Two years ago, Lexington resident Vineeta Kumar left her position -- an enviably prestigious one -- as global head of business development for the securities & capital markets division at Wipro, an $8 billion company.
From the outside, at least, it seemed a surprising move. In 2009, Kumar spent an entire day waiting to persuade the CEO of Headstrong (later acquired by Genpact; she later moved to Wipro) to open a Boston-based buy-side capital markets unit. The nuts and bolts of her work aren’t essential here, so don’t worry if these terms don’t make sense.
What’s important is this: from the first months into her marriage, Kumar knew that she wanted financial independence. She knew she was ambitious. For more than two decades, she poured her considerable energy, talents and knowledge into work, only to hit the pause button on that central, defining aspect of her life.
“It was a difficult call; it was a good role with a good company,” Kumar admitted.
So what tipped the balance?
Aside from her husband Ajay and their son Ishan, “my entire family is in India,” Kumar said, pointing to a “cumulative guilt of having lived in this country for 20 years. It’s like I’m a phone daughter.”
Propelled by guilt, loyalty and a desire to show up, Kumar spent the first six months after leaving Wipro in India, spending time with her parents. Sitting in the Lexington Center Peet’s Coffee on a recent afternoon, Kumar seemed confident and at ease -- a woman without regrets, and with a recent accolade timed to affirm her shift.
A few weeks ago, Kumar learned that she made India New England News’ 20 Outstanding Women of 2018. Every year since 2002, the news outlet has chosen 20 New England women to honor at its annual gala, which will take place on June 1 in Burlington. This year’s honorees are affiliated with Brown University, MIT and other universities. They are architects, CEOs, founders and artists.
Someone nominated Kumar, but “I had no clue,” she said. “I think there are a lot of women I would like to nominate.”
India New England News describes their honorees as “ a diverse group of women in the areas of science, venture capital, business, education, healthcare, art and culture, and community and social services.”
Over the past two years, Kumar has not simply chipped away at her expatriate guilt; she has intentionally evolved from a woman squarely and solely striving on the professional front to one with deepening community roots and involvement here in Lexington and in the Boston area.
While she always volunteered at Bowman Elementary and Clarke Middle schools, “I didn’t feel like I committed enough to that,” she said. In 2016, she began volunteering with Lexington Education Foundation. “It’s a town initiative. It’s important for education, so why not?” she said.
Last year, she was elected one of Precinct 3’s Town Meeting members, and she has been working with the Getting Involved Group. “The objective [of the group] is to encourage and enable civic participation for Indian-Americans in particular,” explained Kumar, a Lexington resident since early 2010. In her role with GIG, she spearheaded the group’s effort to help people run for Town Meeting this past election cycle. In India, she added, politics is seen as something corrupt, so civic involvement takes a bit of culture shift for those who grew up there.
“A large part is the motivation aspect,” Kumar said, adding that part of her job is explaining the voluntary nature of Massachusetts town government. “I’m very proud that we got a lot of people energized.”
She hasn’t limited herself to Lexington, though. In early 2017, Kumar joined Boston Business Women, where she now serves as an advisor after reaching out to the organization’s CEO and founder, Kristina Tsipouras. “You’ve got to align yourself with good ideas,” she said of her decision to reach out directly to Tsipouras. BBW is “a platform for women to come together and ask questions, learn, buy, sell,” Kumar said. “I did not feel that the culture is conducive for women to rise to the top as easily as it is for men,” she said, describing BBW as “a safe community” for women.
And even though she’s officially on hiatus from employment, Kumar has been in touch with people around the world, collaborating on two business initiatives and one nonprofit project currently at different phases in the pre-launch process.
It’s only since leaving Wipro that Kumar realized her entrepreneurial spirit. “I probably wouldn’t have left my job to do that,” she said.
"I get passionate, I sign up."
Even with this new resume—a more mosaic-like one formed of different, separate pieces—Kumar said she’s never had more time with her husband and son, who is now a freshman at Lexington High School. She attributes the luxury of found time to shifting her central operating headquarters to her home.
“I feel like there’s a great balance, and the only thing I need to do is not commit to any more activities,” she said.
Even accounting for that lifestyle shift, Kumar’s continued verve and focus seem impressive. “I get passionate, I sign up. When you’re doing the things that you’re passionate about, you have the energy to go the extra mile,” she said.
If following through on her priorities and passions means pushing herself, Kumar will, she said, noting that she doesn’t need much sleep. “I know my body, I can do it. At some point, maybe it’ll have some implications,” the 47-year-old said, with a nod to the aging process.
For now, though, forging ahead as one of the region’s 20 most impressive Indian-American women seems as if it won’t be a problem. With a grin, Kumar made one final admission: “My nickname is ‘limitless.’”
This article has been updated to reflect the correct purchaser of Headstrong.