Fast Company: “Happiness at Work”…Yes, Really–Q&A with Author Srikumar S. Rao

When I was given the opportunity to interview Srikumar S. Rao, Ph.D., author of the new book, Happiness at Work, I jumped for a couple of reasons.  First,  I’d been hearing about the “Creativity and Personal Mastery” class he taught at Columbia Business School (my alma mater) for years.  It was legendary.  And I wanted to meet the man behind the legend.

Second, I believe the approach to work and life outlined in his book is critical if we are to ride the inevitable career twists and turns in today’s volatile, ever-changing global economy.

A bit of a back story will help you understand the questions I asked Professor Rao (Please feel free to skip down to the interview!).

I entered Columbia Business School in 1993, after seven years as a banker in New York City.   At the end of my banking career, I was a specialist in lending to closely-held middle market companies and large not-for-profits (e.g. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was one of my accounts).  And I managed the day-to-day responsibilities of a team of bankers.

By every external metric, I was “successful,” but I wanted to become a work+life flexibility strategy consultant.  Why?  As a manager, I realized it was bad business not to help the account officers who had the relationships with the clients flexibly manage their work+life challenges.  The account officer usually left the bank and the account became vulnerable because our money was as green as the bank’s down the street.  It was the relationship that mattered and needed to be sustained.

I had a vision that work+life flexibility was going to become a business imperative for all employers in the coming years.  I wanted to be a part of it, and I knew an MBA from a top school would give me the credibility to make change happen.  Remember, this was the early 1990’s.

When I started at Columbia, I knew no one in the work+life field, which was just starting to grow.  By the time I graduated two years later, I’d managed to get an internship and an initial consulting project with the one place I wanted to work, Families and Work Institute.  But, I earned less than I did when I left banking, I didn’t have any managerial responsibility, and no one had any idea what work+life strategy consulting was, “What? (confused look)”

Using those same external metrics, was I a success or a failure? At the time, I’m sure many thought I wasn’t just a failure, but a crazy failure!  I, on the other hand, felt like I’d hit the lottery.

I persevered by intuitively embracing many of the philosophies Dr. Rao shares in his book. I only wish he and the students who took his class had been at Columbia when I was there.  It would have been nice to have fellow travelers on my unconventional journey. (I may actually take his class now that he offers it outside of MBA programs just so I can join the alumni association!)

Seventeen years later, I can’t believe I get paid to do this job everyday.  If I can achieve my unique work+life fit vision, (trust me) anyone can.

Srikumar S. Rao’s Happiness at Work helps guide the way.  Dr. Rao generously spent time with me recently discussing his philosophy.  Highlights of our conversation are below.  For more information about Happiness at Work and Srikumar S. Rao, visit

Happiness at Work guides the way for everyone…Interview with Dr. Srikumar S. Rao

CY: Professor Rao, when I read your new book, Happiness at Work, I was both overjoyed and surprised.  Overjoyed because I believe the approach you outline is critical for a sense of well-being in today’s economic reality in which there are no guarantees and change is inevitable.

But I was surprised because the core principles of the Happiness at Work philosophy run counter to the standard profile of the typical top MBA student I’ve encountered both while at school and after (although, there are exceptions for sure).  For example here’s a quick side-by-side comparison to illustrate my point: (Click here for more)