Meet the Leadership: Rekha Patnaik, director of continuous improvement
From India to New York to Missouri (and several other stops along the way) Rekha Patnaik EVP and director of bank strategy and administration, had a very full journey before landing in Kansas City with UMB. See how her family, life experiences and lessons learned along the way have helped shape her outlook on career and life.
Tell us about what your life was like growing up. I was born and raised in India, and have one older sister. My mother was a homemaker and my father worked as a government official in India in a role that would be similar to a position in the U.S. Forestry Service. Because of my father’s work, we lived a fairly mobile lifestyle and frequently moved around the country. Some of these places included three years in the Andaman Islands located on the Bay of Bengal, and Shillong, located in the Northeast of India for two years. I think in all, I lived in more than six different places as a child. While this was great because I experienced the many diverse cultures found in India, some places were better than others, particularly from a safety standpoint. We lived in Kashmir when I was in the fifth grade, and after our winter break, we could not return to our home because the terrorism was so bad. My high school years were spent in a city named Jammu, which is around 30 miles east of the Pakistani border, so during that time in my life, we lived with the threat of terrorism on a regular basis.
When you were in school did you know that you wanted to work in banking? No. After graduating from high-school, I attended university in Pune (near Mumbai) for my undergraduate degree. I took the Graduate Requisite Exam to attend Stony Brook University in New York because of its excellent computer science program. When I graduated, my first job was actually with a technology start-up company.
Why did you move from New York? While studying in New York, I met my husband. I landed a job at a startup company in New Jersey, and he ended up getting a job in Peoria, Ill. After months of us flying back and forth to see each other on the weekends, we decided that I was going to move to Peoria to be with him. This is where my business career began. The job I found in Peoria bridged the gap between my technology skills and business. I really enjoyed the business side of the work, so I decided to focus more on that.
Tell us about your career at UMB I joined UMB in 2008. I started my career in the Management Rotation Program before joining the Corporate Strategy team. I was a founding member of the Merger and Acquisition department at UMB. In my current position of executive vice president, director bank strategy and administration, I am responsible for leading and managing projects initiated by the UMB Bank chief executive officer, in addition to prioritizing bank resources and commitments to ensure maximum efficiency and efficacy.
Are there lessons your parents taught that you regularly draw from? To me, it’s all about humility, working hard, and being even-tempered. My father was my professional role model, and he used to say, “Work is Worship.” He loved his work very much, and each day he would come home and often spend time working on his files. He was a very good diplomat and believed in the power of diplomacy to accomplish goals and get things done. My mother always had a very cool head and would be described as “even keeled.” She was a great role model for what mothers should be. Now that I have a daughter of my own, I often find myself drawing from examples I learned from her.
What advice would you give to aspiring female leaders of tomorrow? Going back to what my father used to say, “Work is Worship.” The more you love what you’re doing the more rewards will come to you. When you begin your professional life, don’t focus on the rewards. Be humble, work hard, be sure to network, and don’t be afraid to toot your horn, when appropriate. It can be challenging, but don’t look at life or work as a place with a destination, but as a continuous journey of discovering what you love.
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