Jyothi Rao – President of Intermix
Renata: Tell me about your background.
Jyothi: I was born in India, moved to Nigeria in West Africa with my family when I was six, and lived there for a few years. Then I went to boarding school in England when I was 10 while my parents continued to live in Africa. I went to an amazing school in Oxford and did most of my education there. Then my parents moved to London. I was admitted into the London School of Economics, but my father was very keen that my sister and I grow up in America because he felt there were a lot more career opportunities for women and women who are minorities in this country. So we moved. My parents moved back to India, and my sister and I moved to the U.S. We went to college and built our careers here. I feel everything in life is an equal measure of effort and of luck. I feel very fortunate, especially coming from a country like India where there are so many girls who are never educated and even those that are educated are often not encouraged to have careers. I’m keenly aware of the opportunities I’ve had and how important it is that I make the right effort and support progress.
How did living outside of the US change your perspective on business?
It’s made me very adaptable and agile. I’ve lived in so many different countries and cultures. I have an appreciation for how different cultures approach partnerships and relationships. New York is a wonderfully diverse place where you’re required to have a broad perspective in how you approach people.
Do you think being conscious of a disadvantage to society has given you leverage in your life?
Absolutely. I always feel that if this doesn’t work out, I can start over and it’s going to be fine. I have an education, incredible mentors, and a great network of professionals, friends, and people around me for support. That’s so much more than so many people have and certainly so many women and girls have. No matter what happens, I can always pick myself back up. In the moment, failure can feel like the end of everything, but it isn’t. You have to embrace failure and learn from it and you become a richer person from it. We have so many advantages that we can re-launch ourselves in a new direction. We all have such a fear of failure. My father once said to me, “I have been through a lot in my life, and I’ve never been insecure.” It astounded me because I certainly can’t say that about myself! That’s where you want to reach ultimately, to never feel insecure. Not from a place of ego, but a place of feeling that it’s okay if this doesn’t work out, that I can start over and make things work out for the better.
Tell me about your first break and how you’ve paid that forward.
I’ve had so many great breaks. Out of college, I got hired by Gap Inc. when I was 21 years old. At the time, it was an up-and-coming company. I interviewed with all these different companies and everyone I was meeting were men in suits. Then I go into this interview with the recruiter from Gap, and he’s wearing jeans and a blazer and he’s cute and fun. He represented the culture that I wanted to be part of and I was very fortunate that I started my career there. I was at that company for 15 years. What was amazing was that when I was there, the company was going through a very high growth phase and there were new divisions being added. I was able to have a variety of experience without actually leaving the company, which is a unique opportunity to have. I was maybe 27 years old running a 200 million dollar business. The fact that I had these managers and mentors that trusted and empowered me with that level of responsibility has really stayed with me. That makes you want to try harder and deliver with incredibly high standards. When I went to Gilt I had no ecommerce experience, no multi-brand experience. Kevin Ryan, the chairman of the company, and the other founders, took a risk on me. Both these experiences left me with some important lessons of building a team around you of people who have the skills to do what you need them to do, but more importantly people who reach and have the capacity to do more, have intellectual curiosity, and more importantly who have great cultural fit. At Gilt, I saw a culture I knew I could thrive in and they saw someone who would thrive in that culture. I love creative, innovative and entrepreneurial cultures.
What advice would you give your younger self?
It’s hard to do when you’re young, but try not to be too self-involved. Start developing a great network of mentors and peers and lean on them for advise early on. They will likely help you avoid common pitfalls in your journey.
What you would like your legacy to be?
To have added value in a positive way in all aspects of my life. Most of all to have raised our daughter to live a life that’s grounded in a foundation of sound values.
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