Rani Peffer's zest for life shines through, whether she's talking about how she has "quite possibly the coolest job in the world" in corporate finance, her two "extremely cool" kids, taking banjo lessons, or playing to win on Jeopardy! Rani talked to us about growing up in rural Kentucky, competing on the national stage in the Spelling Bee and on game shows, and doing what she loves whether or not it's cool. 

Rani (right) and her best friend Jamie during high school, still one her best friend's today.

"Jamie was always there for me but she wasn’t in my grade. Absolutely worth gold to me and stuck by me through everything."


Where she’s from: rural Western Kentucky
Grew up with: divorced mom and dad
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and economics from the University of Kentucky and an MBA from UK with a concentration in finance
Where she lives now: Crittenden, Kentucky  
Growing up she wanted to be: in business
Now she’s: Group Manager, Global Treasury Capital Markets at Procter and Gamble

Tell us about yourself growing up!

I grew up as an only child in rural Western Kentucky. I was born in the late-70s, grew up in a rural area. It was not an easy place to be a brainy girl, especially when your name rhymes with brainy.

I’ve always just been a sponge for information. When I was a kid I would read pretty much anything I could get my hands on. I was kind of weird as a kid. I very much wanted to be accepted but I refused to want to fit in. Blending in was the worst thing I could even think of.

I very much wanted to be accepted but I refused to want to fit in. Blending in was the worst thing I could even think of.

You dealt with bullying in junior high. How did you handle that? Who were your support systems?

By the time I was in 6th or 7th grade I didn’t have many or any friends at one point. By 8th grade the other girls in my class at my small school actually formed a club whose sole purpose was hating me.

This was in the days before anti-bullying rules. When I tried to call authority figures into it I got the message that I needed to either suck it up and/or try to fit in a little bit better and stop being so weird. I decided to ignore that advice and just kept on being weird.

My mom was always a huge supporter of mine. She never let me down. My grandparents were huge supporters and always thought I was the greatest and never let me down. I knew when I was at home I was loved and supported.

I was never completely alone. I had a best friend, Jamie, who’s still one of my two best friends today. She was always there for me but she wasn’t in my grade. Absolutely worth gold to me and stuck by me through everything.

In 7th grade, Rani came in 24th out of 227 spellers at the  Scripps Howard National Spelling Bee. Rani recalls that the Spelling Bee "was probably the first time I'd ever encountered smart kids from around the globe." And, she says, "Yes, I am wearing Hammer pants. I had this outfit in two colors- aqua and hot pink." 

What was it like competing in the National Spelling Bee when you were in 7th grade?

Spelling just came naturally to me. 7th grade was my big year. I loved it, but I was so nervous my parents would have to pull the car over on the way to the spelling bee so I could throw up.

That year, I qualified for the National Spelling Bee and got to go to Washington DC. Two days of actual spelling activity and all these other cool activities, tours of the Smithsonian, all the monuments. We went to an estate outside of town and had a picnic. It was really, really fun. That was probably the first time I’d ever encountered smart kids from around the globe.

It was so incredibly cool to be there. Nobody was putting it on ESPN2 at that time. I just showed up and spelled from the hip. I performed respectably. I think I came in like 24th out of 227 kids. I’ve been purposefully misspelling things ever since just to rebel. 

I came back from the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program with not only the conviction to be myself but the confidence that it was actually okay and I wasn’t as completely alone as I had always thought. 

When you were in high school, you had another opportunity to see more of the world outside your hometown. How did that impact you?

Between my junior and senior years in high school I went to the Kentucky Governor's Scholars Program. For five weeks, you attended seminars, college-style classes, mingled with the other kids, and mostly just bonded with the group. It was completely life changing.

I came back from that program with not only the conviction to be myself but the confidence that it was actually okay and I wasn’t as completely alone as I had always thought. Without the Governor Scholars program I don’t know if I would have had the courage to keep on being who I was. All of a sudden I saw a wider world and my place in it.

You attended the University of Kentucky after high school. How did you pick UK?

It never occurred to me to go out of state for college. Most of the kids who went to college went relatively close by. For me, the move from my hometown to Lexington, 200 miles, three hours away, was pretty significant. It was big, and I wanted something that was the polar opposite of the small environment that I had been in.

