Most high school students who take cold-calling jobs at market research firms, as Roni DasGupta did, probably burn out quickly. And for those who have the stamina to stay on and weather the inevitable hang-ups and irate respondents, the job is usually just a waystation until they start college. But DasGupta—currently the chief revenue officer for M3 Global Research, a leading global healthcare market research firm—seized the opportunity, put all of her energy into it, and used it to launch a career that continues to rise.
Besides the discipline and gumption that earned her commissions, DasGupta’s success at the market research company was due to a commitment to integrity, something the higher-ups noticed.
“A few of my peers would try to cheat to get commissions, and they’d get fired immediately,” she says. “My strategy was to pound the phones. It didn’t cross my mind not to be honest about my responses. And because of that, I was the last man standing.”
Money, certainly, was a motivation. DasGupta joined the company, whose offices were five minutes down the street from her parents’ house, to earn enough money to go to her senior prom. She didn’t want to ask her parents to foot the bill, so she was committed.
“I had to do things right the first time and not mess up so I could make that money for prom,” she says.
Prom was like a beacon that guided DasGupta as a teenager. She was elected class president in her junior and senior year, at the second largest high school in Texas at the time. The central issue she had campaigned on was raising money for the prom in the midst of a funding crisis. The previous class president and officers had done little to raise funds, so her class was left in the lurch. DasGupta’s fundraising innovations included using a grocery store loyalty card tied to a nonprofit and a prom-point system for contributors. In the end, they raised the most money any class ever had: $60,000. It was enough not only to cap the prom ticket price at $15 (the event was held at the swanky Omni Hotel in Houston), but to pay for the following class’ prom as well.
After graduation, DasGupta entered the University of Texas at Austin where she studied corporate communications and French, coming back home during summers and winters to work at the market research firm.
When she graduated, the Internet bubble had just burst, and she faced a tough job market. But she had insurance in the form of the company she had been working for. She went from telephone interviewer to managing a room of callers to project supervisor. She was working seventy-hour weeks on consumer and business-to-business projects, an exhausting pace even for a focused twenty-two-year-old like DasGupta.
“There were only two of us running the majority of the projects coming out of the phone room,” she recalls. “We would be doing 40-50 projects at a time, and this is before everything came to be organized on a computer.”
Eventually, she moved on to a project manager position for healthcare research at another company, where she stayed for six years. In that time, she also completed two master’s degrees: an MBA in marketing and master’s in international management. Then M3 came calling. She liked the opportunity because the company was growing. It was a great fit for the skills she had honed at her other two companies, and it incorporated her master’s degrees.
“At the time, the company had only about fifteen people,” she says. “Recognition of the company was low. I started putting in fresh ideas I had learned from my past experience with field work and customized solutions. I think it helped us go over and beyond what the typical healthcare market research company did.”
Her efforts and impact were noticed, as she was promoted or moved into a new role every year. She went from an individual contributor, to vice president of sales, to sales team lead, to head of global sales. Now, as chief revenue officer of M3 Global Research, she is in charge of all the company’s revenue coming out of the United States as well as Europe.
Looking back, DasGupta says she wouldn’t be an executive today without the long hours and rejection she faced at her first company.
“It took a toll on me, but if I didn’t get that experience and learn about research from the ground up, I wouldn’t be able to do what I am doing today,” she says. “I had to be my own secretary and my own administration. I never had the luxury of having an assistant, which is one reason I learned so much.”
DasGupta doesn’t guard the wisdom she’s earned jealously. As a volunteer mentor within the industry, she counsels students interested in marketing research as a career. She has spoken several times at the schools she graduated from, telling her story and providing tips on how to network and build credibility at a young age. Currently, she works with junior and mid-level managers to help them take the next step in their career and helps them come up with a blueprint on how to get there.
“I never say no because there was always someone there to help me,” she says.
One of the main things she tries to impress on her mentees is that it’s better to take all the steps on a path than try to leap to the end.
“I’ve always chosen the path of experience over money,” she says. “It’s always been the best choice for me because it’s a better learning experience. You can’t put a price on that. I went through every level, step by step, and that’s what has made me successful. The money will come later; it’s better to build yourself up for opportunities and not jump too far when you’re not prepared for it.”
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