Power Women: Rani Puranik of Puranik Foundation On How To Successfully Navigate Work, Love and Life As A Powerful Woman
An Interview With Ming Zhao
Gratitude & give back- We are not immortal. Build to give away. Grow to give back. Create to hand over to the next. Be thankful for every movement and person that was part of your journey (good and bad) that got you to be your best.
How does a successful, strong, and powerful woman navigate work, employee relationships, love, and life in a world that still feels uncomfortable with strong women? In this interview series, called “Power Women” we are talking to accomplished women leaders who share their stories and experiences navigating work, love and life as a powerful woman.
As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Rani Puranik, Global CFO & EVP, Worldwide Oilfield Machine and Chairwoman, Puranik Foundation.
Revati “Rani” Puranik is co-owner, EVP and Global CFO of Houston-based Worldwide Oilfield Machine (WOM). Over 15 years ago, she joined WOM, an oil and gas equipment manufacturing firm, and has since implemented the framework for communication standardization operations and business development. As a result of these frameworks, the company grew to more than $350 million in annual revenue. Rani has been named one of the “Top 25 Most Influential Women in Energy 2022” by Oil and Gas Investor and Hart Energy.
Rani is passionate about mentoring the next generation of leaders. She has hosted a mentorship day at the Energy Leadership Institute of Houston High School, where she paired seniors with WOM company executives to help them refine energy product innovations. Rani serves as an HISD ROSES mentor supporting a program to empower female students Rice University graduate students and Energy Institute High School students interning at WOM. She also launched “WOMEN at WOM,” a virtual event series to provide strategies and resources for female employees to advance both personally and professionally.
Currently, Rani serves as the chairwoman of the Puranik Foundation located in Pune, India, which was founded over 20 years ago by her mother, Rehka, and is now managed by her oldest daughter, Bhakti. The nonprofit provides educational opportunities for under-resourced children in India and operates as a private residential school called the Vision International Learning Center.
In her upcoming book, Seven Letters to My Daughters (Morgan James Publishing, Nov. 1, 2022), she shares memoirs of her journey through transformative seven-year phases in her life by telling the true story of a young girl who grew up between two countries and faced many obstacles, but who always persisted in learning and moving forward. Rani recounts how her womanhood and motherhood influenced each phase, sharing the wisdom she gained from this perspective to help others find their path, success, joy, and freedom.
Rani received a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Pune located in Pune, India, before starting her first business, Integral Search for Harmony through Art (ISHA), where she later served as CEO for nearly 20 years. She then returned to Houston, earning her MBA in finance from Rice University, which led her to take WOM to the next level of success.
Rani currently resides in Houston, Texas, where in her free time enjoys scuba diving, traveling and spending time with family and her two rescue dogs. She is also a classically trained vocalist, musician dancer and certified yoga instructor. For more information, please visit https://www.ranipuranik.com/.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?
I was born in Houston Texas, to Indian parents and spent the first 19 years of my life in Houston. At age 19, I traveled to India to train as an Indian classical vocalist. I ended up being part of an arranged marriage, had two beautiful girls and spent the next 19 years of my life there in India. When I was a girl, I thought growing up in two different cultures was tough. I spent so much time trying to fit into both worlds. However, I now realize it has been one of my greatest blessings. The continuous questioning of who I am caused me to look deep into myself and develop confidence into who I truly am. Having a diverse cultural perspective, inspired creativity and drove my innovation by understanding that I could step into different worlds like I stepped into my own distinct cultures. I pursued a career in the arts and later in the energy sector, feeling equally comfortable and grounded in both. Understanding diversity has been invaluable in managing teams from various countries and religions. The range of experience, expertise, and working methods that a diverse workplace offers can boost problem-solving capacity and lead to greater productivity. In fact, studies have shown organizations with a culture of diversity and inclusion are both happier and more productive.
Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?
