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A Versatile Maven

Mar/31/2024 / by Melanie Fourie

Hitha Palepu is CEO of a pharmaceutical company and an author

South Asian woman in printed shirt with a printed scarf
Photo credit: Priyanca Rao Photography

New York-based Hitha Palepu embodies versatility. From steering the helm of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals as CEO to crafting insightful narratives as an author, she wears multiple hats. Her literary prowess shines through acclaimed works like “We’re Speaking: The Life Lessons of Kamala Harris” and “How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip“, inviting readers into worlds of empowerment and practical wisdom.

But this mom’s influence extends beyond the written word.  #5SmartReads, her news curation platform, is a Webby Honorée (for Social Series, News, and Politics in 2020), resonating with tons of followers on social media. As a speaker, Palepu captivates audiences with her insights on entrepreneurship, investment strategies, and the delicate balance of parenting and career. We delve into her journey here, uncovering the secrets behind her achievements and the vision driving her forward. 

You grew up in the United States. How has your background shaped your perspective and influenced your multifaceted career?

I grew up watching my father grow in his career as a pharmaceutical researcher (and moving frequently as a result) and spending every other summer in Hyderabad, India. All of these personal norms taught me how to be adaptable, flexible, curious, and have a dual sense of home as a specific place and a feeling.

I developed a strong work ethic modelled after my parents’ own, found a sense of adventure in every move or trip we took as a family, and was given a say in our family decisions, which gave me an appropriate sense of responsibility. 

You’ve achieved remarkable success across various fields. What inspired you to pursue such a diverse range of interests and professions?

I credit both of my parents, truly. My mother [because of] her frequent “ands” when I talked about my future ambitions. And my father because he was active in taking me to my extracurricular activities and treating that time as valuable as his time at work. That I could do multiple things—and I’d have to work really hard to excel at them—was normalized at a really young age for me and has been a constant as I grew up. My parents were the original inspiration, and they continue to be. I’m also inspired by other women who have done the same.

Tell us about your experience as CEO of Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals. Could you also shed some light on the types of products Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals specializes in?

We’re developing an injectable presentation of aspirin for hospital use at Rhoshan Pharmaceuticals. As CEO, my role is to oversee fundraising, partnerships, and strategy. I have the incredible honor of running this company with my father and a team of rockstars. Many of them have led various areas of development at some of the largest biopharmaceutical companies in the world.

Running a life sciences business is equally challenging and purposeful, at an extremely high level. My writing and content career provides a necessary creative outlet that helps me show up for this job, and vice versa.

Your book, “We’re Speaking: The Life Lessons of Kamala Harris”, offers insights into the life of an influential figure. What motivated you to write this book, and what lessons do you hope readers take away from it?

I’m a very lucky author in that I was approached to write this book (as well as “How to Pack”) by a respected publisher shortly after the 2020 election. I’ve looked up to Vice President Harris since she was attorney general of California (and specifically, the way she negotiated a massive settlement for California’s homeowners after the 2008 financial crisis). The book connects Harris’s life experiences—both professional and personal—with tactical tips to embody each Kamala-ism. I hope readers leave feeling like they know VP Harris a bit better and feel inspired to speak, to be heard, and to own their own stories.

“How to Pack: Travel Smart for Any Trip” provides valuable tips for travelers. What inspired you to write about travel?

I began my blog “Hitha on the Go”in 2009 as a creative outlet when I began working with my father at his previous company, SciDose. I began writing about packing and travel because I was traveling on a near weekly basis for work, and often tacked on some trips for personal reasons along the way.

My early packing posts quickly went viral (this was also the early days of Pinterest), and I tripled down on packing and travel content that didn’t exist at the time (most blogs or content were focused on location-independent living and backpacking). The content drove incredible growth for my blog, which led to a quarterly box subscription, on-air projects, and press opportunities.

I was approached to write “How to Pack” the day I came home from the hospital with my older son, Rho, and the book was published a few days before his second birthday.

#5SmartReads has gained recognition as a Webby-honored news curation platform. How do you approach curating content for your audience, and what do you believe sets #5SmartReads apart in the crowded landscape of digital content?

I created #5SmartReads because it was the news product I wanted, and it didn’t exist. I’ve always had a news reading habit since high school (I competed in extemporaneous speaking), and I’ve been seeking out underreported stories for as long as I could remember. #5SmartReads combines all these things—news you likely miss because it’s not trending, delivered to where you’re spending your time on your phone – to help people start their days smarter in under five minutes. Bringing on contributors with diverse experiences and knowledge allows me to learn and enjoy being a consumer of the product, which in turn helps me plan what’s next and what we could do differently. 

Your role as an angel investor and advisor speaks to your commitment to supporting emerging businesses. Can you share some insights into your angel investor projects and what drew you to them? 

We’ve paused our early-stage investing at the moment, but I’d love to share a full-circle story. M.M. LaFleur, a womenswear brand, was our very first investment and a company I felt like I’ve grown with. I purchased my first M.M. dress when they launched in 2013, made an investment the following year, and have helped them brainstorm influencer and digital marketing and partnered with them as a creator (I did a packing demonstration at their very first pop-up).

Last year, I did a fireside chat and book signing for “How to Pack”, at their Upper West Side store, and I am hosting a speaker series called Women Who Do over the course of the year. Our first event was in early March and sold out (it was standing room only). It’s meaningful to see our first investment continue to grow and scale, to be an active part of their growth and to see their investment in me as well.

How do you manage to maintain a work-life balance, especially with your commitments as a CEO, author, speaker, and mother of two?

I spoke about balance recently at AltSummit. My answer is two-fold: work-life balance, as it has been portrayed in our culture and media, simply does not exist, and it’s on us to define our own balance. I avoid thinking about balance and focus on prioritization and making sure my time is aligned with what’s urgent and important in a given day, week, or month. There are trade-offs, of course: the days I feel like a rockstar at work are the days I don’t feel like I’ve been the mom I want to be, and vice versa. There are a few tactics that I practice daily or weekly that help me show up the way I want to:

I delete social media off my phone most weekends to be present with my family.

I’m shifting #5SmartReads to a four-day-a week posting schedule and taking a week off every six weeks to give myself the necessary breaks from the frenetic news cycle.

I ask for help regularly and often. No one is doing it all alone, and our home team—our longtime caregiver and housekeeper—truly runs our household so I can focus on work and my family. My teams at work—both at Rhoshan Pharma and my content business—take so much off my plate so I can focus on what only I can do. 

What are some of your goals and aspirations for the future, both personally and professionally?

One of my longtime professional goals is to be a host on “The View”. I love the wide-ranging conversations they have and would love to be a part of such a storied show with a huge reach. I also have a dream of hosting a Hot Ones-style show in partnership with Taco Bell called Let’s Tacobout It. I have more books and talks I’d like to write and deliver, keeping the early ideas close to my chest.

Personally, I want more time to enjoy my family. We are in the process of building a multi-generational family home in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, and I’m looking forward to lots of family time with my parents, husband, kids, and extended family in that home. I’d love to travel to Antarctica (the only continent I haven’t been to yet!). 

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