POWER SISTERS PART II: GRISHMA & PUJA PAREKH
Grishma and Puja Parekh are first generation Indian-American sisters that seem to have an electric current running in them, and between them. Their children were born on the same day, they finish each other’s sentences, and they are both business leaders in the same niche area of finance – private credit. Grishma recently joined HPS Investment Partners after almost thirteen years at The Carlyle Group where she was a partner, Head of Origination for Illiquid Credit, and a member of the investment committee for the direct lending business. Puja is a Managing Director at MidCap Financial, an affiliate of Apollo Capital Management based in Washington, DC. There’s a connection between them that is impossible to ignore. Is it coincidence they both ended up on such parallel paths? We sat down with Grishma and Puja to see how one family raised two high-achieving women with so much in common, as well as what makes them each unique.
ON THEIR UPBRINGING
Grishma: Our parents emigrated from India when I was three years old. It was the quintessential immigrant story: they came to this country with very little financially, in search of bigger opportunities and a better future for their children. They made enormous sacrifices and, as a result, there were certain expectations that were placed on us. It was clear that our successes were also their successes and vice versa, our failures were a reflection on them. After a decade in Queens we moved to Jericho, Long Island, which was the single most transformative experience for me. I remember looking at my new classmates and thinking that they were living the American dream, and I so badly wanted a piece of it. I think a hunger and determination was planted in me then.
Puja: I am five years younger so my lens is a bit different than Grishma’s. When I remember back to myself as a young kid, I remember both my parents commuting to Manhattan daily while adapting to the “American way”. There were often trying times balancing expectations from them and from friends. Grishma as an older sister provided guidance and buffered my parents expectations of me during these times so much so that I now joke that Grish also raised me. I have been fortunate to have not only a strong set of parents who took a huge risk by moving to this country, but an older sister who helped me navigate my childhood.
THEIR MOTHER, THE UNEXPECTED PILLAR
Grishma: My mom is hands down my biggest role model, but she would be shocked to hear that. I don’t think she really gives herself credit for all that she is capable of and everything she achieved. Throughout her life she wanted to be a mom and a homemaker, but life circumstances required her to work. A few years after my sister was born, she began taking gemology courses in hopes of finding a job in the trade. I don’t think she expected to get a “real job”, let alone one that would be an important financial contributor to our family for the next twenty years.
Puja: Our mother was a lot of things – a mom, a working professional, a mentor, and a best friend. As was common in their generation and in many ways still common, she did not assert her authority in public but was truly the backbone of our family. As I have become an adult and a mother myself, I now realize the extent of her ambition and drive not only for herself, but for her family. I still recall as child her coming home from work, cooking home-cooked meals for dinner, and being in the stands for our volleyball games.
THEIR FATHER, THE ENTREPRENEUR
Grishma: Our father had two things running through his veins – entrepreneurialism and gemstones, much like his father. In the late 90s our father decided to venture off on his own and start a business, the same year I was going to college. At the time, I resented him for it because I knew the additional financial and mental burden it would place on our home. While it wasn’t easy at all, and it still isn’t, I don’t think he ever felt like it was “work”. I admire his hustle, his ability to see the glass as half full, and his thirst for life.
Puja: My dad would never say “no” or that he couldn’t do something, and he has instilled that in us now as well. I became more risk-averse seeing what my dad went through, and how tough it was. I commend him for having the conviction and boldness to start a business, but it also made me see firsthand the tribulations of being an entrepreneur and business owner.
ON HIGH OCTANE CAREERS
Grishma: I think I have always liked to test my own boundaries and had something to prove to myself. I originally intended to do pre-med, but my dad redirected me because he saw a little of him in me and thought I would be best served entering the business world. I am grateful for his open-mindedness, especially for someone that came from a generation where being a doctor was the most prestigious path to pursue. I think my career is some combination of hard work, great role models, a bit of luck, and good timing.
Puja: She’ll say I copied her, but that wasn’t quite the case. After college I chose investment banking because I knew it would allow me to pursue almost anything else after. After two years at Goldman Sachs, I was equipped with critical skills in understanding business fundamentals and time management. At the end of those two years I intended to go into private equity, but the Great Recession had other plans and I found myself in private credit. Given the growth of the asset class, I agree with Grishma that we are fortunate to have found ourselves at the right place at the right time.
ON FAMILY AND PARTNERSHIPS
Puja: I cherished my childhood and that my mother made such an effort to be present in my life despite working full-time. I am fortunate to have found a partner with whom I share a similar vision. While we both have busy careers, we have found ways to prioritize our family (our daughter and dog) without sacrificing career goals. We have prioritized family dinners, weekend activities, and traditions which contribute to a sense of family. Given the nature of the workplace today, it is impossible to have enough time for everything so we have tried our best to capture quality over quantity when it comes to time.
Grishma: The only way careers this demanding can work is with the right partner. My husband has been a major supporter of my career in the most important way: sharing the FULL load of parenthood with me. Our household is a 50/50 division of labor. There are times where he takes ownership of restocking the pantry or getting the groceries or going to the pediatrician. His meetings or business trips don’t trump mine by default. And he is even starting to help with the “invisible work” that typically falls on the shoulders of moms (although this is still very much a work in progress!).
DO WE HAVE HOBBIES?
Puja: Far less than we would like, but our personal interests are very similar. We are avid readers, we love to travel, we find organization to be incredibly cathartic, and we are interested in nutrition and wellness. I personally want to learn to golf.
Grishma: Our hobbies live within the little whitespace that we have between building our careers, tending to our families, and embracing some self-care, which means there isn’t a lot of hobbying happening. But I am fine with that – different periods require different things and I am sure there will be a time where I can embrace some of my other interests more.
ON FINDING BALANCE
Puja: The benefit of being five years younger is that I watched my sister, my dad, and my mom. I embraced the attributes I really liked while being very much aware of what didn’t work for me and setting that aside. The way I achieve “balance” is by microplanning. I try to map out my day before I go to bed down to the last detail and execute that game plan the next day. Of course, the unexpected arises everyday, but this allows me to limit the amount of wasted time.
Grishma: Balance is sort of a unicorn although Puj gets pretty darn close to achieving it. I’m amazed by her. The way I have tried to design my life is by giving an oversized amount of time to the one or two things that need it the most. And that can change day to day, week to week, and month to month. For example, right now I have a big opportunity at a big platform and that is what needs me. If tomorrow my son gets sick, my attention will be redirected to healing him with lots of TLC. And that is how I imagine the next bunch of years will go. Someday I’ll slow down, but I feel like I’m at an important juncture in my career and journey through motherhood and I like to push hard.
ON ATTENDING THE 2019 KAYO CREDIT CONFERENCE
Puja: It’s hard to find time for just the two of us. We always have either our husbands, our friends, our kids, or our parents around. It’s very, very rare where it’s just the two of us. We took advantage of that to the fullest at the Kayo Conference. We hope to do that again every year now.
Co-Authored by Meg Miller and Lindsay Burton