APR 6, 2024

Rajini Kodialam

Rajini Kodialam is the founder & CEO of E-3Tech – a diversified consortium of industry verticals offering successful SMBs their next-generation leaders and clients. Previously, Rajini co-founded Focus Financial Partners, a leading international partnership of independent wealth management firms (Nasdaq: FOCS). She has held leadership positions at American Express and McKinsey. Rajini is an alumna of Columbia Business School, IIM Ahmedabad. In her free time, she enjoys gardening and loves fusion cuisine. 

Episode Highlights

–  Introduction (00:00): Nitin Bajaj welcomes Rajini Kodialam to “The Industry Show.”

–  Getting to Know Rajini (02:00): Rajini describes her background, from growing up in India to her unconventional journey into entrepreneurship.

  – She highlights her experiences at McKinsey, American Express, and co-founding Focus Financial Partners.

–  Personal Insights (07:00): Rajini shares personal characteristics and values, including her family’s influence, language skills, and introverted nature. She emphasizes the importance of family and motherhood in shaping her identity.

–  Transition to E-3Tech (11:30): Rajini discusses her recent venture, E-3Tech, which aims to empower entrepreneurs across different industries with technology and talent.

–  Focus Financial Partners’ Success (15:00): Rajini reflects on the achievements of Focus Financial Partners, highlighting its public listing and substantial growth.

–  Vision for E-3Tech (18:30): She outlines the philosophy behind E-3Tech, focusing on entrepreneurial empowerment and technology integration in healthcare and professional services.

–  Challenges and Opportunities (23:00): Rajini emphasizes the importance of finding the right people as a significant challenge and opportunity for E-3Tech’s success.

–  Past Failures and Lessons (27:00): She shares personal anecdotes of facing challenges and failures, emphasizing the importance of resilience and adaptability.

–  Relaxation and Hobbies (34:00): Rajini reveals her passion for gardening and reading fiction as ways to de-stress.

–  One Line Life Lessons (38:00): Rajini shares insightful life lessons, including embracing one’s identity, perseverance, the power of community, and prioritization.

–  Conclusion (40:00): Nitin Bajaj expresses gratitude and admiration for Rajini’s journey and insights, looking forward to her future successes. Rajini expresses appreciation for the invitation and concludes the episode.

Show Transcript

Transcript - Full Episode

Nitin Bajaj: Welcome to The Industry Show. I’m your host, Nitin Bajaj, and joining me today is Rajini Kodialam. Rajini, welcome on the show.


Rajini Kodialam:  Thank you so much, Nitin. Happy to be here. 


Nitin Bajaj:  Pleasure is all ours. So let’s start with who is Rajini? 


Rajini Kodialam:    That’s a tough question. I was thinking about it because I knew you’d ask me, and the best answer I can give you is this is like looking into a fun house of mirrors. If you go to a fair where sometimes you look taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, sometimes you look like what you want to look like, and sometimes you see the real reflection. So let’s try and look at a few of those. I could tell you I’m a successful.  First generation Indian immigrant. Grew up in India, went to school there, I’m Amba, came here, went to Columbia Business School, joined did the conventional thing that most Indians do when they come here. Go to school.  Joined a consulting firm, McKinsey, in my case. Then went and joined Corporate America, American Express. And that’s where the conventional behavior stops for me.  ’cause then I got bitten by the entrepreneurial bug. Went a little crazy. My husband didn’t tell me I was crazy. And with a couple co-founders went and started Focus Financial Partners. So I guess in many ways a little unconventional because if you start peeling back the layers and say financial services, starter. A founder who  took her company  public, a woman,  brown woman.


Nitin Bajaj:  mm-Hmm.


