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Within months of holding their first meeting in October 2019, the members of the Mumbai Leadership Learning Circle (LLC) had become “each other’s personal advisory group.” 

The program, organized around the world by Chicago Booth’s Harry L. Davis Center for Leadership, is for C-level and senior-level alumni who want a supportive group of peers to work with on leadership development. Nagesh Basavanhalli, ’98, group CEO at Greaves Cotton Limited, was instrumental in getting the Mumbai LLC off the ground.

“It was a circle of trust, with a lot of openness as the group got to know each other and talked about our aspirations and dreams,” he says. 

Then, in May 2021, the LLC had to deal with the unthinkable—member Suhas Patil, ’10, died in the pandemic. 

Mumbai’s brutal second wave had made hospital beds scarce, and medical advice was often confusing and contradictory. As Suhas’s condition worsened, the LLC came together to help his wife, Shobha Patil, arrange beds and specialist appointments, and to offer moral support. But no one had anticipated the worst. 

“I reached out to Shobha within a week [of his death],” says Suruchi Jain, ’11, managing director and founder of Opportune Wealth. Less than a year before his passing, Suhas had engaged Jain’s firm as his personal wealth manager. Now, Jain offered Shobha all her financial expertise—and a friendly shoulder to lean on. 

“I arranged for Shobha to attend an LLC meeting,” she says, “and everyone opened up to create a safe space for her to talk about her concerns, both personal and professional.” In several virtual meetings as well as one-on-one calls, members took the time to listen and offer comfort as well as advice. 

“I know that apart from my own family, I can count on this family too.”

— Shobha Patil

Gradually, Shobha’s next steps took shape. She decided to join Suhas’s business partner at the helm of Sankey Solutions. Working on Shobha’s finances and investments, Jain and Shobha became good friends and together attended a women’s leadership training course, Iron Lady. 

“The emotional help that Suruchi offered really touched me,” says Shobha. “She was also there for my 10-year-old son, knowing how difficult it was for him.” 

Shobha also forged a friendship with Niketa Desai, ’10, founder of Admit Beacon and an entrepreneur, who had lost her mother during the pandemic. “We became partners in pain,” Desai said, adding that they also found common cause in their entrepreneurial journeys. 

Suhas had been a popular LLC member, whom everyone remembers as an earnest, gentle person as well as a driven entrepreneur who aimed to make his 2015 startup into India’s next unicorn. His demise, and the ongoing pandemic, prompted members to engage with some deeper, often uncomfortable issues. 

“We discussed wills, financial planning, succession planning,” says Kamal Jha, ’06, cofounder of ILET Solutions. “We made an effort to get speakers to talk about these issues. We’d make internal nudges and push each other, and indeed some people have made progress on steps such as writing a will.”

The LLC’s structured and programmatic approach toward problem-solving proved vital during this time, says Jalpa Shah Tewari, ’02, practice leader for Adobe and marketing platforms for all global delivery centers at IBM. 

“But above all, it was the candor, the safe space it offered to show vulnerability and open up about things we wouldn’t talk about elsewhere,” she says. “At a personal level, we were able to explore questions like: What is a life well lived? How do we measure success? After all, life is so much more than just careers and tactical advice.” 

Shobha is looking forward to attending an in-person LLC meeting, as well as the Pan-India Booth Alumni Retreat (PIBAR) scheduled for September 2022 in Hyderabad. “I want to express my gratitude,” she says. “I know that apart from my own family, I can count on this family too.”