I have had many chapters in the story of my life. In India, I founded a classical modern dance company- ISHA Integral Search for Harmony through Art, based on the five elements. ISHA blossomed and became a recognized pathbreaker in contemporary dancing. It represented a platform for expression and leadership development through movement for girls, teens and corporate teams. I returned to Houston in 2007 and immediately went to work at the company my father founded- Worldwide Oilfield Machine, where I had worked as a young teen. I started out in HR, training in all departments ranging from Operations to IT processes, slowly and with much hard work rising through the ranks. In 2012, I attended Rice University and earned my MBA. It was critical I learn how to take WOM to the next level. Just because my last name matches the founder/owner does not mean my path was paved for Financial Controllership. I had to work longer hours and much harder to earn the respect of my peers and earned my title. My father advised and guided me to always focus on the customer. We are here to be solution-providers. Our role is to make our customers lives, and the lives they serve better and easier. Solutions should be simple to use and designed with the best technologies possible; with quality and safety as the number one priority. In changing times, as cheaper, lower quality and shorter life products enter the market, we ensure customers are given all the information required to make educated decisions that meet the solution they are seeking and offer long-term benefits.” Energy touches every life around the world. Through this industry, if we can also help make lives better and easier, this fascinates me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
This is more of an experience over the last 15 years of my life. There are four distinct stages of leadership which now I’m aware of- Listening, Bridging, Stabilizing, and Letting Go. I refer to A.A Milne, one of my favorite authors, who wrote Winnie the Pooh. In one of the dialogues, Winnie says to Tiger- “Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.” This is relevant in terms of leadership styles and has been mine for the last 15 years. I’ve maintained either leading from behind or leading alongside. In the beginning of my career at WOM, developing the HR department, I knew I had to listen. If I did not, I would not have known where I needed to stand, in front, behind or beside. After listening, I understood there was a need for stabilizing the environment. In this case, as a leader, I needed to stand in the gap, thereby becoming a bridge. As a bridge, we as leaders, are connecting the current state to what we know the potential could be; we offer that platform and path. During this time, we are also creating a stable environment. After stabilizing we can guide our teams to hone in on their own strengths and qualities, and leverage their talents and creative abilities. This allows them to succeed in whichever department or position they are in. The sky’s the limit.
Today, I’m transitioning from Executive VP and Global CFO to incoming CEO. I understand, through experience, when it is time to let go. What that means is that I have trust in team leaders. Trust that they will know how to lead in their own areas of expertise successfully and to our common goal. Once that happens, I’ve let go and trusted them to listen to their teams, build their own bridges, stabilize, and let go. This proverbial torch being passed on to multiple people, who in turn pass it down to others has the power, wisdom, peace to steer confidently; knowing that whatever they put into practice and play will continue on for lifetimes beyond them, so that’s the most interesting experience for me in my career so far.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Positive Attitude: this characteristic shows up as a natural approach to any situation- from finding the right flights to manage time and all commitments with work, family and social obligations, to a persistent pursuit of a sales growth plan despite industry challenges or complacency from out-lived work methods.
Grace: Believing in people and giving them the benefit of the doubt. As leaders we cannot assume we know why a person behaves or reacts a certain way. This keeps a leader’s approach non-personal and allows people or a situation to be understood to find a win-win for all parties involved. By knowing he/she has done everything in her understanding to be fair and allow room for growth, if the issue persists, it gives the leader confidence and resolve to make hard decisions best for the business.
Story: A team member is not performing well. Instead of making assumptions, I’ve taken the time to understand the situation. Through our discussion I always ask, what will make you happy? How can we get you there? Given the situation at hand, we come up with a mutually acceptable solution and the team member works toward it. I’ve seen this work and the team member shines- as a leader I walked with him/her through the hard times and gave a chance to shine which he/she did. I’ve also seen people take advantage of such kindness, and after some monitoring, knowing I have done everything in my ability to see the best and assist, I can have hard conversations in a calm and firm manner.
