Senior Partner, McKinsey & Company, Bay Area
By Robin Doran | Published: September 2022
In Sanskrit, the name Hrishika roughly translates to one who brings happiness. Hrishika Vuppala exemplifies the meaning.
From her childhood in India, to a formative internship at Apple, to her role as a senior partner at McKinsey & Company in the Bay Area, this Joint Venture Silicon Valley board member has approached life with enthusiasm, boldness and a sense of mission.
“I love thinking of myself as a lifelong student and I love learning new things,” she says. “I think with that comes the requirement for humility to acknowledge that problems have nuances; coming up with solutions is something that I really enjoy.”
Hrishika grew up in Kolkata, the capital of India's West Bengal state. Her mother taught English literature at the university level and her father was CIO of a consumer goods conglomerate. “I sort of grew up seeing the era of digitization happen in front of me,” Hrishika says with a laugh. And that experience propelled her forward, though life was not without obstacles.
Hrishika recalls that in hot and humid Kolkata, the power outages lasted for hours. Her creative mother helped Hrishika and her sister beat the heat by taking them to swim lessons and to the local library where the air conditioning was backed up by a generator.
Hrishika’s biggest fan may well be her sister, Kaushika Vuppala, who is Senior Legal Counsel for Shell Oil in London. “Hrishika is extroverted, bold, industrious, fun, and very determined,” she says. “I think the predominant attributes that have shaped, and contributed to, Hrishika’s success are her grit and fortitude, even under the most trying circumstances. She is also deeply passionate about giving back to the community and making a difference.”
As her ambition grew, Hrishika completed a Bachelor of Engineering in electronics and communications from Manipal Institute of Technology in Karnataka, India, then went to work for General Electric and Pricewaterhousecoopers. She worked in the Asia–Pacific region, Europe, Latin America, and — ultimately — North America.
The Bay Area beckoned, and Hrishika earned an MBA at Berkeley. “Northern California was a beacon and I found that people think radically different here,” she says. “I grew up hearing about possibilities being limitless in America. While it's not actually true for a large set of people, I figured out as a student that if I were bold, I could contribute, and I would be welcomed.”
She garnered an internship at Apple the last year that Steve Jobs was CEO. When Jobs addressed summer interns that year, he encouraged them to buy lunch for executives to learn about what they do. “I reached out to 30 people and learned more from those encounters than from the project to which I was assigned. It was like a fan girl moment for me.” She landed her first paid job in the US doing marketing analytics for Apple while still in school.
After graduating from Cal in 2011, Hrishika went to work for a global management consulting firm. Eventually Hrishika decided to focus on their public sector work because digital applications were underutilized in a sector rife with data and the opportunity to leverage technology to improve the lives of individuals. There she found her calling to support the public sector in their decisions to help measurably improve the delivery and effectiveness of government services.
Today, Hrishika helps leaders across sectors to design and execute technology-enabled business transformations. She takes a big-picture view of technology challenges and extends a strategic perspective to the practical level. “We help companies pull together a robust, fact-based look at the market, competitors, a range of industries and functionally, sales, operations, and organization,” says Hrishika.
When the pandemic hit, governments across the globe had to navigate the humanitarian and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hrishika and her colleagues supported public sector leaders with management and organizational expertise, and analytical capabilities to help inform their decisions.
One such example was to help states scale the volume of COVID-19 diagnostic testing, including for vulnerable populations, essential workers, as well as other symptomatic and asymptomatic populations.
“Hrishika’s passion for improving how government serves the people and her indefatigable energy are so inspiring to me,” says Jessica Kahn, a friend and colleague of Hrishika’s, and also a partner at her firm. “As I made the transition from government into consulting, she really helped me shift my mindset from helping clients incrementally to helping them set bigger, bolder aspirations for moving the needle on healthcare challenges.”
As a way to preserve client confidence, she has not offered specifics, though Hrishika says that her work helped government leaders obtain the strong analytical capabilities they needed to support decision making. “Decision makers needed data,” says Hrishika, and providing that data helped drive solutions.
“The thing that gives me energy is to look at any complicated problem and break it down into digestible pieces that can be addressed,” says Hrishika. “It's not always easy to do because there may not be parallels to learn from.” According to Hrishika, McKinsey calls this first principles thinking; no matter what the problem is, if one can understand the core of it and simplify it down to component parts, then the dilemma can then be solved.
When she’s not working, Hrishika enjoys spending time with her husband, Chait, in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco where they live. Chait, who works in tech finance, has a different version of how they met than does Hrishika. “I always say it was an arranged marriage, but he says it was a love marriage,” laughs Hrishika. While they were introduced by their parents, “…my husband claims he had to work too hard to woo me and therefore it counts as a love marriage,” she says. “I maintain that we would have never met if our parents had not introduced us.”
As an immigrant Hrishika is inspired to help create a better system for people “…who have the least in life and are vulnerable. How do I make sure I can maximize the value of what we get from resources so that we can give people access to what they deserve, whether it's food, healthcare, or financial benefits, just so that we can get a little bit of a level playing field for the whole population,” she says.
Hrishika became a board member at Joint Venture in 2021 as a way to expand her community service. “My hope is that we can lead in thinking about how to innovate both profitably and equitably,” she says.
“When I moved to Silicon Valley from India, I was confused about why I had to use three different transportation systems to travel from Berkeley to Cupertino, and I’ve wondered – could we apply technology to innovate and make this more efficient, so many would benefit, and make the Bay Area model one that others can replicate.”