When your children are speaking with you, close your laptop and put away your phone. Don’t even have the phone in your hands! They deserve undivided attention. And don’t be so focused on capturing a joyful moment to share on social media that you steal the magic out of the moment itself!
As a part of my series about “C-Suite Moms” I had the pleasure to interview…Mona Charif of NTT DATA. In her role as Chief Marketing Officer for NTT DATA Services, Mona Charif promotes the company’s ability to apply insights and solutions that deliver the outcomes that matter most for clients around the world. NTT DATA Services is the largest division of Tokyo-based NTT DATA, one of the world’s Top 10 IT services providers. Mona has more than 20 years of success in supporting sales and growth objectives of Fortune 100 companies and was recently named a finalist for the 2019 American Marketing Association Dallas-Fort Worth Marketer of the Year awards. In her current role, she leads strategic marketing and communications campaigns and sponsorships that differentiate NTT DATA, increase brand awareness and generate global demand for its comprehensive business and IT services. The company delivers tangible business results by combining deep industry expertise with applied innovations in digital, cloud and automation across a comprehensive portfolio of consulting, application, infrastructure/cloud and business process services. Mona also drives internal communications programs that support engagement among the company’s 50,000 professionals and position NTT DATA as an employer of choice. In addition, Mona is responsible for the company’s global Corporate Social Responsibility programs. In previous roles, Mona led marketing and communications at Dell Services, HP Enterprise Services, Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and Lucent Technologies. She earned a bachelor’s in journalism and an MBA from the University of Texas. She also completed executive development programs at Thunderbird, Wharton and Cornell. Mona is fluent in Arabic and currently learning Japanese. She and her husband live in Dallas and have one child still at home and one who recently began college.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” behind what brought you to this point in your career?
I was born in the Middle East and my family moved to Texas when I was ten years old. I believe my immigrant background has instilled a willingness to take risks and try new things, and it’s also given me a deeply engrained work ethic and an appreciation for the American Dream.
When I was in high school, I imagined a “glamorous” career in media, so I earned my bachelor’s in journalism at UT Austin. After graduation, I worked briefly in television news — behind the scenes as an intern, and I also worked at a large Dallas-based advertising agency.
Prior to attending university, I had met Ross Perot, the legendary founder of Electronic Data Systems (EDS) and the inventor of the global IT services industry. At that time, I had NO desire to work in technology, but he STILL made me promise that at some point in my career I would join EDS. After a year in TV news and with the agency, in 1992, I began what I expected to be a short stint at EDS just to fulfill my promise. All these years later, here I am — still in IT services and loving the experiences, the people and the challenges. My career journey has taken me to leadership roles at EDS, Lucent (previously part of AT&T), Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and now NTT DATA, which is one of the top 10 IT services providers in the world. I love the international scope and the opportunity to work with some of the smartest minds in information technology today.
Can you share with us how many children you have?
Two — one in high school, and one in college.
Where were you in your career when your child was born/became part of your family?
Right after I completed my MBA and started a new job with a new company, I became pregnant with my first child. I had been in the IT industry nearly a decade by that point.
Did you always want to be a mother? Can you explain?
I think I was hesitant because my mother has always been such a spectacular mom, and I was concerned I could never match up to what “great” looked like. But my husband finally convinced me, and my only regret is not having a few more. Our children truly are the center and delight of our lives.
Did motherhood happen when you thought it would or did it take longer? If it took longer, what advice would you have for another woman in your shoes?
We chose to wait a few years after we were married so we could get financially settled. We had both children within two years of each other. From my experience, I’d say don’t be intimidated about having children — most of us get better at it along the way, though nobody (except my mom!) ever figures out completely what to do. Also, don’t delay if you really want children. You’ll figure out what the right balance is for your family. I wish I had started earlier and had a few more.
Can you tell us a bit about what your day-to-day schedule looks like?
In a nutshell, my typical day is booked solid. I place a high priority on making sure that my personal schedule is balanced with work. That means I get up at 4:30 each morning for a workout, to take care of household chores and to spend time with the family before everyone rushes off to their own busy days.
My executive assistant is the guardian of my work calendar and helps keep me on track. When I’m at our headquarters in Plano, Texas, my time is spent on marketing and communications planning, event and sponsorship strategizing, meetings with leaders of other functions and sales executives to ensure my team is delivering the most effective support and guiding their work. I also travel a fair amount. Since January, I’ve been to Detroit to announce our company’s title sponsorship of the NTT IndyCar Series; to Bangalore, India, for a week where 40 percent of my team resides; and to St. Petersburg, Florida, for the first IndyCar race of the season. During IndyCar season, I travel many weekends to host clients and guests at the races. At least once a year, I travel to our company’s international headquarters in Tokyo. At the moment (mid-March), I’m on Spring Break vacation with my family in Denver — what we intended as a university scouting trip for our youngest child turned into a blizzard-locked event! But that gave me time I otherwise wouldn’t have had to sit down with your for this conversation. We’ll have to stop once the family wakes up, because this is THEIR TIME. Later in March, I’ll attend another IndyCar race in Austin and then a Marketing Leadership Meeting in Barcelona, Spain. Before the end of 2019, I’ll have traveled to at least 14 more cities and 7 more countries.