Pause before speaking: After listening to people share views, I take a second. I allow the silence in between to process the verbal and non-verbal. This gives me a collected and centered approach in my choice of words and delivery of my expression. Words have power, so its choice, tone and delivery play a large part in building and strengthening bridges or cutting off noise in the room that doesn’t serve the purpose at that time.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. The premise of this series assumes that our society still feels uncomfortable with strong women. Why do you think this is so?
Beauty or strength lies in the eyes of the beholder. People other than herself, see her as strong based on their own perception. It’s all through a mix of cultural habits and assumptions. Culturally, women seemed to have taken a behind the scenes role or were supposed to be an earning member of the household. So, if the woman takes a more central role, and becomes the breadwinner, the known cultural structure shakes up. It just needs time to readjust to these possibilities. The reality is, that even when women were in the background or support, they were still strong and took on multiple responsibilities, but just not recognized. Also, it is easy to assume that strong women do not have the nurturing qualities a woman of the past would expect to have and therefore would not be approachable. When people see qualities such as assertion, persistence, patience, or determination, it is like an ‘unknown’ — anything that is not habit or unknown is uncomfortable till it becomes known and natural.
Without saying any names, can you share a story from your own experience that illustrates this idea?
I had been working at Worldwide Oilfield Machine for over ten years. My passion was to help the company grow, to become more efficient, and to expand with a focus on legacy. I knew our salespeople were playing it safe, focusing on the same old clients and legacy customers, whereas I knew the technology we had developed would benefit larger players as well. There were multiple campaigns to increase diversity at every level, and major producers created special initiatives to validate historically underrepresented individuals and entities. I saw this as a huge opportunity for WOM because we had historically been a widely diverse company. However, no one else on our team saw the value or potential in touting this unique distinction.
Through extensive research and government red tape, my efforts to establish the background of WOM as an underrepresented entity succeeded. My goal was to give us an equal voice and a seat at the table, to have WOM recognized and qualified as a minority-owned business and one that was woman-led. Though the qualifying process was intense, the major drilling producers finally recognized us. After months of painstaking work, we finally received invitations from two of the largest major oil producers as a cohort to drive the diversity initiative forward. Through several meetings and interactions over the course of another full year, I developed a relationship with both of these companies independently, and finally gained access to the decision makers on the executive leadership team. At this point, word spread within the company that I was making inroads regarding sales and landing major contracts. Instead of being excited about the possibilities, the major account managers within our company began to protest. They complained to my dad, feeling as if I was interfering in their sales process or putting their pre-existing relationships at risk.
The vice president of sales approached my dad saying, “Rani is disturbing our process. She is a woman. No one is going to give her the time of day. She thinks she is making a good headway, but she doesn’t understand the people at the top and will never succeed. We have been in this business since 1980 and she just came in a few years ago. What could she possibly know? We are happy she went back to school and got a degree in finance, but please tell her to focus on that. She should just stay in the office where she belongs.” Over the course of the next two weeks, Dad heard this from many folks within the sales department, but he had known what I was doing from the very beginning.
Dad called me into his office the next day. “Look Rani,” he said. “You have done an excellent job. I’m going to be very direct with you and this is going to hurt. You are going to have to give up the relationships and accounts you have developed. The sales team needs to take it from here. Trust me, you will come out much better in the long run. There are many other things to focus on. Just focus on the future and keep innovating.”
My heart broke again. He didn’t understand my struggle. I was being asked to stay in my lane and sit in my office alone. He didn’t know what it was like to be a person fighting to prove yourself, urging people to care enough to include everyone in the conversation, to give all a chance to share our abilities, our ideas, and our skill set. I left work that day as quickly as I could and spent the next two days crying profusely. I was angry because all my efforts to prove to everyone in the company that I could help bring balance and diversity within the sector had fallen on deaf ears.
After my designated pity party, I decided that I had to change my focus. It was time to reassess the situation by asking myself some serious questions. Had I achieved my mission? Yes. I wanted to grow the company and open more doors and I had done that. Was I the only one who could carry the torch? No. The continued growth of the company was not about me. My new mission was to pass the torch, to rekindle the flame within others, and to continue our legacy. That required me to let go and that hurt.