Although a lot of my time growing up was tough from a social standpoint, it taught me to stay true to whatever I was convinced that I wanted to do and to not listen to the people who were giving me a hard time.

How did you know you wanted to study business?

I grew up watching my grandparents run their grocery store. My mom taught high school kids accounting, business math, and how to use Word and Excel and PowerPoint. My dad taught marketing in high schools. I grew up hanging out with them in their classrooms.

My high school didn’t have advanced placement classes or even college-bound classes. I had slots in my schedule to try out electives. I ended up taking accounting and business law and computer classes and I absolutely loved it.

There was never anything in school that I didn’t like, but I loved, loved, loved business. When I was a junior, I was in charge of budgeting and ordering supplies on the prom planning committee and realized that kind of thing was really up my alley. We did an investment competition my junior year, where I was on a team that picked hypothetical investments and worked with a local broker to learn about the stock market and then tracked the investments to see how we did, which was also a lot of fun.

Although a lot of my time growing up was tough from a social standpoint, it taught me to stay true to whatever I was convinced that I wanted to do and to not listen to the people who were giving me a hard time.

When I started shopping for a college I knew I was looking for a business program. I ended up with a double major in college in accounting and economics. Then I ended up going on to get an MBA with a concentration in finance. I have absolutely never regretted that. It was like God put me on this Earth to do spreadsheets.

How did you end up at Procter & Gamble after your MBA? Did you consider other types of work?

I thought I might want to do a doctorate in economics. I found out from working in our Center for Business and Economic Research I wasn’t that interested in economic research after all. I did two internships in public accounting as an undergrad. I found out through both of those internships that I didn’t love that either. That’s when I decided to get my MBA with a concentration in finance. I discovered I really liked that subject matter. It coordinated really well with accounting and economics. 

P&G started recruiting at Kentucky the semester I was about to come out of my graduate program. I started talking to the recruiters and visited the company, talked to people and realized it was a company full of the smartest people from every class you’ve ever been in- not only the smartest but also the coolest and the nicest.

I’ve now been there for 15 years. There have been up times and down times but I have absolutely no doubt that I fell right into the perfect career for me. I love numbers.

Rani has had 7 jobs in 15 years with P&G including:
• Brand Finance Management: analyzing numbers on everything from manufacturing to marketing to product initiatives
• Manufacturing Finance: reducing costs to manufacture and distribute products
• Retailer finance: planning promotions with retailers. For example, when Target has a sale on Tide, P&G pays for that sale.
• Global Treasury: doing foreign exchange analysis, and now as a group manager for Global Treasury Capital Markets

Procter & Gamble is known for its products, like Tide, Crest, Vicks, Gillette, and Mr. Clean. What role does finance play in the company?

At any company, wherever there’s a dollar sign, there’s somebody managing that money. You absolutely cannot look into any dark corner within a corporation without shining a light on a finance manager because we’re needed to manage the money.  P&G has a rotational career path. I’ve stayed within finance for my 15-year career so far but I have not stayed in any one job for more than two, two-and-a-half years. I’m actually on my seventh assignment most of which have been in relatively different areas. (See more in the sidebar.)

I think I have the coolest job in the company and quite possibly the coolest job in the world because I learn something every single day. 

Now you’re back in global treasury, where you had your first assignment. Why is it the part of the company where you most want to be?

I started in 2001 in a global treasury assignment. In a company as big as P&G that operates across the entire globe, we earn and spend money in a lot of different currencies. It was my job to figure out where and how much we were spending these different currencies.

I absolutely fell in love with it. I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to come back and be in treasury again. I kept asking what it would take to get me back in this group. It was a small group. Finally, I was able to come back.

For about the last four-and-a-half years, I have been working on our share repurchase program where we buy back several billion dollars’ worth of our stock every year. Working on the dividend that we pay to our shareholders every year, which is about seven billion dollars. I manage our relationship with our credit rating agencies. I manage a lot of the relationships with our banks and then I get to issue our bonds. I get to trade derivatives. I get to do credit swaps and cross-currency swaps as well.

I think I have the coolest job in the company and quite possibly the coolest job in the world because I learn something every single day. Every day I get a little smarter and every day I feel a little bit humbled about how much I don’t know and then hopeful about how much there is still left to learn. As a person who’s an absolute learning junkie, this is the perfect place to be. 

