Nicole Sahin of Globalization Partners: “Think Global, Act Local”

Think Global, Act Local: I’ve seen that when a company embraces diversification by expanding into international markets, the business skyrockets. I cannot express enough about how critical it is for businesses to be open-minded to hiring local team members when expanding internationally. Many business executives fall into the trap of believing that taking what worked […]

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Think Global, Act Local: I’ve seen that when a company embraces diversification by expanding into international markets, the business skyrockets. I cannot express enough about how critical it is for businesses to be open-minded to hiring local team members when expanding internationally. Many business executives fall into the trap of believing that taking what worked in one market and duplicating it in another will generate success — or worse, sending an expat who has had success in one country take that same mindset elsewhere. While it’s a little intimidating to hire someone in another country, local hires not only speak the native language, but they understand cultural norms and customs, and this makes local partners and customers in that country much more comfortable and more willing to work with you.

As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take to Truly Create an Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Nicole Sahin.

Nicole Sahin is founder and CEO of Globalization Partners, a company that breaks down barriers for everyone, everywhere, by making it fast and easy for companies to build global remote teams. Growing up in the American Midwest she had big dreams of connecting people around the world to create greater economic opportunities. Fast forward 20 years, and Globalization Partners is leading the global remote work mandate brought to the forefront by Covid-19, with its global employer of record solution that enables companies to hire talent anywhere in the world, without the complexity of having to figure out how to run cross-border payroll, HR and legal matters — transforming the way global business works, while also tapping into the great human potential that exists when borders aren’t boundaries.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

I grew up in the Midwest and had a pretty normal, middle-America childhood, without much exposure to other cultures. While studying abroad in college, I was astounded and amazed by the human ingenuity and creativity that I found in every corner of the Earth — and somewhat dismayed that so much of our great human potential remains untapped. It became my dream to connect everyone, everywhere to a more globalized workplace so that we can all maximize our human potential, and people everywhere can have access to great jobs and opportunities. I decided that business provided the best way to make the type of positive impact on the massive-scale that I envisioned for two reasons: we all have a fundamental universal need as humans to be passionate about our work and business is the most efficient way to get things done. After I came up with the idea for Globalization Partners, a global employer of record platform, I travelled to 24 different countries to determine if I could make the model work from an international legal and tax perspective. With a lot of nuanced work, I determined that it would indeed be possible — so I set out to change the way the world works.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Leila Janah’s Give Work: Reducing Poverty One Job at a Time is one book I find incredibly inspiring. As a social entrepreneur, her thesis was that helping those in disadvantaged financial situations connect with companies that need the human capital ultimately helps people help themselves. We are all united by our common drive: being able to create meaning through work we’re passionate about and to provide for our families. Enabling people to work is an exceptionally powerful way to change the world. This book resonated deeply with me because Janah’s message completely embodies the core of what we do at Globalization Partners. In addition to our core mission of breaking down barriers to global business — and barriers between everyone, everywhere — we also run an ethical company that benefits all stakeholders. It’s always been extremely important to me to build a company that is not only loved by our clients, but also by our employees.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

One of my favorite quotes is, “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased,” by Maya Angelou. This quote mirrors my belief that once you have decided to do something, put in your wholehearted effort and make it incredible. The legacy I want to leave is creating a business that is going to change the way the world works.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership to me means always guiding in a positive direction, while also blazing a path that sets an example for others. As the CEO and founder of Globalization Partners, I lead by being fearless in what I ask my team to accomplish — because I know we’re capable of anything together — and by treating them like the gold that they are in return. I also ask that they energetically meet our standards of positivity, good intentions, and a high caliber of work. Based on the internal metrics that we’ve tracked and put into place over the last nine years, this combination works. Our customer satisfaction ratings are 97%; our internal team engagement score is 87%, which is more than three times the average American company; and, my investors repeatedly tell me that we are one of the best-managed and most ambitious companies they’ve ever worked with. Besides that, we bootstrapped the company to over a half-billion-dollar valuation in early 2020 and have grown by more than 50% in the last year.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

I have to exercise a lot to be able to think straight because I go a little nuts when I have to sit at a desk all day. In order to manage the reality that my job actually requires me to sit still sometimes, I jog, lift weights and do yoga almost every day. I love to be outside too, and go for long walks — my executive team is used to taking calls with me “on the road.” Beyond that, I am a big believer in giving myself time to think and use a lot of meditation practices. When I want to make a decision, I will take the time to get really quiet, then envision the outcome for different paths by looking three months or one year into the future. I usually get a gut-level reaction, or even a physical sensation, that makes it easy to make my decision.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

We’re experiencing a monumental time in human history. I’m thrilled that civil rights and inequality are getting the attention they very much deserve right now because America has a lot of healing to do. With so many people’s newfound awareness and visibility around different subjects related to diversity, I believe that moving forward, our society will take a more positive trajectory. Struggle always feels terrible when you’re in it, but things are much better for women and BIPOC (black, Indigenous and people of color) in America than they were in my parents’ generation, when women couldn’t get their own credit cards and the Jim Crow laws were still enforced. Each generation builds on the work of the last. We need to keep up the hard work, but keep our spirits up too. We can accomplish anything if we put our minds to it.

