It has been two decades since Namita Thapar got her MBA from Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. But the skills she learned and the knowledge she acquired are as relevant as ever to her career — and to the high-profile side gig she just embarked upon.
Namita, a member of Fuqua’s Class of 2001, is executive director of a $700 million global pharmaceutical company, Emcure Pharmaceuticals, which has more than 10,000 employees worldwide. She’s also a “shark” in the Shark Tank India, a television reality show modeled off the long-running and highly popular U.S. Shark Tank.
“The MBA definitely stays relevant,” Namita tells Poets&Quants. “It gives you a structured way of thinking through problems, gives you a good understanding of various functions in a corporate. Working in teams on various cases, several of the softer skills like negotiation, etc. — these have also helped me become a better leader over the years.”
THE GREAT INDIAN DREAM
Shark Tank India premiers December 20. Namita — who as a shark will be among a group of judges determining the merit of various entrepreneurs’ ventures, and helping to finance more than two dozen of them — has no doubt that the show will resonate with Indian viewers, and with the country’s entrepreneurs.
“India is the third-largest startup ecosystem globally,” she tells P&Q. “The sheer uniqueness and diversity of founders and ventures on this show was inspiring. This show will help founders who got funded, those who didn’t get funded will walk away with invaluable feedback, and many others watching this will be motivated to take on this path as a serious career option.
“I am also sure that the human stories and several taboos we have openly addressed on this show will resonate well with the masses.”
India is home to more than 70 unicorns, she adds, more than half of which achieved billion-dollar valuations in 2021. Several have launched initial public offerings in 2021 — an astonishing symbol of what Namita calls “the Great Indian Dream.”
“This platform in India is well-timed and definitely the need of the hour,” she says. “I thoroughly enjoyed this experience and look forward to giving my time, expertise, and networks to help scale the 25-plus ventures I have funded through this show.”
HELPING WOMEN ENTREPRENEURS: A MISSION
Namita’s involvement with Shark Tank India gives her a chance to continue to work on her other passions, particularly helping women entrepreneurs. She points out that globally, only 2.3% of women-led ventures get funded, according to Harvard Business Review. “In this show, not only were three of the seven sharks women (highest globally), but 15% of the ventures that got funded had solo female founders — and 49% of the ventures that got funded had a combination of solo female founders or female co-founders, super statistics I’m truly proud of as a woman entrepreneur!
“In a country like India where female workforce participation has gone down from 37% to 27% pre-Covid, to 20% post-Covid, these are important and much-needed steps in the right direction.”
This is not a new interest for Namita; nor is Shark Tank her first experience in mass media. As she wrote in a blog post in June, she was troubled to learn that India ranks 150th out of 153 countries in terms of women’s health, according to World Economic Forum data, and that around 50% of Indian women are anemic, compared with only 6% of U.S. women. “In a country that has exported the most brilliant technology experts, scientists, and statisticians, 23 million Indian girls still drop out of school every year due to menstrual issues,” she wrote. This spurred her to create Uncondition Yourself, a first-of-its-kind Indian talk show on YouTube focused on women’s health.
“I am very passionate about moving the needle on women’s health,” Namita tells P&Q. “Awareness and diagnosis remain major concerns and a lot needs to be done here. We have launched 20 episodes of Uncondition Yourself and I have been inspired by the stories and journeys of the strong women we have brought on this show, which is a brilliant medium to have our voices heard!” Planning is underway for more episodes, she adds. “Emcure conducted a first-of-its-kind survey on women’s health and we were shocked to find some of the statistics, such as two-thirds of women don’t talk about their health as it’s still considered a taboo! There is an urgent need to address and change these dismal statistics, and I am truly passionate about this and will continue working on various initiatives on this.”
THE VALUE OF A DUKE MBA
Namita Thapar has helped lead her father’s company, Emcure, toward its IPO as it exceeds $700 million in annual earnings, with a presence in 70 countries and more than 10,000 employees. Leading sales and marketing of 150 brands across 17 therapeutic areas to over 200,000 physicians across India “has been the most exciting phase of my career,” she says.
The skills that led her down this path “and the confidence that allowed me to excel in this field” all came in part from her Fuqua MBA, she says. Had she not gone to Duke “and got a solid foundation in general management, I would have not had the inclination and skills to take up this role with as much confidence. My Duke MBA also gave me the skill set and flair to take on passion projects that have a social impact, such as my edtech franchise Young Entrepreneurs Academy that teaches entrepreneurship to 11- to 18-year-olds, and Uncondition Yourself, my YouTube channel to spread awareness on women’s health.
“I am a shark on Shark Tank India,” she says, “and got listed among the top 50 most powerful women in business in India — and I would like to credit my Duke MBA for a lot of these skills, both tangible and intangible ones!”