Defying Gravity, Redefining Brilliance: Henna Karna's Stellar Ascent
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Defying Gravity, Redefining Brilliance: Henna Karna’s Stellar Ascent

Arthur Ashe once said, “Success is not for the faint of heart. It requires dedication, resilience, and a willingness to step out of your comfort zone.” 

Indeed, the path to success is fraught with challenges that test our resilience and determination. For the global tech leader, Dr. Henna Karna, the road to success was marked by overcoming cultural differences, battling racism, and conquering adversity.

Despite these complications, she remained determined to rise above it all. Although Henna had difficulties in her studies when she first moved to the USA, she graduated with high honors from Worcester Polytechnic Institute and then pursued an MBA, masters and doctorate in mathematics from MIT and UMass, respectively. Nothing could deter her from progressing forward.

Today, Dr. Karna is a true tech leader, sitting at the C-suite of global companies like Google, AXA, and Verisk Analytics, as well as startups like Affinnova. Her impressive resume gleams with accomplishments, and she has received prestigious awards and recognition for her innovative work in the industry, including being recognized as an ACORD Women Executive, a Celent Model Insurer for Innovation, and a Novarica Digital Ecosystem & Analytics Platform leader. 

It is often said that successful people knew what they wanted in life from the beginning. They were individuals who were dreaming of touching the stars. However, for Henna, it has not been about a great ambition or of making herself successful. She has been on a quest to be helpful and contribute. Those simple goals have led her to where she is today. And, it all started in a small town in India, a young girl named Henna Karna (aka Anu Karna) dreamt of a simple life. She wanted a life where financial strength did not dictate medical help and lack of academic opportunity was not going to define who she was going to be. Her family moved to Narragansett, Rhode Island when she was just five years old. They were the only Indian family in the area, facing cultural gaps and financial struggles: Henna’s mother sewed clothes from scratch to make ends meet, while she and her siblings relied on meal tickets for lunch at school. They were grateful for whatever they could have.

Life in this new place wasn’t as welcoming as one would have hoped. In school, she faced bullying and racism from her peers. Some of the adults were no better – spreading false and ignorant stereotypes about her homeland. “The ignorance was profound,” Dr. Karna divulged. According to Dr. Karna, enduring continuous insults and emotional manipulation became frequent and commonplace at that time.

Bullying and victimization of Asian students in the West are unfortunately all too common. Statistics show that between 19% and 20% of Asian students have experienced bullying based on race and/or ethnicity. In Henna’s case, it was the 1980’s and the statistics were higher.

Despite being the target of emotional blackmail and treated with contempt, Dr. Karna never wavered in her identity and pursuit for success. When asked for her definition for success, Dr. Jarna said, “Success is an agreement we have with ourselves. It’s not a degree or a lifestyle. A successful person, to me, is someone who is compassionate, accountable, and genuine. It is knowing your principles, knowing who you are, and holding true to it no matter the environment or situation. I have met the most successful human beings who are just 8 years old!” 

Today, Dr. Karna is recognized as one of the Top 5 of the 15 Global Leaders in Insurtech by Insurance Networking News. Fortune 500 brands and companies across the globe take pride in having her lead their businesses. Here’s what a CEO of a leading company has to say about her:

“I am thrilled that you lead with a vision in mind. If others led with such clarity, we would be much farther along. You have made such headway with our stakeholders and have brought valuable thinking to our team. This is tremendous.” – former direct manager, former CEO – Verisk Analytics.

Dr. Karna did not have a silver platter in front of her, nor did she feel like the world had her back. However, the cruelty and persecution she endured honed her compassion and made her a better leader within her own sphere of influence. Her humanity-centered approach made her stand out as a leader, and her success serves as a great example to young people from all backgrounds striving for success. 

“It grieves me till this day that I did not grow up feeling supported by a group of friends or classmates in my childhood. And as an adult, in fact, I haven’t been fortunate to have a boss or manager (beyond a few months) who felt the responsibility to look out for my career. Hence, when I had the chance to be a manager, or a friend, or a classmate, I made it my primary responsibility to do what I could for everyone in my remit – to help them and be their support,” said Dr. Karna, “I do believe in Karma and we have to do what we think is right, no matter how it was for us.”

The resilience and determination of people like Dr. Karna serve as a beacon of hope to all those battling with racism, cultural differences, and discrimination in their daily lives. It is inspiring to know that no matter what we face, success is always achievable if we dare to strive for it. 

Connect with Henna Karna on LinkedIn to learn more about her tremendous journey.

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