In honor of Women’s History Month, Das Tor is partnering with the Thunderbird Women in Business Club for an extension of their monthly “Spotlight Series.” During March, we are featuring stories of women at the Thunderbird School of Global Management who share what makes them unique and how they are making a global impact.
“If there was a reason to live, what would that be?”
The answer to this question kept Lisa Patel on the road, headed home to tell her family that she had almost taken her own life. For Lisa, the answer to this question was a born global brand that is currently being actualized by a CEO and boss in control of her future.
Since she was a child, Lisa lived for the glam life. She spent hours trying on her mother’s clothes and jewelry, and her extracurriculars were filled with Bollywood dance rehearsals and watching films. She was set to become an actress. However, over the course of two years when she was in her late teens, she saw the inner workings of the film industry. First in Bollywood and then in Hollywood, she came to the same realization that to make it, she would have to compromise her morals. This shook her; there had to be a way women could be self-made and not have to give up their self respect to be successful. But how could this be accomplished when they weren’t given a fair shot?
Realizing the industry didn’t align with her values, Lisa returned to Arizona to continue her biomedical studies. Her Indian mindset pushed her to follow her plan B. Even though her heart was in another world, it felt like there was no room to take another risk.
“I had put all my energy during my first two years of school into acting and in addition had surrounded myself with toxic people and partied a lot. My GPA was tanked,” she remembers. “I realized I had to raise my GPA, or I would have nothing.” She took on 22 credits per semester, taking and retaking gruelling science classes to become a dentist. In her last year, depression sunk in. She wondered what all this work was for, picturing her future self as a Scrooge who hated her job, cleaning people’s teeth.
“It felt like too much, and I decided to take my own life. On the drive home where I would turn off to do it, I asked myself: If there was something to live for, what would it be? And I realized I didn’t care about the consequences, about people accepting me or not, including my family. I just need to follow my heart, and do what I love most, and I’d figure out a way to get there. I went home and told my family I wasn’t happy in my current situation. I needed to fill my life with things that fulfilled me. My family was so supportive, and I ended up taking a gap year, where I soul searched and found who I was at the core. I would start my own business, so I could call the shots. I could make a new world through my business, and I can truly change the world, and make it more inclusive. If I was the owner, I could change things. So that is where the birth of DNA, my company, happened.”
Lisa’s fashion brand DNA is now well underway. The meaning behind the name is that no matter what happens in life, you own yourself, your story, your looks–everything to your core. Your DNA is yours and can’t be anyone else’s. Lisa gravitates toward rule breakers in fashion like Rhianna and J-Lo and would describe her own style as dynamic. “You’ll see me in a blazer one day and all black with spikes the next, people may see me as whatever they want, and I don’t care. That’s what gives me power– that I can be a lady or a badass.”
She feels a constant high of excitement through creating her own world, bringing visions she has to life and conveying her story through her products. She has learned to adapt to problems and create solutions that will get her from the point of having a vision to having tangible products.
Coming from a science background, Thunderbird gave Lisa the global business skills she needed. Through her time at Thunderbird, she has enjoyed connecting with people of a similar global mindset. In Dr. Mansour Javidan’s cross cultural communication class, she resonated with the dichotomy of upbringing, culture, and circle of influence playing a role in who a person is, while also recognizing that we are all complex as individuals: “We are alike but so different, and this confirmed my idea of DNA.”
She has also gained so much from the age diversity at Thunderbird. “You can be interacting with someone who is a decade older than you, and there is so much wisdom that comes out of that. At the same time, they are so open to hear what you have to say and how you view the world.” The exchange of valuable and innovative ideas is something Lisa does not take for granted. As much as Thunderbirds have a global mindset, exposure to the 4th Industrial Revolution and how rapidly the future is changing, as well as how to be a part of changing that future, are other central conversations.
When asked about her advice specifically for women, Lisa pauses. “There are too many messages the world sends our way of what we are supposed to do. Why aren’t people saying you can be anything? An actress, a model, a business owner… you can do all of it. How many people are telling us that? Not enough. My advice is that you have to tell yourself. You have to build this inner dialogue because there may not be people to do that for you. If you don’t take that step of courage, there is so much missed potential.”
She references Kamala Harris and Jacinda Ardern, who were willing to be courageous and reach their full potential. Lisa hopes more women will see that and feel more comfortable taking that step for themselves. “We can do all of it. I think people are in a shell because of society. Women need to be ruthless, without compromising or losing their heart. Sometimes you need to toughen up because you deserve so much more than people are telling you.”