Rajini Kodialam:   I guess you don’t see too many,  but if you look into a different mirror and say, well, okay, that’s the professional side. Who else is she?  I guess I’m a very outspoken, straight shooter. Hopefully balance a little IQ with a little eq.  I have a terrific memory.  I speak multiple languages. I’m a complete extrovert.  But if you really think about it, I’m not, I’m an introvert who puts on a show and I know for a fact that every now and then I have to work away to sort of center myself. But all this confidence, which I’ve always had, which is the go for what you want and go get what you want, really stems from having a phenomenally supportive family. I grew up in India. A chunk of my life was spent in luck. Now, a very conservative place girls school put in an extremely supportive father. I don’t think he did this deliberately, but a father who, for whatever reason I will not say about this, my mother, bless our heart, love her, but didn’t do it. My father, who for whatever reason, never made a difference between me and my younger brother, never didn’t tell us, you have to do this, don’t do that. You need to study. You don’t. You have to. No. Treated us the same and taught both of us. You gotta succeed in life and,  and also grew up surrounded by a wonderful family. Very lucky in my husband of 30 years who has been my rock through professional and personal you know, timelines and uncles and aunts and friends, both that I grew up with, my family and my in-laws. After 30 years, you know, you don’t know the difference creating that emotional cocoon, that foundation.  That I will never take for granted. But if you really, really look, want to look inside the mirror, house of fun,  it’s no longer a mirror. Right? At some point in your life there are these photographs because there are points in time that are etched in your memory, which you, which come back whether you want to or not.  And when I dive deep down and say who is  really, it’s, I’m a mom,  that’s what I am. And the memory that is the fondest is, you know, when completely exhausted. And you and I just before we started it, we’re talking about your daughter’s birth   completely  and totally exhausted body racked with pain in every way, and I held the source of all the pain in my hands for the first time.

 That’s bliss. So I guess in the end, I’m a family woman.  I hope that answers your question.


Nitin Bajaj:  You are such a beautiful storyteller and you’ve had an unconventional.  I guess surrounding for the most part. But I’m not surprised by the success, the support that you’ve received, the family, the diversity, the culture we come from. Not all of us get to enjoy every single aspect of it, but there is so much to draw from and give back.

 And I know you’re a very philanthropically involved and uh, interested person. And you have already given a lot back. We’ll talk about that briefly, but you know, tell us  you took focus. Started it, took it public, had a very successful exit, and you have recently launched and announced  E-3Tech. Congratulations again for that. Give us a sense for  a, a little bit of the journey with focus, but also what we are looking to see coming out of  E-3Tech.


Rajini Kodialam:    Absolutely. Absolutely. So focus was a big part of my  life for the last,  almost two decades, and officially parted ways on December 31st. And,  well, it’s a  month and a half, I guess, into the new year. And  E-3Tech is my new journey. And, I actually took a month off something that I have never done in my life except maybe after school and went to India and New Zealand and I said, detox, do I really wanna do this again? And I do want to do it again. I’m crazy. So the ethos of both the firms is similar. They’re built on the same thing, so. They both built on a focus. Focus was built on three strong beliefs. Belief one,  that  small business America is phenomenally strong, especially the independent wealth management market, not the Merrill Lynch’s Morgans and the Goldman Sachs, but the I’m not affiliated with anybody. I just do right by you. I’m your fiduciary advisor, and, and.  Who’s growing double digits, hugely profitable, do right by your clients. They love you and you have a great business,  but you peel back the onion and you realize, highly fragmented, most run by one, two entrepreneurs, everybody has a growth class ceiling ’cause they are resource constrained. Mainly talent and succession planning is a nightmare. The very success of these entrepreneurs means that the next generation cannot buy them out. What do they end up doing? Selling back to the same conflicted world that they score to move away from.  Designating  every promise they made to themselves, their employees and their clients. And focus was an attempt at saying, can we build something that gives them what they want? That celebrates the entrepreneur, that surrounds them with resources that usually come with scale, but doesn’t take away that entrepreneurial DNA,  leave them in control. Not a private equity model, but a permanent model  while the entrepreneur remains in control,  nobody else did it. In fact today it’s easy to say which private equity firm is not in this industry. But nobody tried that value proposition. And I guess it worked because you know, we took the company public in Nasdaq in 2018 and for multiple reasons decided that being private was properly a smarter thing and did that last year. But as of March last year almost 6,000 employees. Across 300 locations, 90 subsidiary firms little over 2 billion in revenue.  So what is  E-3Tech?  E-3Tech takes that philosophy and applies it to different verticals. And let me tell you what  E-3Tech stands for because I think that name means something. It is the first E stands for entrepreneurial, DNA.  For me, that is the lifeline of small business America, small business anywhere, and always celebrated it will always celebrate it. Two, it stands for empowering them with technology,  and that’s what I’m trying to do because I completely believe the technology is going to be a game changer 20 years ago.  In American Express before focus, I was one of those few people who said the Internet’s gonna be a game changer, and I sort of dived into it. I ran interactive services for US card and travel for Amex. To me, there’s another sort of that little  or big pause coming and I think this is not just, you know, operational efficiencies. I think this is going to improve consumer value proposition. esat all over  and these people don’t always have access to it. So empowering entrepreneurs with technology and at the same time building this within talented ecosystems. That’s th E-3Tech, the third E I do believe in people working together to make it happen and trying this in two specific verticals. One is healthcare,


