Perseverance and Empathy: The Strengths of a Leader, with Ekta Chopra
For Contentsquare’s annual CX Circle Magazine, we sat down with leading women in the eCommerce industry to learn about their careers. One of the latest female leaders we spoke to was Ekta Chopra, Chief Digital Officer at e.l.f Cosmetics. We asked Chopra to share how she ended up in eCommerce and any advice she wished she knew along the way.
Here’s what she had to share:
1. Tell us a bit about your background and some of the lessons you’ve learned in your career.
It starts with having a mother who was always very strong. Early in my life, she went from being very well-off to working in a restaurant. So my first lesson in life was: nothing remains the same. But you have to be grateful for what you have. Your circumstances will change, but that doesn’t mean you give up.
The second lesson was about education. It’s the only thing nobody can take away from you. Being curious, questioning, seeking out new opportunities — without those things, I could not be where I am today.
The third was something I proved about myself: never judge a book by its cover. I started my career at an accounting software company, watching a room full of men developing and being engineers and doing whatever else they did. It didn’t look that hard, so I saved up to buy parts for a computer, to help me learn about the different parts and pieces and so on. I built the computer, connected it to the network on my own, and started doing a Microsoft certification (on my own – I didn’t have money to go to a class). Then I saw an ad in a newspaper for a first-time sysadmin role, and I interviewed. My boss took a chance and gave me a month to prove myself, which I did! So the lesson is: if you see hunger, drive, and someone willing to invest in themselves — take a chance.
That’s where my journey began. I became an IT manager in less than a year, then a director. An aerospace company offered me a job and told me they’d never seen someone so excited about technology. A few jobs later and I was promoted to Head of Technology at a private equity firm. I was applying my skills in a different way, but the fundamentals were the same. So, my next lesson was: not everything needs a revolution. There are core fundamentals to any job and if you do them right, you can excel and accelerate as much as you want.
My next move was to the James Irvine Foundation in California, which was more aligned with my core values; basic human rights, education. The pace of life was slower and it gave me space to refocus on some of the things that were maybe more important, like starting a family and so forth. So the lesson here is about maintaining balance — for your sanity and your own well-being.
I learned the last lesson was when I joined e.l.f. Cosmetics four years ago as Head of Technology. Because when I look back at what I’ve achieved and where I am today, I think how rewarding this journey has been. Always reach out for opportunities to do something that you’re scared of, or you don’t think you’re capable of, because you’re going to prove yourself wrong time and time again.
2. What’s the most important quality a leader should have?
For me, empathy should be at the center of everything. Because when you have empathy, you really give people a chance, you seek to understand and you don’t just judge. It’s so important, especially now when there is so much unrest in the world.
Empathy is my strength. And I would never let anyone tell me that you’re too empathetic. Bulldozing your way through life might get you a short term objective, but when you bind that sort of connection with empathy, people work for a mission, for something bigger than just a project or thing that’s in front of them.
I think it’s a combination of empathy and curiosity. And I wasn’t scared to fail. My mom always taught me that failure was a way of winning because unless you fail, you don’t know what you can do differently next time. Failure is going to teach you. So I think it’s a combination of all that, and I just didn’t fit in a box.
For me, it was always like, getting to that why, but why do we want to do it and why is it important? And I think I was able to do that in a way that was human, without judging people or putting them down. That was definitely important, too.
Ekta has written more about her story on LinkedIn. Check it out!