I then considered how I could move forward with a focus on other endeavors, as my dad had suggested. The time had come for me to explore my next avenue of growth, my next big idea. This seeming defeat could actually be an opportunity to establish myself as someone who gives back and opens doors for others. Maybe this is what leadership was all about.
These were all good considerations, yet I was left with the dilemma of what to do with the lingering irritation, anger, and resentment I felt. After all, I still had to work with these people who had opposed and undermined me. Without overthinking it, I decided to put my purpose in front of my pain because pain is purposeful. In that moment, I chose to give up something I had initiated, and accept the reality that I am not the creation, but the creator. If I had succeeded in this one effort, and I had, I could succeed again.
On Monday, I returned to the office with a new perspective and attended the sales meeting with my head held high. Instead of frustration, I showed excitement and appreciation for the sales team’s commitment to taking the initiative forward. They were initially confused, but eventually came up to thank me. In that meeting, I learned that opening doors and giving other people an opportunity to shine, passing the ball, and letting others slam dunk was, and continues to be, a critical component to my success as a leader.
I had to give up 2 years of hard work developing new sales accounts because the sales team felt i didn’t have what ‘it took’ since i was a woman. My power was in giving the accounts up with respect and dignity to the same people who let me down.
(This story, with all the juicy details, can be found in my new book- Seven letters to my Daughters, which will be released in November 1, 2022)
What should a powerful woman do in a context where she feels that people are uneasy around her?
Just be yourself. Your power is in the confidence in being naturally you. Not to prove a point to anyone or outshine, just to be authentically you.
What do we need to do as a society to change the unease around powerful women?
Just be who you are, don’t take anything personally. The unease is cultural and will change over time. The more society experiences powerful women in their natural state and we maintain our approach to be inclusive and respectful of all ages, genders, societies and populations, we will help to create the equilibrium of respect and merit we have wanted for centuries.
In my own experience, I have observed that often women have to endure ridiculous or uncomfortable situations to achieve success that men don’t have to endure. Do you have a story like this from your own experience? Can you share it with us?
I can’t think of a story per say, but I do believe that as women our physical appearance is typically at the forefront, and this is a reality that is part of our daily lives. As women, we do sometimes need to dress a bit more conservatively and with professionalism. I’m very aware that I represent the seriousness and the merit of many other women who are going to follow me, so I do take these things into consideration. However, once people get to know me, know my work, know about the seriousness of my work and purpose, I can relax a bit about my appearance, I can “let my hair down” a little. Once these are established, I would not be discounted by how I looked because my work has already made its mark so honestly it’s for me it’s about daily life
So being more conservative in my apparel keeps people focused on the purpose of our business meeting. Men don’t need to worry about such things!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women leaders that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
As humans we all face challenges, and our challenges vary by circumstance. There’s a cultural gap which causes women to be treated differently. This gap is bridged by merit, work ethic and empathy. Being quiet might be looked at as being submissive, or not having an opinion. Embracing our beauty- beauty is looked on as us “looking for attention” whereas we are confident in accepting who we are and presenting ourselves as such. Speaking up, challenging status quo, could come across as arrogant, crossing the line; however, if our opinions and challenges are presented in an empathetic and kind, respectful way, based and backed up by justifiable data and studies- merit then shines through
Let’s now shift our discussion to a slightly different direction. This is a question that nearly everyone with a job has to contend with. Was it difficult to fit your personal and family life into your business and career? For the benefit of our readers, can you articulate precisely what the struggle was?
Balance is a continuous moving center. Finding a balance between work that we are passionate and devoted to, while still maintaining time for oneself and family, is more of a continuous juggling and rearranging exercise, rather than getting to and maintaining a “place of balance”. There are periods where work projects require more time, and the other aspects of our lives are compromised. Through trial and error, I have found it is imperative to carve out time for these three aspects- work, family and personal. These facets of my life are all very near and dear to my heart, fill me with purpose and joy.
