My name is Monica Verma, and I am an Operations professional in the finance industry. I currently work at PIMCO, where I am an Executive Vice President in Investment Operations. I help to oversee pre- and post-trade operations, which means that for any transaction, we try to make sure that they are recorded, processed, and accounted for in the best of class manner that we have been known to represent. I love what I do, and I love my two children as well. I have two wonderful, wacky girls, and I love trying to being able to inspire other children to succeed.
I have both a personal and professional legacy. On a personal level, I would like to make sure that I leave the world better than when I came into it. That involves my children becoming good global citizens, and learning to be kind and learning to be always active and trying to be the best they can be. On a professional level, I would like to make sure that whatever company I leave, we are the best in class for operations.
Tell us about your career journey.
My career journey has been long and winding. I graduated from MIT with an Engineering Degree, but while I was there I was working for a professor doing research on Environmental Policy and Economics. So I got a scholarship to the University of Michigan, where I got a Masters in Environmental Policy and Economics. That led to starting out as an environmental activist, organizing protests against large oil companies, and I didn’t really find what I was looking for there.
So I started working back more in the engineering area, and moved to cleaning up superfund sites, to assessing environmental risks of oil and gas companies. And that gave me an idea that I really needed to have a bit more of a business sense if I was going to be actually looking at the discounted cash flows of properties and assessing where those environmental risks might be and the costs of those risks in 20 years.
So I went to business school – I graduated from Harvard Business School – and at that point, I wanted to stay in the energy industry. So, I went into wholesale energy trading where I eventually became a portfolio manager. I was the only female portfolio manager on the trade floor for five years. And then I took a step back to assess what I really loved. And when I moved to New York, I got into financial operations.
So it’s kind of winding, kind of all over the place, but I learned very early on that you need to try whatever opportunities come your way and really look at those opportunities from an experiential standpoint. You learn a lot about yourself, about where your core strengths lie, what your passions are, and you gain the confidence and faith in yourself that you can pretty much do anything.
What are your top accomplishments?
Probably one of the most precious compliments that my mother gave me when I was graduating from business school was that she was proud of me to have become a good global citizen. And it struck me at that point how she placed the highest value on that characteristic of humanity. So I think that’s probably one of my most precious accomplishments. I’m hoping to pass that quality onto my daughters, who are my second most precious accomplishment.
And lastly, I think it would be worth noting that I have assembled the most diverse team in our company. And it’s a team of every walk of life, every inclination, and pretty much every single ethnicity. We have men and women from the African-American community, Asian, Hispanic; every sort of diverse community you can think of. And so it serves as a shining example within the company of how to really assemble a diverse team.
The team is considered one of the best performing teams in terms of metrics, in terms of teamwork, in terms of maturity, in terms of the length that we’ve had each of the members of that team. Most people have been with the company for over five, six, ten years. Our error rates are incredibly low, we are largely considered to be the best in class in terms of financial operations. You hear the comment again and again, ‘If PIMCO is doing it, it’s probably something we should get on board with.’ So I think that’s a pretty good track record.
Tell us about your background and how it influenced your success.
I am a first-generation Indian American. I grew up in the Midwest with a fairly decent community, progressing from a fairly small community of Indians through to a decently sized group of Indians. So I got a chance to see what it was like before – where the influences or the knowledge about ethnicities wasn’t incredibly there – to a generally accepted community of certain ethnicities.
I think being able to see that progression, and the inroads that we have made as a general community, gives me hope. And I like to think that hope is central to everything that we look at in terms of the business community and diversity in the business community - from the standpoint of awareness and sharing your cultural beliefs, from the standpoint of confidence and the idea that ‘you are who you are.’ And those are assets. Those aren’t things that need to be subdued to fit in.
On the P.O.L.I.N.G.® Principles
The P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles absolutely resonate with me. They represent all of the aspects of what a person would want to be – to be a good global citizen, to be the best they can be both professionally and personally. So all of the elements are incredibly powerful, it’s just a matter of us achieving them on a regular basis.
If I think of the P.O.L.I.N.G.® principles, I would have to say a few of them resonate with me personally. I chair the New York board of an organization called PowerMyLearning; PML is a national non-profit organization whose mission is to help underprivileged children increase the quality of their education through technology and through building communities in support of their educational experience. Those communities are teachers, they are the parents, they are all of the services that help underprivileged children succeed and (P)ersevere as well.
So there’s helping (O)thers as the chairperson, (L)eading where this organization goes, leading the other people on the Board, and in terms of what direction do we need to go in fundraising, all of those different experiences associated with being on a board. And (I)nspiring the children that we work with. There’s all of the volunteering experiences, there are the examples that we can provide, there’s the achievement that we can applaud for each of those different students.
One of the core tasks that we have as a board member is (N)etworking and building awareness of PowerMyLearning. So it’s an incredible opportunity to reach out to our networks, to further develop those networks, and talk about something that inspires us and that is causing a ripple effect of diverse students succeeding.
On the P.O.W.E.R.® Principles
The P.O.W.E.R.® principles are a great framework for someone who is looking at juggling a bunch of different aspects of their life, whether it’s family or other interests, with your professional life.
Looking at your (P)riorities is obviously something that someone needs to assess when you have limited time in the day. When I look at (O)bligations, you have an idea of where your priorities lie, you’re aware of where your different obligations are, and you start to think of how you’re going to manage those obligations. You then can use the P.O.W.E.R.® framework to really assess what’s (W)orthwhile. What matters the most to you? And obviously for me it’s my children, it’s my family; it’s getting to spend as much time as I can enriching their lives as well as mine by a byproduct of that.
