Richa Himani grew up in India watching women in her family defy the traditional gender roles that many members of Indian society still adhered to. Her mother, in particular, instilled in Himani a fearlessness and a persistence that she continues to embody.
“My mother is my greatest champion,” Himani says. “She has been an inspiration to me, and I owe so much of who I am today to her.”
Himani has climbed high in her career: she currently serves as managing director and associate general counsel at United Airlines, a leader in the airline industry. Beyond her professional achievements, Himani also makes a concerted effort to lift up others in her community—even as the scope of her work at United has expanded.
She moved from India to the United States at age sixteen with her mother and brother. The family settled in Houston, Texas, where Himani has spent most of her life. After considering careers in journalism and accounting, Himani turned to law—a choice motivated by her grandfather’s legal work back in India. “I had seen him helping people in his practice, albeit in a totally different field than what I do today,” she explains.
At first, Himani specialized in tax policy matters, but she quickly transitioned to real estate law. From 2003 to 2008, she practiced at Texas real estate firm Roberts Markel Weinberg Butler Hailey PC. Although she made partner at the firm and received tremendous opportunities there, she decided to shift directions around the time of her first pregnancy. “I realized that I could go work for a company that I really admired,” she says. “That company was Continental Airlines, and I’ve never looked back.”
Himani joined Continental in 2008 as a corporate real estate attorney supporting the company’s airport and commercial office space lease negotiations. Only two years into her tenure, however, everything changed. Continental was merging with United, and Himani had a significant role to play.
“I was tasked with coleading the due diligence efforts for the merger,” Himani explains. “There was enormous pressure to move at a fast pace yet perform in-depth due diligence. It was one of the most challenging projects of my career—and one of the most rewarding.”
Her contributions to the merger, culminating in a presentation of the due diligence findings to Continental’s executive team, took Himani’s confidence to new heights. She has since risen from senior attorney to her current role, which encompasses public finance and commercial transactions, and leading lawyers on her team who handle sales, procurement, loyalty and marketing, cargo, catering, and technical operations for the airline—all on top of corporate real estate, her initial area of focus. “Some of these areas are still new to me,” she admits. “But I look at it as an opportunity to learn.”
The airline industry has also seen significant changes over the years. “Passengers no longer simply expect airlines to take them safely and efficiently from Point A to Point B. They also expect us to help them stay connected,” Himani says. She adds that United has remained at the forefront of implementing new technologies to enhance both the company’s operations and the customer experience.
Beyond increasing in-flight connectivity and entertainment options, United believes in a future of sustainable aviation and emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels of the business. “We’re committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive culture and creating an inclusive experience for the customers we serve, with dignity and respect at the forefront of everything we do,” Himani says. “I am extremely proud of the work we are doing on this front; it’s wonderful to see.”
“I’ve had many female role models, who have not only been influential in my career, but also in driving my commitment to the community. They taught me that barriers are erected to test our grit.”
For her part, Himani has demonstrated a commitment to investing in underserved communities that echoes both the values of United and the ones she learned in her own upbringing. Through her leadership of pro bono activities at the company’s Houston office, she has fought to protect groups ranging from women in need to local veterans. In addition, she spotlights influential diverse women as a women’s leadership series committee member for the Texas branch of Asia Society, an education-centric nonprofit.
Furthermore, Himani is passionate about helping other immigrants make a life in the United States. “I’m fortunate to be able to use my legal skills to provide assistance to those who can’t afford representation during the immigration journey,” she says. The fact that she is giving back to Houston, the diverse city where she herself found success, makes her community impact all the more meaningful to her.
As she continues to build a stronger Houston and a stronger United, Himani continues to look to the women in her family for inspiration. “I’ve had many female role models, who have not only been influential in my career, but also in driving my commitment to the community,” she says. “They taught me that barriers are erected to test our grit.”
Whether trailblazing professionals or community organizers, those women showed Himani long ago how to transform challenges into opportunities. She doesn’t plan to forget that lesson anytime soon.