Nitin Bajaj:  Mm-Hmm.


Rajini Kodialam:    which I think is a big need. America is aging, the world is aging, and we are living longer and God bless, we are gonna get sick. Healthcare and home health and hospice to be very specific. And the other one is other professional services. So if I want to give you the numbers that are the equivalent of what I gave you in focus, I can give you a dream  and  a total headcount of two. 


Nitin Bajaj:   Okay.  First off, congratulations on focus. It’s no small feat. The numbers you just shared, 2 billion, 6,000 team, 300 locations, mind blowing numbers. And to do that in, you know, 10 years is a long time, but is really a short time, right? We talk about overnight success that takes 10 years and you.  More than success succeeded at that. And with  E-3Tech, I don’t believe it’s going to take as long because you’ve been there, done that. You know exactly where the opportunity is. And yes, you’re starting with two, but you’re also an exponential person. So I’m sure in a few months here, the numbers would be much, much larger. But what it takes is. 

 No, but it, it does take a dream. It does take someone to have that passion and the industries and the domains you have picked, there is a pain that needs a painkiller and that’s what you’re offering. So I’m not I’m, I’m very confident that you know, the numbers will be much, much larger and we will have to bring you back to talk more about e.


Rajini Kodialam:    You know, Edmund Hillary this is a quote I love.    The quote says that when he stood on the top of Everest for the first time,  and what he said there is while standing at the top of Everest, I looked across the valley towards the other great big makalu and started figuring out how do I want to climb it?  But.  A lot of entrepreneurs say that it’s the, it’s the curse of entrepreneurship and  it’s the,  the greatest joy. But guess what? He didn’t do it immediately. It did take his post attempt, but then he went back and he climbed Mac Kalu many, many times.  So  there you go.    So you said it yourself. We know you’re gonna conquer it, so it’s just it’s not an if it’s a when and we’ll be ke keeping close tabs on that    now.  As you set on this journey,  I’d love for you to share  in the, in the little bit of thinking and and time you’ve taken on this, what’s the one big challenge that you’re looking at?   to me, it always comes back to right finding the right  people.   It is always people for me because if you have the right people, you can get the money, you can get the processes, the material, the technology, and and, and laying the foundation of the firm is important. Sometimes we jump into things we latch onto things.


Rajini Kodialam:  It’s exciting. You could be lucky, it could be the right one, but I’ve always believed in the right foundation. So, you know, we concrete strong, everybody gets it, and we all put down these concrete. Pavers and patios and, and the freeze comes and then it sort of, the sun comes out and summer comes and you start seeing tunnel little cracks. Then they say, you know what? Just put a rebar in it.  It creates tensile strength, and suddenly the concrete is reinforced concrete, and you can build a skyscraper.  I want the reinforced concrete. I’m looking for my rebars, both in the financial partners.  The entrepreneurial partners. So laying the foundation now, and the only rebars are people,  so I’m trying to find the right people because if I find the right partners in this,  then I am going to be successful and they are going to be successful.

So, I think I could say this, irrespective of what you’re doing,  the most difficult thing is to find the right people to work with, to bounce your ideas off, to give you strength. 


