The Brave Ones

This dealmaker created billions of dollars in market value but quit to find a 'greater purpose'

Key Points
  • Chandrika Tandon became the first Indian-American woman to be elected partner at McKinsey
  • Tandon's album "Soul Call" was nominated for a Grammy in 2010
  • In 2015, she and her husband Ranjon Tandon donated $100 million to New York University's school of engineering
Business leader and Grammy-nominated musician Chandrika Tandon
Chandrika Tandon

During the 1980s, Chandrika Tandon was a highly successful McKinsey consultant and became the first Indian-American woman to be elected partner at the firm.

Then she set up her own business, Tandon Capital Associates, in 1992. "I was on this absolute breakneck pace with Tandon Capital … I was doing deal after deal and creating I think billions of dollars in market value," Tandon told CNBC's "The Brave Ones."

But one day the business was about to sign a "very, very signature deal," she said. But she couldn't do it. "I hadn't signed on the dotted line … something happened to me; I couldn't sign the contracts. I just was paralyzed," she said.

Tandon came to a crossroads in her life. "I started to think … 'Is this what my life's going to be, I'm going to do one deal after another, after another?' … I locked my door and I just wanted to understand, I wanted to think. I cried. I just was trying to figure out who I was, what was success, why was I put on the planet? What was my greater purpose?" she told "The Brave Ones."

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She spent more time with her daughter, Lita Tandon. "She was walking away from major deals and started spending a lot of time both with me, really focusing on my day to day, which she hadn't had as much time to engage in and spending a lot of time doing music and other things that made her happy," Lita told "The Brave Ones."

Tandon comes from a high-achieving Indian family — her sister is former PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi — and music and singing had been part of her life since she was a child.

"I said if I was going to figure out how to spend my time, I want to spend more conscious time with music," Tandon said. For her father-in-law's 90th birthday, she decided to record an album of his favorite chants. She produced a self-published album, "Soul Call," which in 2010 was nominated for a Grammy award.

Now she combines music with business and philanthropy, founding Tandon Global Clinics at performing arts school Berklee to help Indian schoolchildren pursue careers in music. In 2015, she and her husband Ranjan Tandon donated $100 million to New York University's school of engineering.

CNBC's "The Brave Ones" with Chandrika Tandon airs on 5 December 2018 at 22.00 GMT