Suneel Gupta is the founder of RISE and is on faculty at Harvard University. Suneel’s new book, Backable: The Surprising Truth Behind What Makes People Take a Chance on You, is available on February 23, 2021.

You can read more about Suneel and his upcoming book at:

Follow @suneel on Twitter.

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Episode Transcript:

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Chris: Suneel, welcome to Smart People Podcast.

Suneel: Chris, it’s great to be here.

Chris: Yeah. And look, I gotta say, you definitely fit the mold here Smart People Podcast, but I think your entire family does. And I have to admit, when when I saw the pitch in your book, I didn’t know anything about your background. And then I was reading about your mom. And obviously then I was like, Oh my god, I know your brother. For those listening, tell us a little bit about your background and your family. But then here’s what I really want to know, what is the key to having what seems like everybody in your family be successful?

Suneel: You know, I wish I wish I knew Chris. I don’t necessarily. I don’t think I’m trumpeted as sort of that. But I will tell you about my mom. And I’ll tell you about my brother. So, you know, my mom, my mom has a really remarkable story. And a lot of ways I think she is kind of the basis for this book, bankable. And the reason for that is because she grew up as a refugee on the border of Pakistan and India, no running water, no electricity, but decided at a really early age that one day she was going to come to the United States, and she wanted to be an engineer with Ford Motor Company. Now this was the 1950s and so Ford was like the company at the time and her parents get behind. The get behind the dream and she gets on a, she finds a way to get on a boat, she gets the gets to America, she ends up getting a scholarship to study at Oklahoma State University Of all places. Day after she graduates, she makes her way to Detroit, Michigan where she applies for a job. But there was only one problem. This was the 1960s, that this point. And while Ford Motor Company had 1000s of engineers, not a single one of them was a woman. And so she finds a way into a meeting with a hiring manager. And then when he looks at her application, he’s like, I’m sorry, we we we actually don’t have any female engineers working here. And so she’s really deflated in this moment. And she gets up and except for crumpled resume and her purse, and she starts to walk out of the room. And then the last sort of just oh, this is last ditch moment, she turns around, she looks at him. And she tells him her story of all the struggle that she had gone through that her parents had gone through, to get her to this place to get her to this moment to be in front of him. And then she says to him, Look, look, if you don’t have any female engineers, then do yourself a favor and hire me now. And it’s in that moment, sitting in this just plain looking conference room outside of Detroit, Michigan, that a middle manager from suburban Michigan, decides to take a chance on a refugee from the other side of the world. And she becomes Ford Motor Company’s first female engineer.

Chris: It’s amazing. And, you know, as you’re telling me that story, I’m going as soon as I mean, of course, it’s 2021. Now, but as soon as they say, I’m sorry, we don’t have any female engineers. Yeah, nowadays, I feel like, you know, my response is great, then I can be that, you know, it just doesn’t even resonate, of course, completely different time. We have to appreciate difference then.

Suneel: Yeah, exactly. And I, and I think about all the people, you know, when I write this book, I think about all the people who have the right substance, or they’re at the right moment, and then they get it, they get a response like that. And they don’t say, hey, well, then, okay, let me be that person. Instead, they sort of just walk out of the room. And it just shows you how much just I think wasted opportunity that are is out there for people who aren’t willing to take a chance but but might if you take a moment to stand up and say, You know what, if you don’t, then then Great, let’s do something new together.

Chris: I didn’t even make that tie between, and that’s why you set a basis for your book, but the 1950s refugee, thee Ford Motor Company, one of the biggest companies in the world at that time, to be able to really step outside of your comfort zone and say, “then take a shot on me.” It can’t be overstated how that is what you’re talking about when you’re saying “how do we get people to really buy into us and take a chance on us?”

Suneel: Yeah, exactly. And I think that that, that story really just kind of became almost like, it became the the story that my brother and I grew up with. And when Sunday when Sunday was a practicing surgeon, now in suburban Michigan, that’s where we’re living very close to where my parents both work, they both worked at Ford. And, you know, my brother, my brother were very successful had had done very well in school. And, and, you know, it was it was a it was it was a great surgeon. But I think that he, he felt that this time that that he was starting to that he could, he wanted to do something else he wanted to, you know, expand his horizons, and, and he came up with the idea that maybe he could be on error, talking about some of the health stories that he was that he was seeing. And, you know, at that point in time, he didn’t have any on air experience. He didn’t have any journalism experience. But it was kind of impossible for us to look at my mom’s story and say that that kind of stuff is gonna hold us back. And so you know, it was my mom to who said to Sunday, you know, if if you don’t have that stuff, find a way to to still still get it done. And, and he does, he finds he finds his way to, you know, eventually a meeting with the folks at CNN, where he explained to them that, you know, the fact that he doesn’t have any journalism experience on our experience, could actually be a plus, you know, because what he does have is he has the the stories, and I think the experience of dealing with patients firsthand. And that’s the level of empathy and coverage that he wants to bring into the newsroom. And so cnn decides to take a chance on him. And that’s how in Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN gets his start.

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