Power Couple

Punita Kumar & Jayant Sinha

Punita Kumar & Jayant Sinha on being passionate about finance & stocks

This couple, which met and started going steady during their IIT Delhi days, has a fascinating story to tell. It is full of struggles, great memories, fun anecdotes and, at times, compromises and sacrifices.  After 28 years in the corporate sector in India and the US, a major event changed the lives of Jayant and Punita Kumar-Sinha — Jayant was elected as an MP from Hazaribagh and was made minister of state for finance in the Central government. While Jayant decided to take a political plunge early this year, leaving behind an illustrious career as an investment and strategy consultant with firms such as McKinsey & Co and the Omidyar Network, Punita, who has had an equally successful career in finance and investment advisory, is still sorting things out — as an investing consultant, she can work either from the US or from India. But nothing has changed the love they have for each other.  

Jayant and Punita complement each other perfectly. If Jayant is calm and patient, Punita is vibrant and chatty. While Jayant says Punita is practical, she believes Jayant is idealistic and attracts chaos, which is similar to his current profession. They are passionate about finance and stocks (no surprises there), travelling and collecting antique pieces. The walls in their home stand testimony to that. They have two children — the older one is 24, working for a private equity firm in the US, while the younger one is 13, attending school in Delhi. They spent a large portion of their professional careers in the US after moving there in 1985 but moved to Delhi right after Jayant won the elections. Until recently, holidaying was a bi-annual affair and the couple fondly remembers the great time they had in Angkor Wat, France, Mauritius and Goa — where they went after a hectic election campaign. 

 When did the two of you meet for the first time?

Punita: We met in the first week of college at IIT Delhi.

Jayant: I remember seeing Punita for the first time in July 1980, when we were in IIT Delhi filling up our selection forms.

When did you start dating?

Punita: That was in the final year of college in 1984, around August or September. It took us time to get to know each other.

Jayant: We were in different sections at IIT so we never really got to spend a lot of time together.

When did you get married?

Jayant: After IIT, I joined DCM and Punita joined Engineers India. But both of us went to the US in 1985. She got a scholarship to study at Wharton University and I got one to study at University of Pennsylvania, which are both right next to each other in Philadelphia. We were in the US for a year and we came back in 1986 and got married on September 16, 1986. We have been married 28 years. 

What are your common interests and hobbies?

Jayant: We are both passionate investors. So we continuously think and talk about stocks, companies, etc. We also enjoy collecting art and antique furniture. Punita was a sportsperson in IIT and I play tennis. We like to go for walks and play tennis together and try to keep ourselves as physically active as possible. 

Punita: And we also like to travel. 

Which are the areas where you differ?

Punita: He is more idealistic and I am more business-minded. And he attracts chaos (laughs). He really believes in changing things. He is more passionate about changing the world, whereas I just accept things as they are.

Jayant: I am very much an idealist. Punita is a very practical person and is very down-to-earth. The other area where we are different from each other is that while Punita likes a very orderly, predictable schedule, I am much more relaxed and I’m mostly willing to be flexible about things. 

Who is more romantic of the two of you?

Jayant: I think Punita is more romantic. 

Punita: I am more affectionate. He is more poetic. He used to love writing romantic poems. 

What is the most romantic thing your partner has done for you?

Punita: After he became a partner at McKinsey, he took me on a chartered boat to Bermuda and proposed all over again. He also gave me a lovely ring.

What is the biggest challenge that you have overcome?

Jayant: The biggest challenge for us was managing our schedules amid all the work pressure. Being there for the children is also a huge challenge. It is also very difficult to manage work-life balance. In reality, it is very difficult to achieve that balance. 

Punita: For me, the biggest challenge is to get enough time as a family together.

Has Jayant becoming an MP been the turning point in your lives?

Punita: No, there was an equally big transition when I was at Wharton doing my PhD in finance. I had just had a baby, which was the same time around which he got into HBS. So he moved to Boston, I was in Philadelphia for some time and we had to leave our baby in India with our parents. 

So, how do you look at this transition, now that he is an MP?