Nitin Bajaj:   I would love, well, first off, I love the visuals. I love the visual storytelling, how you put this across. You know, I’m a big fan and  I.  I believe there is going to be a long line of people that would want to associate with you, work with you, and have your leadership. So I think your challenge is going to be, who do I select? It’s not.  So  now in terms of,  you know, I like to say on the flip side of challenges come opportunities.  And obviously you’ve, you’re already looking at two very big ones, but what’s exciting you the most about that opportunity? 

 The home healthcare and hospice is phenomenal. I mean, I have never seen an industry where demand outstrips supply in such an amazing fashion. And I’m very, very much a glass half full, not a glass half empty person. It’s personality. And when I look at the gaps in the industry, when I look at the fact that the world is aging, but the world is living longer and the world is going to get a little sick and going, nobody after Covid wants to. Go to a, a place they  want to eat at home, they want to do it with dignity. And someday it’s going to be you and me because that’s the only inevitability in life. And there’s a talent shortage and there’s a tech shortage, and it is a business. I, I’m not going to make any qualms about the fact that it’s a for-profit venture for me, but at the same time, there’s a part of me that is totally, totally enamored by the fact that  this is, this is something that the world needs.  It totally needs it. Not doesn’t just need it, it needs it done. Right. And there is a part of me that is excited because, you know I grew up in India. I live in this country.  You can say I’m a global citizen, or you can say I’m homeless, right? I mean, most of us. Are sort of living in the shanko world when we are immigrants. But to me I see an insane opportunity to bridge my two backgrounds. ’cause I think there could be an insourcing of the talent from India and I think there could be an outsourcing of the tech capabilities to India. So there are so many aspects of this that is that’s just exciting for me. It makes me wanna get up in the morning and talk to people about it.   Well, you got me all excited about it.  Not about getting old, but the opportunity that lies around it. Yes, it’s a huge market and I like to say the healthcare system in this country is a little more than messed up. And when things that big a scale are messed up, there is a need for entrepreneurs and smart people like yourself to come in and start fixing those things. And there is nothing wrong in doing well while doing good. And, you know, that’s, that’s really kind of getting you close to Ikigai, right? You’re good at it and it serves your purpose and you make money in the process.


Rajini Kodialam:    That’s a beautiful word, but it sums it up.  It sums  it up very much. 


Nitin Bajaj:   Rajini, we’ve, we’ve talked about the future and, and what’s to come. I would love to take a look.  Maybe in a little bit of that funhouse mirror and talk about two moments, one where things did not work out as you had planned, as you had expected. It became a failure and a lesson, and another one that blew your own expectations, exceeded your imagination.

Would love for you to share those moments with us. 


Rajini Kodialam:   Okay, let me tell you the one that I’m most proud of and then we’ll go back and tell you about the failure that built  some confidence.   So I talked to you about focus over the course of focus. We collectively did 300 deals, 300 m and a transactions,  not as a banker, not for somebody else. For us. That’s a lot    off that. Yeah, about 90 of them were what you call platform deals. The rest were tucks.  That’s not the metric I’m proud of.  The metric I’m really proud of is the fact that  every relationship that we had, everything we built, what we said we did, what we promised, we delivered because of those 90 platforms and the talkings, the 300 total.  There was one that unwant,  one  that I am proud of because in the end, there’s only one thing that you have. Do people believe your word or not? Everything else comes, goes, changes, disappears. So that is a metric I’m proud of.  Going back to challenges,  I’ll give you two stories, which gave me one lesson.  First we’re gonna take, go back a very long time ago when I was nine years old. I grew up in Bangalore. First nine years of my life. Happy little kid, never knew a word of Hindi.  Suddenly my father with Hindustan aeronautics decides I’m gonna go to look now, pack up the bags, takes us and drops this completely social girl into a place where everybody’s speaking Hindi and she doesn’t understand or word. And man was I lost, was I so lost? I was miserable in my life. I.  A chunk of your audience is, is probably Indian. So,  but there was a time in my life when I was lost and I, I, I got over it. I mean, obviously I got over it. You heard me speak Hindi, but  I promised myself as a 9-year-old child. I. How could they do this to me? And I’m never gonna put myself in this situation.  Guess what I did? Here comes the second story. 1994 I moved to this country and I moved here with a I am am the bad degree, which is kind of the catch meow in India. And I was rather proud of it. And you come here and try and get a job and you realized who,  what, how whoa is that? Sort of a little punch in the face. And guess what?  That was okay because.  The lack of that knowledge of language made me learn many languages, learned me to say,  that’s not gonna be a barrier for me tomorrow. I can create my own social diaspora.  The lack of that made me go to Columbia, which made me go to McKinsey, which launched me into this entire career. So  the lesson learned is you can’t control destiny, those curve balls.  Or those googly speaking, cri crook are going to come.  You cannot not make them come. You can try,  but you can always hit them out of the ballpark  if you want to. So don’t hide from them. They will come embrace them and  make the best of them. 


