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A Sharpshooter in the Spotlight

Office of Student Affairs Spotlight Series: Roopa Unnikrishnan

Roopa Unnikrishnan on panel

It’s a little exhausting even just listing Roopa Unnikrishnan’s accomplishments: Oxford graduate, Rhodes Scholar, founder of her own successful consulting business with numerous Fortune 500 companies on its client roster. But let’s not forget mother of twins, published poet, and cooking blogger — oh — and the holder of a few prestigious sports awards just to round things out. Before coming to the U.S., Unnikrishnan was India’s top woman rifle-shooter, standing atop the podium at the Commonwealth Games and earning the Arjuna Award, India’s highest honor for sportspeople.

She agreed to take a break from her busy schedule — she recently accepted a post as Head of Strategy at Harman International — to participate in the Office of Student Affairs 2016 Spotlight Series. Unnikrishnan was introduced by Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan, who challenged the large audience to guess what she had in common with Naomi Wolf and Bobby Jindal (the answer was the Rhodes scholarship). Then, in a discussion moderated by Associate Dean of Student Affairs Anita Farrington, Unnikrishnan touched upon the importance of networking, where to sit when you walk into a conference room (right at the table, not in the row of seats lining the wall!), her greatest frustrations (wasting energy and political capital early on in her career), and how to break down the barriers when no one else at the table looks like you (learning a little about football and golf can really help). 

As a woman in business, she has been asked many times about striking a balance and how she manages it, and she touched upon the topic during her Spotlight talk. “We’re wonderful creatures, and we can stretch to do many things,” she asserted. “I think of the example of my grandmother. She was a teacher who walked back and forth to work for four miles, cooked for the laborers on her family farm, did household chores, helped in the fields. I’m met with different challenges — I might be trying to help one of my children with something, while juggling phone calls and paperwork. Is it balance? It’s certainly life!”

And of course there was her sporting career; while everyone is fascinated by a powerful, successful woman in business, they’re perhaps even more fascinated by a woman who can hit a bulls-eye at 300 meters while hoisting a heavy sports rifle.

“There are a lot of lessons from life that can be gleaned from sport shooting,” Unnikrishnan explained. You have to be both passionate and detached at the same time: passionate, because it takes a lot of passion and dedication to get good at anything, and detached, because you have to be able to walk away from a missed shot, learn from it, and build some resilience. I always told myself that the last shot is yesterday; put another bullet in the chamber and try again.”