I am incredibly fortunate and grateful to enjoy my job and responsibilities and look forward to each new day. I have two daughters that have grown into remarkable young women. They are learning, growing, and experiencing their own lives. Spending time with them is a joy and privilege I don’t take lightly. Over time I’ve learned that I absolutely must incorporate time into my schedule just for me. That “me” time can include things like taking a dance class (my joyful place), getting a massage, painting, writing, or simply time to just be me and think.
Recently, my WOM US team and I traveled to India for 3 weeks to connect them to the WOM India team. We then flew to Dubai for 4 days to meet our UAE team and held a Vision Summit. The trip and the Summit were transformational experiences for all teams and for myself, and I’m very proud of what we accomplished. However, the time, energy, and sheer hours of being “on” and moving things forward left me drained. I’m a person of tremendous energy, it takes a lot to tire me out, but I had really pushed myself and needed a break. Despite many more things to be done, I had to pull myself away. I needed to do this and center myself in order to continue to be a strong leader. It was not easy to unplug and decompress, but I needed some time for myself. During this time, I went to the beach, did water sports, met wonderful new friends, and rediscovered Rani, the person, not the CFO, not the mom, but just Rani. It allowed me to come back fresh mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
What was a tipping point that helped you achieve a greater balance or greater equilibrium between your work life and personal life? What did you do to reach this equilibrium?
Perhaps the “tipping point” was feeling a great sense of accomplishment on one hand, but also feeling burned out and tired, and so I was not able to fully appreciate all the wins. There is a lesson in everything, and my lesson was to take a break occasionally, celebrate the wins, rest, refresh and return with renewed zeal, energy and ideas.
I work in the beauty tech industry, so I am very interested to hear your philosophy or perspective about beauty. In your role as a powerful woman and leader, how much of an emphasis do you place on your appearance? Do you see beauty as something that is superficial, or is it something that has inherent value for a leader in a public context? Can you explain what you mean?
There is a saying “Beauty is, as beauty does”. I love this very simple phrase that says so much in a few words. Growing up I struggled with my looks. In the US, I was different, physically, and culturally. I wore my long hair in a braid down my back, a Bindi at my forehead and traditional Indian clothes. I felt like the ugly duckling. It was a different time, when the women we saw in magazines and in the media looked the same- tall and blonde. We did not have the variety of colors, ethnicities and looks that we see today. As I matured and found my passion in dance, I found my beauty. It was not necessarily that I thought I was beautiful, but rather, I felt beautiful through the art of dance. This was an eye-opening experience.
Today, comfortable in my own skin, I see beauty in a different way. I see beauty in the light that radiates from everyone, and the light that radiates from me. There’s nothing like a good blow out before interviews and events. I keep my makeup simple and do like a clean, natural and polished look rather than a made up one.
How is this similar or different for men?
This is a great question and makes me smile. In many ways men have it easy in this area; a good haircut, a shave, and they are ready to go. However, that is it. I do find joy in being a woman and being able to express myself and my moods through beauty and fashion.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, what are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Powerful Woman?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Play the Game (practice hard, know the rules, play to win as a team.
- Have a positive mindset.
- Gratitude & give back- We are not immortal. Build to give away. Grow to give back. Create to hand over to the next. Be thankful for every movement and person that was part of your journey (good and bad) that got you to be your best.
- Sharpen your industry knowledge.
- Have grace for people and yourself. Know when to let go. It’s all a movie, we don’t have to play or be present in every scene.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
This is a great question! Thank you! I am a great fan of Indra Nooyi, former CEO of Pepsi and author of several books and would be honored to connect with her. In addition, to Indra- Sheryl Sandberg, Stephen Schwartzman, Michelle Obama, Simon Sinek, Oprah Winfrey.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
Thank you so much for having me! It was a pleasure.