As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about strong women leaders who attained success with their incredible ideas, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rita Kakati-Shah.
Rita wears many hats; she handles her company sole-handedly. Yet, she has literally impacted the lives of thousands of women, children, and girls worldwide. Rita also hosts The Uma Show on Mana TV International, lifting the voices of other inspiring South Asian women role models.
Many thanks for doing this for us; please let our users know about yourself?
It’s a pleasure, thank you for having me! I’m a born and bred Londoner with Assamese heritage who now lives in New York City. I helm a coaching, strategy, and training platform – Uma – that empowers confidence, inspires success and builds leadership and resilience in women and minorities around the world. I have also co-authored books on women in business, diversity, and inclusion; sit on numerous advisory boards; guest lecture at various universities; speak at policy forums and conferences; and mentor schoolgirls, women in STEM, C-Suite leadership, senior executives, military veterans and spouses, and survivors of domestic violence.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Uma was founded in response to my personal journey. I started my career on the equities trading floor of Goldman Sachs in London and, being one of the very few women and of a minority background, became involved in diversity and inclusion issues straightaway. After a decade at the firm, I transitioned careers into the pharmaceutical and drug development industry, which took me to New York, where I relocated to after getting married. I have two children and transitioned to full-time motherhood when they were born, which was the toughest of my career choices to date! I founded Uma in response to all of these experiences, with confidence being at the foundation of the work that we do. We mentor and coach women and minorities in career strategy, communications and negotiations, with confidence and empowerment at the root. We coach management and leadership at companies, too, with corporate training focused around confidence, communications, and empathy to create a sustainably diverse and inclusive workplace.
What is the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
I attended a women’s networking event in NYC when I was ready to explore transitioning back to the paid workforce again. I donned a nametag which proudly displayed “SAHM” as my place of work. An attendee approached me, and when I responded to her question of my nametag acronym standing for “Stay at Home Mother,” she turned around and walked away. Shellshocked was an understatement of how I felt. But rather than leave, I decided to follow the attendee and ask her why she reacted that way. She had no idea that was her actual reaction and was embarrassed. She explained that as she was in a rush, she wanted to network with folks from a very specific industry without giving any consideration to how she communicated or would come across.
What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?
I like to get up and go for a walk, or if that isn’t an option, then listening to music that I can dance to really does the trick.
What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?
Switching off is the hardest as you are always thinking about your work. In many ways, I equate being an entrepreneur to having a newborn baby, as there are no set sleeping patterns yet!
What is the best business advice you would like to give someone planning to start out?
Don’t rush. Take the time to jot down your ideas, revenue stream anticipated start-up costs, etc. Having a roadmap early on really helps down the line when you may need to put together a business plan for raising finances or pitching to investors.
What challenges did you face at the start of your business?
I had only worked in corporations before, so I was used to coming to an office and going straight into checking emails. When starting Uma and getting myself a laptop, I soon realized that turning it on wouldn’t miraculously have my email account on there. I needed to get myself a domain name, host server, web designer first. From not having to deal with technical issues to become the Chief Technical Officer, and similarly CFO, COO, and HR Head overnight was interesting, to say the least!
What would you say are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur, and why?
- Vision: This is what keeps you going. Start by outlining the problem you are trying to address, then your vision for the solution and why you are equipped to address it. ,
- Resilience: You will hear the word “no” a lot. It is important to keep your vision in mind and your “why” for doing what you are doing in order to stay focused and not give up.
- Patience: It can be frustrating starting as an entrepreneur, so you need to keep your vision in mind, harden your outer shell and persevere.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it a sacrifice, but reallocating my time and prioritizing my personal/family life around my work schedule can be tricky without having a structured calendar across the multiple time zones I work across.
What does the world need more of? Less of?
In this age of empowerment, it is easy to forget that there is often a fine line between empowerment and entitlement. While having a voice should be encouraged, it is important to take the time to take a pause and listen first, acknowledging what you have just heard before offering up your point. Leading with kindness, empathy, and decency is such an effective tool all around.
What is an important lesson you’ve learned from running your own business?
In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?
I have two young children, and they are the future leaders of tomorrow. The work I do at Uma and how I am today shape their future direction. With this in mind, there can be no room for self-doubt.
What helps you stay driven and motivated to keep going in your business?
I do not forget me “why” for doing what I do. I have seen firsthand the fruits of building on confidence and communications with the women and minorities I work with and seeing that change, that moment when they truly feel empowered and let their inner Goddess of Go-GettingTM shine, is priceless.
You are the face of your business, so everything you say or do could end up on social media. It is worth reminding ourselves that while we may not be able to control situations, we are in control of our reactions and the words we use to convey those.
A positive affirmation?
As our tagline mentions, Be Bold. Be You. Be Uma. TM
What does success mean to you?
Success is having the mindset of perseverance that is set with a passionate and flexible attitude in order to achieve a milestone or goal that is important to you and set by you.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.