Personal Brand Self branding self leadership

Personal Branding Series: Episode 32 | Dr. Kalpana Gopalan | Show, Structure and Substance Matter

Is personal branding a deliberate choice or serendipity? Do you plan it or go with the flow? I has the honor of speaking with an accomplished personality in Dr. Kalpana Gopalan, an IAS officer of over 33 years, a PhD from IIM Bengaluru and an active advocate of volunteering. Currently serving as Additional Chief Secretary, Labor, Animal Husbandry & Veterinary Sciences, Fisheries & Janaspandana-Public Grievances, she shares her life journey and key steps of show, structure and substance to make progress while building a personal brand. A must watch video interview.

In the 32nd edition of Intraskope‘s Personal Branding Series,  Dr. Kalpana Gopalan, IAS, Ph.D and IIMB alumni, addresses the importance of following your dreams and approaches which can help you achieve your goals of personal branding.  Learn more in this interview.

Watch the YouTube video interview and read the complete interview below. Look up more such stories on my YouTube channel and on LinkedIn.


  1. Could you introduce yourself to our readers/viewers?

I’ve been an officer of the Indian Administrative Service for about over 33 years now. And then multitude of sectors, land, energy, education, sports and training. Now I’m looking after animal husbandry, and public grievances and fisheries in the capacity of Additional Chief Secretary. So that is one aspect of me as a bureaucrat or civil servant. The other aspect is that of an academician. That’s the second hat I wear. And I’ve been a learner throughout. Even after I joined this, I joined the service mid-career, I took a break and did a Master’s and then a PhD in Public Policy. From the beginning, my research interests have continued to continue to stay with me. And management, public private partnerships, skill development – these are my areas of research interest. I also kind of serendipitously a speaker. Around the time when I was doing my PhD, I realized, to my surprise and delight that when I spoke, people listened. And I had this capacity for translating complex ideas in a simple way to get across in a brief speech. So other than research, which is usually direct towards the academic community, I also tried to address the public, especially youth, through my speeches, and which is what you would have seen on my blogs and my YouTube videos. I also have a third hat as a volunteer. I am an advisor to the Akshay Patra Foundation, and several others NGOs and nonprofits, some of which I’ve been associated with for the last 30 years. For example, the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement in Mysore, where we first met when I was a training officer. we call it is as a ‘profession in my soul’. And the association has continued throughout. My family consists of my husband and my two children – my son is just about to compete his super specialization in neurosurgery and my daughter as a lawyer in the private sector.

2. What according to you is personal branding?

I never thought of it really. As in branding of any kind until you used that phrase. That came out even in my replies to you. I took to social media as a mode of sharing. It is a mode of projection. I realized that when I was doing my PhD, I realized how fortunate I have been, because I had this option of interacting with the most incredible minds. They are wonderful human beings in the real sense of the word. From supervisors in places such as McGill University in Canada to my own supervisors and the dissertation Advisory Committee. So, I felt that I had been blessed. And somewhere my way of giving back would be to share that knowledge and expertise and experience that I gained. The IAS gave me a lot of real experience field level experience, like the best way in which I can give back to the community is to share social media. Chiefly, for that reason. I did not think of it as branding. I feel that there are three aspects to an individual. The first one is Show, the images that you share, the dress for your own presence in the social media, all that is part of your image. The next layer (because every individual if you feel like an onion layer) is what we call Structure – which is basically your words and your deeds. This is more important than merely the image that you want to project. And the final layer of system for human beings is what I call the Substance – what you really are. So, I feel that these three should be in alignment. But interestingly, in a world of social media, it is easy to be misaligned and still project. Our attention spans are less, and we can love each other in smaller groups. When I was a child, probably, we had much more time for each other. And most frequently, it is the Show which we are able to do well. My focus was on the Substance, due to my responsibility as an officer of the government and I had to demonstrate through actions.