I also spend time in the community representing our company. Examples include interactions with city officials and associations such as the Japan-America Society of Dallas/Fort Worth, the Texas Women’s Foundation, the Plano Mayor’s Summer Internship Program, the Plano Chamber of Commerce and the Hendrick Scholarship Foundation. I’m also actively involved in professional organizations — I’m co-chair of the Gartner/Evanta Dallas Chief Marketing Officer Governing Board, and I’m a member of the North Texas Communicators’ Roundtable and The Peer 150 leadership network.
I’m also very excited to be a founding leader of the “Women Inspire NTT DATA” employee resource group, where we just celebrated International Women’s Day 2019.
Has being a parent changed your career path? Can you explain?
Yes, it has. I’ve made some choices, such as not taking international assignments, so I would not disrupt my children’s education. But I have no regrets about that. There will be time for that later if I still want to do it.
Has being a mother made you better at your job? How so?
Being a mother has enriched me in so many ways and has absolutely made me a better leader. Motherhood has made me a better listener, more nurturing and more understanding. For one thing, I know that even though I have a plan, I always have to be flexible for what comes my way. That’s part of being a mother, and that’s life! Your grand plans may not materialize, and sometimes you must go with the flow.
What are the biggest challenges you face being a working mom?
Time. There’s never enough, so I’ve learned to prioritize and schedule the most important personal events first and then do my best to work my professional career around that.
Are there any stories you remember from the early days of parenthood that you want to share?
I didn’t know any nursery rhymes when my children were born, so when it was time to put the kids to bed or comfort them, I would sing what I knew. They now know every Eagles, Journey, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac and Bee Gees song! And we read Goodnight Moon a million times … two decades later, my husband and I can still recite every word of that book!
Are there any meaningful activities or traditions you’ve made up or implemented that have enhanced your time with your family? Can you share a story or example?
We’re deliberate about creating quality time together. Our immediate four-some, which we call FamSquad, takes at least one vacation together each year, and we play a lot of cards while on trips. Our family sport is tennis, so we get out and hit balls every chance we get. Thanksgiving is our favorite holiday — the kids love stuffing the turkey every year. And we make a HUGE deal about birthdays…often celebrating for the entire month!
We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed and we may feel that we can’t spare the time to be “fully present” with our children. Can you share with our readers 3–5 strategies about how we can create more space in our lives in order to give our children more quality attention?
· Work your professional life around the kids’ schedules as much as possible and guard your personal time rigorously. This begins with advanced planning and is carried through with daily discipline. Every quarter, we have a “family meeting” where we plan out the next few months’ major activities, including my work travel schedule. Now that we have one child in college, we have to work around his schedule as well. Then, be disciplined about attending the kids’ sporting/theater/scholastic events. When work conflicts arise, as they inevitably do, think long and hard about whether attending the work conflict is more important than the school event. My 17-year-old high school junior still has not forgiven me for canceling on Mother’s Visiting Day in 2nd grade — so I always think twice before canceling on either of my children!
· Have dinner together at least three times a week, with no phones allowed at the table. This is a good time for discussing the day and plans for the rest of the week.
· When your children are speaking with you, close your laptop and put away your phone. Don’t even have the phone in your hands! They deserve undivided attention. And don’t be so focused on capturing a joyful moment to share on social media that you steal the magic out of the moment itself!
How do you inspire your children to “dream big”? Can you give an example or story?
I tell them — and I believe — that they can be and do anything they want in this life. We are lucky enough to live in a country where if you work hard enough and are persistent, you can achieve your potential and build a fulfilling life. I always tell them to “work hard, play hard.”
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better parent? Can you explain why you like them?
Frankly, my parents are the best inspiration for me. I emulate my mom and dad as much as possible.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you share or plan to share with your kids?
My kids have my “4 Ps” ingrained in their heads: be PATIENT, PERSISTENT, and POLITE and you will always PROSPER. They also never leave the house without hearing me say: “Make good choices!”
If you could sit down with every new parent and offer life hacks, must-have products or simple advice, what would be on your list?
In the blink of an eye, your baby will be off to college, and then it really will be “goodnight moon.” Let me be the millionth person to implore you to treasure and be fully present for every precious second with your children. Yes, you have to work and sometimes be away. But when you’re with them, be WITH them. Never forget that even the most harried moments will become “the good ol’ days” faster than you can imagine.
Thank you so much for these insights! We really appreciate your time.