I also learned that I loved working on something that was my own creation that wasn’t an assignment or a work product—it’s just something I did because I was passionate about it and wanted to share it with the world. That’s the beauty of podcasting!
Another major takeaway is that if you’re respectful and proactive, you can get really cool people to talk to you. Part One of the show features some high profile professors who are big names in private capital research. I had no personal connections to them and reached out via cold emails and was impressed by how generous and open everyone was in sharing their time. The same has been true for other guests and often my conversations with the guests have continued even after I stop the record button. I think the lesson here is don’t be afraid to reach out to someone and pursue your passions!
What is something you’re passionate about, aside from your job? How are you pursuing that passion?
I am really passionate about political engagement and encouraging people to engage in democracy. I’m a strong believer that while we should derive purpose in our careers, we are also more than just our jobs and our contribution to society shouldn’t be limited by our job description. I’m a volunteer with Vote Save America, a great organization that facilitates virtual campaigning in key battleground states, and have adopted North Carolina! If anyone is interested in getting involved in politics this election, this is a great socially-distanced way to become engaged.
Also, my sister and I have become foster parents with a Washington D.C.-based non-profit called Lucky Dog Animal Rescue and fostered our first puppy, Molly! She is the cutest black lab-mix puppy and the single best thing that has happened to us during quarantine.