How One Leader Infused His Fortune 500 Roles With Meaning
Trip Tripathy is a strategic and operational business leader with a wealth of experience, both in the US and globally. He has worked for Fortune 500 companies such as PepsiCo and Macy’s, most of the time in C-level roles. Following a childhood and early accounting career in India, Tripathy moved to the United States in the 1980’s. His story could be held up as a classic example of achieving the iconic American Dream.
How did he do it? According to Tripathy, his success has come down to one thing: chasing meaning.
“I use the word ‘meaningful’ a lot because that’s something I really believe in,” Tripathy said in a recent interview. “It’s important to do things that are meaningful to you, and to the people around you.”
That’s not to say the road hasn’t been paved with some challenges. After completing his degree at Texas Christian University in 1987, Tripathy found himself graduating into a failing economy.
“Everyone asks me, ‘Why TCU?’” Tripathy explained. “Well, the Texas economy at the time was booming. The Texas economy was in shambles two years later, 1987, [as a result of] the real estate
crisis, the savings and loan crisis, oil and gas. A lot of mess.”
But that unforeseen setback didn’t deter Tripathy. Rather, he forged ahead, consulting businesses on how to learn and bounce back from their own financial adversities.
“I joined PricewaterhouseCoopers in a new practice that dealt with business turnarounds, bankruptcies and commercial litigation. That was my first job in the United States,” Tripathy said. “I really had to roll up the sleeves, work with some very smart people. Work on helping businesses turn around and succeed, either by staying out of bankruptcy or going into bankruptcy.”
It was in that role Tripathy learned the two skills he says have been key to his success: listening to people and empathizing with them. Any personal financial gains were simply icing on the cake.
“One way to look at an opportunity like the one at Pricewaterhouse is to say, ‘Wow, what a great opportunity for me to do well and make lots of money.’ And that’s all true,” Tripathy said. “On the other hand, you’re a better consultant and professional If you have empathy for your clients and their situation. And it’s very satisfying and fulfilling if you’re actually able to help them.”
Looking at Tripathy’s ensuing career, one sees a clear pattern emerge: fearlessly following unexpected new career paths and using them as opportunities to add real value. Whether learning about how to make the perfect potato chip for Pepsi or delving into the intricacies of fabric inventory at The Limited, Tripathy embraced opportunities to learn. By doing so, he created a sense of meaning, and mission, for himself in every role. For example, bringing Lay’s, Cheetos, and Doritos products to the Egyptian market.
“You know, Frito-Lay has very high quality standards, and those standards don’t apply only in the United States, it applies globally. So, in order to launch Lay’s potato chips in Egypt, we had to make sure we had the right quality and type of potato. There’s a whole program, that takes almost three years, where we took seed potatoes from Greece. It’s a long process, but the net result is the perfect potato chip.”
But it wasn’t just about providing a new snacking experience to Egypt. Tripathy discovered how his role as a leader could impact and improve the lives of others.
“The team I was leading were all locals, all Egyptians. And many of them were excited to be working with an international company like PepsiCo. It was a bridge to building real careers for them within Egypt, or in the Middle East, or outside of the Middle East. One of the most satisfying things I would say about my career experiences has been helping people grow and develop.”
If Tripathy has one piece of career advice for those seeking to emulate him, it is not to limit yourself. Don’t fret over whether your experience will perfectly suit a new role, or whether a new role is the best career choice. As he puts it, “When you come to a fork in the road: take it!”
“There’s a learning curve every time you join a new company or industry. But I would say, even within the same industry, there’s going to be a learning curve,” Tripathy says. “When you join a new company, cultures differ. People differ. You have to earn your stripes, gain credibility before you can do things. That’s universal. It doesn’t matter where you’re coming from.”
Use that learning curve to your advantage. Lean into learning and empathizing. It’s likely what you learn will be more broadly transferrable than you may think.
“You get exposure to these skills, you learn them, you practice them, you make mistakes sometimes. But you keep sharpening the saw as you go along. If those are good skills and they’re proven to be good skills, then you should apply them to whatever business situation you’re in.”
And don’t focus on what you can get from other people to get ahead. Bring them on the journey with you.
“This idea that people report to you is never something that I’ve subscribed to, ever,” Tripathy says. “You’re working with people. You’re working towards a goal together. I think that’s so much more powerful. And meaningful, if I might say.”