A Distinguished Entrepreneur: Roopa Gandhi, MBA ’96, Talks How Sacrifice, a Refusal to Fail (and Luck) Led to Success
It was for an assignment at Chicago Booth that Roopa Gandhi, MBA ’96, first visualized her career as an entrepreneur. Next year, the company will be celebrating 25 years.
“Sometimes when you put things on paper, it’s as if the universe is conspiring to make it a reality,” said Gandhi, who is the founder and president of GEP, a leader in digital supply chain transformation. However, if you had asked her during the early years if the company would have thousands of employees around the world, the answer would have been “absolutely not.” At that time, it was just a question of survival.
In recognition of her outstanding professional achievement, Gandhi was named as a 2023 Distinguished Alumni, receiving this year’s “Entrepreneurial Award.”
“It’s been a fun journey – lots of ups and downs and constantly applying the lessons we learned in life and from the different professors at Booth,” said Gandhi, who also is a council member for the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
A noted “down,” Gandhi was let go from two jobs in less than a year, but it was from this that she decided to take her experiences and start something of her own. “You do a lot of soul searching, wondering what you are doing wrong, and realizing that maybe you don’t fit in the traditional corporate environment,” she said speaking to these initial years. Looking for partners to start a business also was not easy. “People were reluctant to partner with a fired young woman with a kid,” Gandhi said. “It was really tough.”
However, she ended up not having to look far as two of the other GEP cofounders are from Booth: her husband Subhash Makhija, MBA ’96, and friend and fellow student Jagadish Turimella, MBA ’97. Neha Shah is the fourth cofounder – all of whom are still with the company, to which Gandhi credits having similar values.
The team went live with its business-to-business exchange within six weeks of raising $2.5 million. Soon after, the market crashed, as did plans for what was supposed to be an additional $50 million in funding. Investors advised that the company close up shop and take the tax write-off. But for Gandhi and the other cofounders, failure was not an option.
“Not giving up is really why we are still around.”
Looking back, Gandhi noted that not getting the funding was probably the best thing to have happened. The team had to get creative with no money. “We learned very early on that your paycheck is written by your customer, and if you take care of the customer, you’ll always be in business,” she said.
“This is a simple philosophy, not rocket science – it’s common sense,” explained Gandhi, who added that the luck piece is greatly underestimated. “There are lots of people who work very, very hard but haven’t been as lucky or blessed.”
Still, it takes sacrifice, something with which Gandhi is familiar. “You do what you have to do,” she said, speaking to flying out for a client meeting less than a week after giving birth to her second child. “The entrepreneurship journey is not for everybody.” Even so, entrepreneurship is now the most popular concentration at Booth.
From her unique perspective, Gandhi said the future is bright for Booth and the Polsky Center. Specifically, the Polsky Center’s new Deep Tech Ventures initiative and investments the University continues to make highlights Booth’s commitment to entrepreneurship. The Polsky Center’s facilities and resources combined with the grit and resilience of the student body will create new opportunities for budding entrepreneurs.
“There are only a handful of universities, not just in the U.S. but globally, who have the ingredients, the horsepower it takes to make successful ventures of the future. There is interest from the students to build these ventures and we are well positioned to make many of those dreams into realities,” said Gandhi – who did just that.