But it’s also to be able to pay forward all of the privileges that I’ve been able to achieve. But again you need the (E)nergy to do that. So the ‘E’ for P.O.W.E.R.® is: Is what you are currently doing energizing you? I currently love what I do. I come to work every day and I am inspired by the people around me. I love what I get to explore. I love the opportunity to be able to explore all of the different aspects of it – processes and project management, and figuring out problems and putting out fire drills. That’s what energizes me on a daily basis.
From a work perspective I am energized, and obviously spending time with your children is one of the most energizing things one can think of. A little counterintuitive, but when you sit back and think about it, that’s an incredibly amazing experience, at least for me. And even when we look at all of the children we impact through PowerMyLearning, it’s amazing to see how much of a difference we are making in their lives. To see the kids who have gone on to college, who have made it through college and are now starting their own businesses, even.
(R)esources is obviously one of those things you have to think about, because no one can do it all. And recognizing that no one can do it all is one of the first steps to figuring out what your resources are. And that should drive everything that you do; take advantage of all the resources that you have. Don’t shun the help.
Who have been your biggest influences?
My family has really had such a deep impact on who I am, my accomplishments, my outlook in life, my life philosophies in general. My mother was the first female in her family to not get married before the age of 18 – she went on a hunger strike to for her family to let her go to college and medical school. So I think, as a result of that experience, I did not have the traditional Indian upbringing per se. My mother’s philosophy was to make sure that everything my brother did, I did as well. Whether it’s playing ice hockey on a boys’ team to playing soccer, to joining debate for a fairly introverted person; anything and everything that he experienced, I also had the chance to experience.
So I think that had an extremely formative impact on my general philosophy on how I’m bringing up my girls, and also just the idea that I now have enough faith in myself to try everything. To believe in the equality across the board. In that way it was definitely non traditional.
My father grew up in poverty and eventually made his way to becoming a doctor, but he never forgot his roots. And he’s always volunteered in developing countries, he’s always volunteered his services. He stays so active, just intellectually active; he has never stopped trying to give back or to try anything. I think that’s where the idea of ‘take what life gives you’ comes from and that philosophy.
My brother has always been my idol. He’s kind, he’s witty, he’s amazing, he’s just a great father as well. And so I’ve taken his philosophy to heart quite a bit. His idea of life is ‘the best we can do in life is to set ourselves up for success.’ Opportunities will come our way, but if we aren’t prepared to take advantage of those opportunities, then we haven’t done our part.
What career advice would you give your younger self?
If I had to give some advice to my younger self, I would say, ‘Network, and network hard.’ From a very early stage, those connections that you make will provide you with mentors. They’ll provide you with sponsors. They’ll provide you with perspective, as well.
As someone who comes from a background where we have no business sense whatsoever, and no idea (with immigrant parents) how you build businesses or how you operate within the business world, I really had no guidance from that standpoint. And I think networking and informational interviews, reaching out through your network, developing those deeper connections, will have an incredible impact. They really just accelerate your career.
What is your call to action for regarding diversity in the workplace?
In terms of a call to action, I think it should begin on a very personal level. People need to first recognize within themselves what their unconscious bias may or may not be. Recognizing that is probably the first step, and this [iD] website helps build awareness of that. Look at where all of these different people have come from. Look at where they are making an impact in the world. And understand who your team is, and who around you is competing with or combating those biases.
Beyond the personal exploration of your unconscious biases, look at your corporation. Look at where you work. Do they have a robust diversity program, and if they have a type of robust diversity program then they have the right processes in place. When you are going through anything, let those processes take their course. Take advantage of those processes, and understand how those processes were built in such a way to inspire diversity. If your company does not have a robust diversity program, then push for it. The only one thing that we can do is be the squeaky wheel at this point. And make sure that your company makes the change.
What is something that no one would guess about you?
Something that people would not guess about me is that on all of the personality tests, and according to my husband as well, I’m a pretty big introvert. And I think there’s a misconception of what exactly is an introvert. Introverts are people who process and think internally, versus extroverts who can vocalize a lot of their thoughts and think through vocalizing. But that's a diverse community and that has an incredible impact on building teams as well, and looking at teams and recognizing what those different viewpoints bring to the table and how you can leverage them to be more effective.
In an ideal world, we would be diverse not just on the level of outside looks or backgrounds or proclivities; it would also be to the point of recognizing what is that person’s personality and being able to leverage that and being able to value that. Look at it from the standpoint of, here is a person and here are all their different qualities, and here’s how I can most effectively help them to be the best that they can be. And I think that’s what this Inspiring Diversity website is all about. It’s about bringing that awareness to who we are. Looking at people on a more fundamental level, and leveraging those values, and recognizing and applauding those values through the difference.
Monica Verma on being Indian American
I like being an Indian American. I get the best of both worlds, in my eyes. I get to take advantage of this rich cultural history of dance, of music, of religion, everything in our daily lives. But I’m an American. At the heart of it, I am part of this amazing country, this amazing melting pot. And there’s so much that we can achieve.
Monica Verma on Diwali
Diwali, at the heart of it, is the celebration of the triumph of good versus evil, of light over darkness. There’s a number of religious stories behind it, but at the very heart of it, it is that celebration as the festival of lights, of good prevailing in the world. So during Diwali, we light candles. Various parts of India have different traditions, but everyone lights candles, everyone fires off fireworks. It’s like the 4th of July in India, there’s so many fireworks for days. We actually have three or four days of celebrations for Diwali. There’s a number of different religious ceremonies that you go through every day. You buy new clothes for your children. You buy some silver – you’re supposed to buy silver, that’s supposed to be auspicious for your house. You pray to your account books as well because this is the New Year – it tends to be the new fiscal year as well for many companies in India. And in some cultures or some areas of India, they gamble on that night because part of it is praying to the Goddess Lakshmi, who is the goddess of wealth and abundance, as we start our new year.