3. What does one do to go about building a personal brand? What are the building blocks according to you?

I would say it was partly planned and partly unplanned, partly deliberate.  Like doing PhD. Those were not the choices. The choice or the first choice where I can really say is when I put my foot down. It was a very seminal moment in my life. And probably this will resonate with many women. I was doing my MBA in Finance. My family always priced education. So, I’d always been told that, this is a value. That is how we grew up. And then when I was just studying for my MBA finals, (this was in the 80s) I was told I should get married. While education was a value, there was also that respect for elders, which is another way to look at it. So, when my parents who brought me up with the value of education, suddenly, when they told me to get married, it was a shock. For the first time I really had a conflict with my parents. And it was not that I fought. I still recall that I would be pacing up and down in my own studying for the finals and rushed out to the room. And whoever I could find in the family, I would say that “I must do my MA, I must do my MA”.  So, I couldn’t think beyond that. My horizon was studying. I was able to prevail on them. And I did do my MA, and then I did my Master’s in public policy, which and then I did a PhD. So, that was the choice I made. The real choice is itself was a matter of chance. So, I just want to contrast that choices and chances are they happen; that choice was the masters. But the challenge was that I drifted into the PhD program in IIT Madras once I completed my Masters, but at that time, they did not have a guide in my particular area of research interest. It was an institute of technology. And my area of interest was social sciences and humanities, I took the common examination for research admission, and I chose IIT Madras. So, that was more a matter of chance. Similarly, if you look at the next building block, which is the doctorate, I got selected for the Master’s in Public Policy by the government, a sponsored program. That was again a matter of choice. There was an element of choice to decide to go or not, but it largely happened by chance. PhD came later than after I completed my Master’s in Public Policy. I came back to the government and decided to follow up with a new PhD program in the US. That’s the intermixing of choices and just that there was a dedication, but there’s also serendipity.

4. During the process of building your own brand, what did you gain in the process? What did you lose?

I go with the flow. So, I can’t really say that I lost something. It used to be that when I was younger, there were more new entrants into the service. I became a mother and that time had to be organized and had to compartmentalize my time a lot more. But in the life of an IAS officer and the life of a mother, there may be a crisis. Then there would be a long hiatus when things are smooth and then something suddenly, comes again. I learn to go with the flow. I give my full attention when my family or work demands my attention. I don’t really structure it, not in the last many years.

5. What’s your advice for young people? How should they be thinking about their personal brand or their journey?

I think that work to own your personal growth. Success in our domain is one very important aspect of life.  We should expect from the youth today is an element of self-sacrifice. Another very important aspect, which we tend to lose sight is of personal social responsibility, which is very important to me. By merely being a member of society, we owe something to the community.  It is not necessary that you should renounce everything, and then go and become a sannyasi (saint). You can focus on your career, but give some time, every day or every week or every month, what you can do good to someone else. It is not always necessary that you should join some organization. People keep writing to me saying that we want to join with you to learn to collaborate with you and do something. It may or may not be feasible. I’m not saying group work doesn’t work, but it’s not always feasible thing to do so. Look around you and ask who or what is most needed and go help them.  If you are an engineer then it could be something in engineering or if you are, good at music, then use that talent.

6. Who according to you are personal brands?

These are not well-known people, like my guide for my Ph.D. They are all academics, they represent people. So, they may not have branded themselves. But when you are interacting, they leave a mark on you, which stays for life. Far more than any media star I’ve learned from so many, many people who interact with me. Early in my career, there is a young girl called Mallika who lost her family and fortunately for her, a society took her under their wings. She learnt driving and earns her living. She overcame that adversity and for me, especially for women, I think overcoming limitations is a very important theme in life, because it is all of us have. But even the well-educated upper-class women have restriction placed on them, partly by themselves, partly by the people around them. So Mallika, for me, for example, is a very important example of how to overcome the limitations which your circumstances are placed on you.

7. What is your recipe for personal branding success?

As I told you that your inner core and external images that you project and what you stand for leads to alignment. You may be able to project a good image, but somewhere that misalignment will start showing cracks either in your personality or in your work or in the image that you project. So, start with a substance that only you will know whether you what you are speaking is the truth or not. Show and the Structure and the Substance are all in alignment, that’s when you have a sustainable personal brand.

Liked this interview? Please do share your feedback and comments.

Keen to get ahead with your personal brand? Here are some resources:

Missed the earlier episodes? Read the interviews with Muqbil Ahmar, Tinu Cherian Abraham, Joseph Fernandez, Christina Daniels,Karthik Srinivasan,Gautam Ghosh, Alexander Michael Gittens, Mubeen Azeez, Itzik Amiel, Mangal D Karnad, Abhijit Bhaduri, Sandeep K Krishnan PhD, Scott Shirai, Sunil Robert, Latha Vijaybaskar PhD, Abha Maryada Banerjee, Dr. Amit Nagpal, Sukanti Ghosh, Amith Prabhu, Dave Carroll, Prof. Deva Rangarajan, Ramesh Thomas, K V Dipu, Chip Helm, Suresh Ramdas, Karthik Nagendra PhD, Jeppe Hansgaard, Raja Karthikeya, Atamjeet Singh Bawa, Vidyadhar Prabhudesai and Patrick Widmann online and share your thoughts.

Keen to join this Series and share your thoughts on Personal Branding? Write to me at [email protected]

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