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Monica Chandra, Co-Founder And President Of Turnright.com

Nirmala Garimella

TurnRight President and Co-founder Monica Chandra left her homeland of India nearly 25 years ago, and came to study at Boston College on a scholarship for which she is extremely grateful. " It was a wonderful opportunity for me coming from a middle class background to be able to study here. To many of us it is a dream come true", she says.

She has over 25 years of senior management experience spanning innovative startups and large financial services firms.  Monica held senior roles at Fidelity Investments within the firm’s Retirement Services and Personal Investing businesses including Executive Vice President of Defined Contribution Product Development and Senior Vice President for Human Resources Strategy & Planning.  She is credited with the introduction of several award-winning Web-based products in the U.S. and leveraging those solutions into Fidelity’s European operations. 

Monica has worked for many years assisting students at her alma mater as well as young professionals in the organizations she has worked for.  She was recognized for her efforts in 2007 with the Distinguished Alumni Award from Boston College’s Carroll School of Management.

I spoke to Monica on her journey, what drives her to excel, the challenges that woman face and her likes and passions.

The Beginnings

One of the strongest passions that I have is to experience all parts of business. My first job was in sales in a company in Mumbai. Even for someone who loves a challenge I soon found out how difficult a job it was for a woman. Our company offered color TV’s and electronics and many incentives but in spite of all that it was hard business to sell. The one thing I learnt  from this experience is  that sales provides  you with the best learning ground, teaches you discipline, how to represent your product and to work with people with different backgrounds.

When I came to Boston College to do a MBA on a scholarship , It was the only school that allowed me to do an accelerated program in one year. I remember the Dean saying to me that I was crazy. I practically lived on campus, attending classes both day and night. I completed the two year program in one year.

On family life and support

I got married half way through my MBA to Nitin. We knew each other in India and he was here doing his PhD at MIT at the same time I was doing my MBA. We went back to India and got married in the proper Indian fashion with tons of family and friends. We came back to Boston and have been here for more than 25 years. In fact we celebrated our 25th anniversary in Egypt recently and enjoyed our time there. The country is truly fascinating.

Hitting the Entrepreneurial Bug

 My background has always been in large companies and startups. I co-founded a Software company very early in my career and did that for a few years.  It was a tremendous learning experience, although I think I was not fully prepared for it. I then went to work for Fidelity and while I was there I started my second company. I had the luxury of being in a startup before and after working for a large company   you acquire certain skills– the discipline of a large company and using your entrepreneurial spirit to know how to move things quickly.

The Turning Point

At Fidelity I was giving financial advice and had reached a point where I decided that I wanted to go back to startup mode again.  I  have always enjoyed leveraging technology to do something good. I found an opportunity in career advice . My sense was most college students don’t know what career path that they need to take – Things are better now than ever before yet students go through the college and wake up with the reality that they need to get a job.  In most colleges, there may be one counselor for a hundred students. The colleges that are not elite do not have strong alumni networks or the means and resources. These are students who are first generation kids and don’t know what majors to choose, who to approach. 

 I wanted to apply my background in financial advice and my passion for using technology to solve interesting problems. My colleague Bob Phillips and I decided to start a company that would provide advice and mentorship to students and young professionals embarking on their career paths.That was the vision for Turnright ( www.turnright.com). We are now in beta mode and have filed for a patent. The idea behind it to work with Universities so we can create a circle of advisers where students can seek  career advice from mentors, ask questions, seek advice and reach to out other mentors. Our target groups are local institutes and community colleges in New England. 

Challenges you have faced along the way

You cannot do it all. You need a strong support system at home especially when both partners have careers. I was fortunate to have a wonderful nanny at home who took care of my two children for 17 years. I am very grateful to her. For Nitin and I there was never any question of whose career comes first. We both travelled often and had busy lives so we had to learn to balance our family responsibilities. As for my husband’s support, whenever I have wavered and analyzed what I wanted to do next, he has always told me, “Of course you can do this”.  We have been equal partners in this journey together.

Advice to women who would like to have a successful career

Try to figure out a strong support system. Both husband and wife must encourage each other’s aspirations Find a day care if that helps. Maintain a good balance on what works well for you as there is no one right way of doing this.

Parenting tips

We need to evolve with our children. As parents we need to respect the boundaries as they grow giving them freedom as long they understand the limits. Trust is important but they should also know that if that is violated than it has consequences. With our children we have tried to be engaged in all their activities, encouraging and supporting them. You have to nurture the relationship.

Community involvement

Both Nitin and I are passionate about causes in education and health. We support many organizations like Dana Farber, the Avon walk and other nonprofits in the field of education in India. I give my time to mentor students at Boston College and helped start the Boston College Council of women where we provide one to one mentoring. We believe in giving back especially when we feel so blessed to have all this.

Favorite books and music

I love Bhangra music. We love art and have a lot of conversations on Art. I remain fascinated with how an artist can transform a blank canvas to something so beautiful with color and intrigue. I read a lot of business magazines. Books that  I have enjoyed are Salman Khan’ The One World Schoolhouse’ and Lean In’ by Sheryl Sandberg. Women is some sense face all the challenges she talks about and she raises many important questions.

Idea of Fun

We travel as a family quite a bit. Sometimes our parents join us and it is great for the kids to spend time with their grandparents.  We travel during spring and winter and always look for opportunities to travel for our children. We have visited many places around the Globe and we believe that travel is a big part of education and a humbling experience.

People who inspire you

My father in law, Nitin’s dad remains a huge inspiration; He came from humble beginnings, growing up in a village with no electricity, worked hard to ultimately become a CEO of a company. He is the most humble and nicest human being I ever know. I think humility is a very important trait.

Personal Philosophy

Work hard, play hard, enjoy every moment, you have the power to shape your own life.

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