01 Mar 2019
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Turning Point: One Story at a Time

Radhika Piramal (MBA 2006)

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Radhika Piramal (MBA 2006)
(illustration by Gisela Goppel)

I was 17 years old when I told my mother I was a lesbian. The news came out of nowhere for her, but I never, ever questioned that her love for me would change. Although she was in tears, they were not tears of anger or admonishment—her main fear was that I would have a very difficult and lonely life.

The thing about coming out is that it’s not one conversation, one time. I had already told my older sister; in time I told my father, a close cousin, and a few best friends from high school. My family and I didn’t discuss it a lot, but I also didn’t let it go. I knew this was my path. It felt like the most natural and correct life to live.

Coming out in a more public way took time. I was out as an undergrad at Oxford, but it was relatively easy because I didn’t have any classmates from Mumbai who knew my extended family. Things really changed in America. At HBS about 13 of my classmates were out, and we had a great example in Frances Frei, a rock star professor who is openly lesbian. Then I joined Bain & Company’s New York office, where they had openly gay partners and an LGBTQ buddy system. It stopped being this thing that only a few close friends and family knew; it was OK to be out professionally, which was a big shift, even if many people in Mumbai still did not know.

Then I met Amanda, who is now my wife. We lived together in New York before making the decision to move to India for a career opportunity that came up in my family’s business. Being the CEO at the age of 30 of a publicly listed company with revenues of $100 million was something Amanda and I both knew I could not pass up, even if it meant living in a culture that is less accepting of gays and lesbians.

When you work on a team, sharing a bit of your personal life can make a huge difference in building trust and authenticity.

When you work on a team, sharing a bit of your personal life can make a huge difference in building trust and authenticity.

Coming out to my mother was one turning point; marrying Amanda in London in 2011 was another. For my family, the idea that I had met somebody who I would want to spend the rest of my life with was hugely comforting. But our wedding was also covered by a tabloid back in India. It wasn’t a negative piece, but after it was published a dear friend, a gay man who has been out for a long time in the Indian corporate sector, told me, “You should control the narrative. You’re out. Do something good with it.” Now, if I’m invited as a diversity and inclusion speaker by any Indian corporation, I’m happy to accept. It’s been a positive thing for my own work life too. When you work on a team, sharing a bit of your personal life can make a huge difference in building trust and authenticity.

Things are changing in India, thanks to the work of many people before me who have been speaking out for decades. Last September, we saw the fruits of those efforts when India’s Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality. It was an amazing 493-page judgment that will make it possible to push for additional rights, even if achieving them will take a while.

But I’m hopeful. Change happens bit by bit, and putting a human face to an issue really works. So that’s what I do—just tell my story. I don’t know how many minds I can change, but if it’s even a few, it will make a difference to somebody.


Radhika Piramal is the former managing director of VIP Industries, Asia’s largest luggage maker. Now vice chairperson and executive director, she lives in London and travels to Mumbai on a monthly basis.

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Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2006, Section G

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