"I made the Princess Anna costume because my daughter was the only child in America who refused to be a Frozen princess for Halloween. I had to make my Anna costume and carry my stuffed snowman by myself. I’ve made a lot of them over the years: a tooth fairy, Snow White, a colonial woman, a Dorothy from Wizard of Oz that won me a costume contest or two."

You get to do a lot of cool stuff at work. What and who fill your time outside of work?

I have a pretty cool husband whose name is Sean, and I have two extremely cool kids. Lily is eight and Zane is five. They are so much fun and so much work and I absolutely love them to pieces. I also have two dogs, Sammy, a nine-year-old Cockapoo, and Ellie, a one-year-old Yorkie mix whom we adopted from a rescue.

I’ve been taking banjo lessons for about six months. It brightens up my week to get that banjo out and practice it and learn something new. I like to sew fanciful things like costumes. I like to pull out the old sewing machine and get creative.

Rani carves out time in her busy life to:
• Play piano in her church choir
• Do crossword puzzles
• Play online trivia
• Travel
• Ride on rollercoasters
• Read “every chance that I get”
• Sew cool costumes
• Learn to play the banjo
• Take adult tap dancing lessons
• Win big on game shows

We met through the 2014 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, which you were in as a 5-time champion. You also won a substantial prize on Who Wants to be a Millionaire in 2010. How did you end up on those two?

I always loved trivia. I would sit around with my grandmother and watch gameshows when I was little kid. I was always hooked on gameshows.

I saw an ad in 2010 for a casting call for Who Wants to be a Millionaire? in the Cincinnati area on October 4. I was scheduled to have a baby [by C-section] on Friday October 8. I was already going to be on maternity leave. How fun would that be?

I showed up; they gave us all a test. They announced who had passed the test. I did a short interview with some producers and then got called to give an on-camera interview. Ten days later, I got a call to ask if I could come to New York and tape the show the following week. I was up all night feeding the baby, watching DVRed episodes of Millionaire. Then a week-and-a-half later I went to New York and taped the show.

It was a really cool experience. I walked away in the middle of the first round with $14,800. I think I walked away too fast. I came away with my appetite whetted for gameshows and vowed that I would go back someday to do something else. Three years later I got to go on Jeopardy!

When you got on Jeopardy! you were playing to win instead of playing not to lose. Can you talk a little bit about that?

There really is a difference in how you play when you have the mindset that you’re playing to win instead of just trying not to lose or trying not to look stupid. I knew that I wanted to take more chances on Jeopardy! and that I was willing to do whatever it took to win.

I think some people probably get nervous in front of the camera and some people get hyped up and get the adrenaline rush and perform better. I’m definitely one of those people. That always happened to me in spelling bees. Once I got on stage I was stone cold, ready to go.

One of the best parts of going on Jeopardy! for Julia was getting to meet lots of really smart, fun, cool, interesting people, like Rani! In fact, Rani talked so enthusiastically about her life and work that it helped give Julia the idea for Girls Like You and Me. 

be the best possible version of yourself then you’ll shine through and all will be well.

What would you tell someone who wants to find their niche in business?

I learned you’ve got to experiment with a lot of different stuff. Don’t give up; keep trying until you find something that sticks.

Make sure that you have solid math and problem solving skills. I use basic algebraic reasoning and problem solving. I use a lot of Microsoft Excel. I can put together spreadsheet analyses and solve problems with them. It’s about being able to get data to tell you a story that no one else can see in the data and then to use that to solve a problem.

Learn to write not just in a creative writing sense but also to learn how to do real, straightforward, clear, concise business communication. Learn to make eye contact, shake hands, smile, use proper grammar, be polite. If you can carry yourself like a confident- not cocky- adult, that’ll actually get you a long way.

Don’t let anybody intimidate you. There were a lot of times I walked into situations as an underdog feeling like I was coming out of a rural area, like a girl in a boy’s world, feeling like an uncool person in a cool person’s world, a business major in an engineer’s world, a person from a state school in a world of people who have been to more prestigious universities.

Don’t try to be a better version of anybody else but just try to be the best possible version of yourself then you’ll shine through and all will be well. 

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Check out Rani's Reading picks and find out more about her!