Leading North Carolina is a new series highlighting members of the Research Triangle Foundation’s Board of Directors. We will be posting profiles written by Bridgette A. Lacy that give you an insider’s look at the people that help guide the decisions that will impact the future of The Research Triangle Park – and North Carolina. Each member of our board has a unique background that effects their perspective on how we should redevelop RTP in order to be better positioned for tomorrow’s workers. We are thankful for their time, their wisdom and their willingness to continue working with our team on this journey.
Madhu Beriwal is a collaborator. As president and CEO of Innovative Emergency Management, Madhu joins forces with others to keep people safe.
In 1985, Madhu founded IEM to find solutions for complex challenges in disaster and emergency management, homeland security, defense, and information technology. She is recognized as a pioneering woman in her field.
Madhu, trained as an urban planner, was influenced by Daniel Burnham, the famous Chicago architect and urban designer, who oversaw the construction of the 1893 world’s fair, the largest one at that time.
Her favorite quote comes from him. “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work.”
She explains, “Between the plan and execution, things often fall apart. In my business, a lot of agencies have to work together to recover from a disaster. The plan has to get people excited about working together. You have to be emotionally engaged.”
Madhu believes in showing moxie and harnessing energy to move people to work through issues. Problem solving runs in her blood. She is the daughter of a successful and respected businessman in India. She grew up watching him design solutions to engineering and technical problems at his steel plants.
A traditional Indian, Mr. Beriwal was reluctant to send his unmarried daughter to the United States. “We had a lot of strife about this whole idea,” Madhu recalls. “When he finally agreed, the entire East Coast was out of the picture because of Son of Sam. The South was too hot. The North was too cold. California was going to fall off into the ocean any day, so he said, ‘you can only go in the middle of the country.’”
After completing her bachelor’s in geology from the University of Calcutta, Madhu immigrated to Kansas, where she earned her masters in urban planning at the University of Kansas.
Her first job in the United States was as a planner for the Louisiana Department of Urban and Community Affairs. Eventually, she became program manager of Hurricane Evacuation Study for Southeast Louisiana.
Then she started IEM. In 2010, Madhu moved the company’s headquarters from Baton Rouge to RTP because the area was known as one of the best places in the country for education, innovation, and collaboration.
In 2012, Madhu was inducted into the International Women in Homeland Security and Emergency Management Hall of Fame, an honor highlighting her distinction as one of the first women to serve as head of an emergency management and homeland security firm. Over nearly 30 years, Madhu developed her one-woman business to 250 full-timers.
She rewards her hard work with a balanced life. “Even though I am the CEO of a growing company, I don’t work 24/7,” she says. “I make time for a personal life that is rich with hobbies and friendships. That time is very precious to me.”
She plays a custom-made sitar, loves to paint and garden. “I have a long attachment to gardens…I’m in the process of creating a modern Asian garden for myself around my modern Asian house.”
Madhu belongs to a group of professional women who meet most Sundays to produce oil paintings that range from portraits to landscapes. “I’m impressed with her depth and breadth of ability, says Haleh Modasser, her painting instructor and a financial planner.
“She can go from running a multimillion risk management firm to painting a beautiful copy of Van Gogh’s ‘Young Peasant Girl in a Straw Hat’ in my class,” Ms. Modasser says.
Madhu serves on the RTP board because she values public-private collaborations. “We have to make sure a region is economically vibrant even as it goes through different convolutions and changes.”
“RTP is the largest knowledge-based Park in the world,” she says. “We must put our shoulder to the wheel to help move the dream forward as well as change the dream.”
“The Park was formed when large companies having lots of space was the answer. Now we have a number of small companies incubating in the Park… People are collaborating in a denser environment. We need to look at how people are creating today.”