Posted at 11:03 AM
Ed. note: This post is part of the Spotlight on Commerce series highlighting members of the Department of Commerce and their contributions to the Open for Business Agenda.
Guest blog post by Pravina Raghavan, Senior Advisor to the Deputy Secretary of Commerce
When my parents took the risk to leave everything they knew behind in India and start a new life in the U.S. as graduate students, they never contemplated that their daughter would take a similar risk to expand her horizons many years later.
Growing up, my parents encouraged me to ask questions, dig deeper, never give up, and most importantly to take risks. That wise advice may have been something that they regretted encouraging. I will never forget their shocked faces when I said I was leaving my lucrative investment banking job to go into business for myself with one client and a couple of partners in city 3,000 miles away from home.
The decision to leave my job to start my own business in London was not the first risk that I took in regards to my career. My time in London initially came out of a rotational assignment that was supposed to last for 6 months and turned into almost 9 years of adventure and afforded me amazing opportunities. During those years, I developed and honed my skills in strategy, negotiation, and business development by helping diverse technology companies grow to become household names and go public. I would never have been able to take that risk to move to London without the encouragement from my parents and sister to find work that made me happy and fulfilled.
After I ran a successful business, I decided to take another risk and move back home to NJ/NYC. I took a leap of faith and applied for a federal job in NYC. My sister encouraged me to make the switch from the private sector to the federal government because I could use my talents to help thousands of small businesses instead of the 20-30 that I could work within one year. Fortunately, I actually made it through the USAJobs process and became the NY District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). My district was the largest SBA office with over $1BN in loans and then I became the Deputy Associate Administrator for Investment and Innovation and ran a private equity program with $21 BN of assets under management and $3BN in R&D grants.
My passion for strategy and execution has always propelled me to take on more risks and learn more which eventually led me to my current position at the U.S. Department of Commerce. I feel very privileged to work with the Deputy Secretary Bruce H. Andrews and his team to help solve some sticky situations and also to help grow new initiatives and programs. The tasks are varied and touch upon so many facets of planning, execution, negotiations, strategy setting and creative problem solving. Now, instead of helping only small businesses, I also help larger businesses and overall communities prosper.
During most of my career, whether I was the head of M&A in Europe and Asia, chief negotiator with the European Union, or Vice President at MTVN Networks, I have felt like a woman in a man's world. However, I feel like I have found a home in the federal government because I am among so many amazing women leaders. One thing that I tell women (of many ages) is that in any context, you have to fight for yourself and your career. As part of my business, I used to negotiate contracts on behalf of clients, and it always amazed me how strong women leaders would not advocate for themselves as successfully as they would for their companies or products. Sometimes the hardest one to fight for is yourself.
That is why I encourage women (and men) to remember to negotiate and fight for your worth, whether it is for your salary, your position, a project or your work/life balance. It is old but true adage - you are your best advocate. One of the reasons that I have been successful in my career is that I am willing to take that risk - to ask for what I am worth and fight for it. When I have been told no, I either figure out another way or pursue a better opportunity where my worth will be respected. There are a million reasons why people do not advocate for themselves, but I have found you need to take the risk so that you can achieve your goals.
It is not always easy to ask for what you are worth and you need to find the courage to believe in yourself and also have a faith in your abilities. We all have unique talents and we should be proud to share them where we can feel respected, happy and fulfilled.
The spirit of risk taking, pushing yourself and achieving your dream is why my family and I love to go to the Olympics and World Cup. It is exhilarating and fun to watch athletes take risk and push themselves to achieve their best. As T.S. Eliot wrote "Only those who will risk going too far can possible find out how far one can go."
This pushing of oneself is what brought me to the federal government. Working both in SBA and the U.S. Department of Commerce has provided me with the opportunity to influence and assist thousands of businesses. It was a risk worth taking because I knew that my worth no longer mattered in dollars cents way but in being able to give giving back to a community and environment which always helped me succeed.