Nitin Bajaj:   Nee. That’s phenomenal. My takeaway,  you’re a force of nature and nothing can stop you.  So that’s the, that’s the real lesson there


Rajini Kodialam:    Why thank you. That’s very kind. Again, 


Nitin Bajaj:   Now.  Apart from all of this, apart from changing the world around you and you know, being a nonstop nons, stoppable force, what do you do for fun to de-stress? I mean, you just had a nice little break with other than that, in your day to day, how do you de-stress?


Rajini Kodialam:    I love gardening. I.  I absolutely love it. Not conventional gardening in the sense. So let me give you an example. I used to live in New Jersey for a very long time. I moved to Austin a couple years ago in New Jersey. I like growing  unconventional plants at conventional rows and lines. I was completely into ornamental grasses for a long time in, in Austin. I’ve fallen in love with Zurich plants.  ​ so I love gardening. It gives me. I talk to my plants, yes. That’s my sign of insanity. My children and my husband make fun of me and say, oh, there she goes. But you know what? I love my plants. I totally do. I also I like to read.  I don’t read anything sensible. It’s all fiction. I love fantasy fiction. I love science fiction. Someday I tell myself I will write a book. I don’t think it’s gonna come. I don’t think it’s because I don’t have the time, but because I don’t have the idea, I. 


Nitin Bajaj:   Again, we disagree. You are obviously very, very good with telling stories. You’re very creative, so the ideas are there. I think it’s just a matter of you having to take one more of those breaks, which you have never taken, and just getting it done.


Rajini Kodialam:    Someday maybe.


Nitin Bajaj:   It’ll happen  if you put your mind to it, you know it’s gonna happen. So.  Rajini. This brings us to my favorite part of the show. We call it the One Line Life Lessons. We’d love for you to share your life lessons with us.


Rajini Kodialam:    I’m happy to. Okay. I’m gonna read some of this out. I did write them out for you. So let me start with Popeye. Popeye, the sale of band, said I am what I am.  And  that’s it. I think that’s all we can all say. I am what I am. Life is too short to be anything else.  Second one, going back to Mr. Hillary Edmond, Hillary, he said, I never climbed up anything one step at a time.  I could have said that. That’s been my life.  Another one, I’m gonna stop coding. Now, I don’t know who said this. I know Hillary Clinton has a book of this name, but  I do believe it takes a village. It takes a village to do anything great. To raise a child to achieve anything, I believe in the power of ecosystems.  For  this quote I told you I like science fiction. I love Star Trek. And if you saw Star Trek, there was a prime directive. This is my professional prime directive and it speaks to what I did at Focus and what I will always do at  E-3Tech. Never turn a successful entrepreneur into an employee.  Yeah. And last,  prioritize, compartmentalize.  Sometimes sacrifice, but never give up on your dream to have it all.  ’cause you can,  you got the five.


Nitin Bajaj:   I love that. Thank you so much, Rajini, and I love every single one of them. They’re very focused, very clear. Very precise and that’s what the life lessons are about, right? They’re simple, but life changing. So thank you for sharing those. Thank you for sharing your journey and story. Congratulations again on focus, but more,  more of a forward looking.

Congratulations on  E-3Tech, and we can’t wait to bring you back on and talk about more of your successes.


Rajini Kodialam:    That’s very kind of you. Thank you so much for inviting me. Thanks Nitin.

Nitin Bajaj:   Bye.  Thank you.


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