Punita: It’s always been his passion to move into politics. I am happy to see him excited. I am still trying to figure out how it will impact me because I don’t really have much work in Delhi. Most of my work is either in Mumbai or in the US. So, I am still trying to sort things out. 

How has life changed after Jayant stepped into politics?

Jayant: Obviously, there have been many changes. I had a very long professional career before I entered public life. As Punita mentioned, I had been thinking about it for quite some time. As it happened, I was very fortunate to get a ticket from Hazaribagh and win the election. The first and most important change is that you have to take into account that you are now a public servant and, in that sense, your first priority, besides family, is your constituency. So, that is the big change in comparison with the private sector, where I had a fair bit of independence.

Punita: There are a few more things. He has a lot less control over time now. Secondly, there is a lot less privacy for the family because there are people coming home all the time. Also, political events mostly revolve around the politicians themselves. The spouses are not really a part of it unlike corporate life, where there are quite a few corporate dinners and parties. 

What is it that you have wanted to change in your partner but haven’t been able to so far?

Jayant: One thing I wish is for her to be a little more punctual with things. 

Punita: He is always over-committed. I wish he gave us more time. 

What are your kids doing?

Jayant: We have two boys. The older one is 24. He works for a private equity firm in America. The younger one is 13 and is in Std VIII here in Delhi. 

Was it difficult to bring up the children with the kind of demanding jobs you both had?

Jayant: We are a very career-oriented couple and both have had busy careers that required constant traveling. As a result, it’s always been a juggling act.

Punita:Our children feel that they had to become independent very quickly and early in life. They have had to cope with parents who were always traveling.

How are parental responsibilities divided?

Jayant: It was quite natural that when the boys were younger, they wanted to spend more time with their mother. But as they grew older, they wanted to spend more time with their dad. 

Punita: Jayant has done a lot for his children. He has gone for more parent-teacher meetings because I had a very stressful career.

Who is the boss at home?

Jayant: That’s a wrong question to ask. There is no boss. We are in a partnership. 

Punita: On little things, such as where we want to go for dinner, I get my way. But on big things, such as which city and country we live in, he gets his way.

Are anniversaries celebrated?

Punita: We had some very nice celebrations around our 25th wedding anniversary, both in the US and India. In Delhi, we threw a grand party at the Imperial and in the US, we threw a party on the oceanfront. It was an old mansion by the ocean. We had the party in the garden and a lot of family members from India and the US attended it. 

Do you have any interesting anecdotes to share?

Punita: When we were moving from Philadelphia to Boston, we decided to move our luggage ourselves. Jayant was driving a small truck and I was driving a car. It was during a summer in the 1990s and there were no cell phones then. And I had never driven to Boston alone before. It was a six-hour drive. 

Jayant: I was driving a truck with all our possessions and Punita was following me in the car. Somewhere in the middle, we got lost. So, for those two to three hours, it was a total mess.

Punita: So, I went to a gas station and called my uncle because I had a feeling he would also call him, which he did. That’s how we finally found each other on the highway and we were so relieved. 

Jayant: After I won the elections, all the party workers and people in Hazaribagh were very excited, so they made Punita and me dance on the streets of Hazaribagh.

Punita: Also, on one of our anniversaries, I was working at the World Bank in Washington DC and he was working in Philadelphia. We met half way at 9 o’clock after work to have a candlelight dinner.

Do you ever have professional clashes? If yes, how do you iron them out?

Jayant: Obviously, there have been some and it has led to a lot of compromises and difficulties. Just coming back to India has been very difficult for all of us as a family because there’s a huge change in lifestyle from America, where we had lived for a very long time. Punita and the children have had to compromise a lot for that. It’s not possible to try and optimise one’s own career without considering what the family wants. Sometimes you are able to do it, sometimes not. Punita has had to make a number of sacrifices and so have I. So, it’s always a trade-off. 

How often do you go on holidays?

Jayant: Twice a year. We like to go to different countries and even places within India. We recently went to Goa after the elections.

Punita: We like going to historic places. But of late, it has become difficult to schedule our travels.