On that note, I would like to add that today’s teenagers and twenty-somethings inspire me; I absolutely love the generation of young kids right now. They grew up on social media and are used to seeing more diversity. Whenever the news gets me down, I can think about them and rest assured that the world is moving in the right direction.

That said, I don’t believe in leaving work to the next generation and am doing everything I can to play my part. We have always had efforts to support equality and diversity at Globalization Partners, and have redoubled our efforts, encouraging other executives to do the same.

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

One thing I like to point out is that every single hiring manager has the power to support diversity by hiring their own team. There’s so much power in who gets jobs, and that’s a power that business leaders should hold with great responsibility. Business leaders need to make sure they are proactively both hiring and supporting a diverse workforce. Beyond it simply being the right thing to do, it’s been proven that businesses are more successful and effective when diverse voices are heard from all levels throughout the company. At Globalization Partners, we work hard to make sure that we are hiring diverse teams, and continually look at ways to foster a culture of employee inclusion across the globe.

The message comes from the top, but so does the mandate of enforcement. When I hired my first male country managers in countries that are traditionally more patriarchal, I made sure to call them before they got the job and set the tone that they needed to buy into hiring and promoting diverse teams as the local team grows. We promote and talk about civil rights and LGBQTIA+ issues in the workplace, and in some countries, that’s not as accepted as it is here, but I believe that by setting a tone of acceptance from the top, it provides a big release to those who need it in less socially progressive countries. I will sometimes tap an executive on the shoulder and let them know that I am noticing their team is lacking diversity. Once that becomes clear to them, they take the appropriate steps forward quickly.

We’ve also implemented gender equality in our family leave policies around the globe after having witnessed what happens in countries where only women get family leave — specifically, these companies don’t want to hire women — and we have gone out of our way to buck the trend where we can. In the Middle East, we had an extraordinarily talented woman as a candidate for our first local head of office. We hired her for the job and made arrangements to make sure that in order to accommodate some local cultural nuances, she has the male support whenever she needs it in situations where men face fewer challenges to getting things done. It just makes me smile every time I think of her, a young woman, showing other women in that region that it’s possible for a talented young woman to head up a global operation, even in a traditionally male-dominated society. It turned out to be a great move, too, because she’s crushing it, just like many other women in the Middle East .

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

Absolutely! Having a diverse executive team leads to what every business should be working towards. According to a recent study by McKinsey and Company, companies in the top quartile for gender diversity on their executive teams were 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. Meanwhile, ethnic and cultural diversity resulted in a 33% increase in performance. There’s no way you can look at the numbers and defend hiring a team that lacks diversity.

Hiring a diverse executive team also leads to hiring a diverse workforce, although it will always take focused work. I’m proud to say that currently, 64% of the team here at Globalization Partners is considered diverse. Diversity matters and is quite simply a good business decision on multiple levels. Having diversity of age, gender, race and ethnicity, or geographic and national culture in teams helps a company in many ways.

Lastly, when you prioritize diversity, things are far more interesting, productive, and creative, resulting in happier, more engaged employees and increased employee retention. We got a lot of acclaim for being a high-growth tech company with 64% diversity and I love knowing that we can build a rocket ship business while also inspiring people. Isn’t that the dream?

But having diversity in your company does not just happen — it needs to be a focus of your management team from the recruiting process through professional development and management training. Making it a policy to enable and encourage a diverse group of people to work with each other everywhere around the globe in a highly professional way builds a more inclusive and global community.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”. Kindly share a story or example for each.

Here are five steps companies can take to help contribute to creating a more inclusive, representative, and equitable society:

  • Make it a Mandate: Set the tone from the top so that everyone has to hire a diverse team — no excuses. For example, we always talk to our hiring managers, our VPs, our HR team, and make this a metric to track. The key is to set expectations for people before they join the company about our hiring culture and the importance of their role to meet our goals.
  • Compensation Matters: Set pay grades and make sure your people who have been culturally trained to be noisy aren’t paid more than top performers who quietly do great work. At Globalization Partners, we ensure equal pay is done via pay scales and setting bands across levels, departments and locations. Following that structure and being organized about it is critical to making sure you pay people equally, fairly and well. Personally, I also am an advocate for a living wage. Rewarding people for a job well done is part of an investment mandate that has a win-win outcome anyway and will pay dividends in the end.
  • Communication is Key: Now that most companies have been forced to work remotely, there has never been a better time to implement tools that allow for effective cross-company communication. This is absolutely critical for facilitating a positive employee experience. When employees don’t feel a sense of inclusion or belonging in their organization, it affects employee happiness and can result in turnover. Besides communicating from the top, we also give our employees a voice in the business and use our business as a platform for their voices. For example, we offered an LGBTQIA+ activist in one city the opportunity to use our internal company communication as a podium. It meant the world to him and has given rise to a self-run employee diversity group within the company. This is deeply meaningful to the employees who are participating.
  • Think Global, Act Local: I’ve seen that when a company embraces diversification by expanding into international markets, the business skyrockets. I cannot express enough about how critical it is for businesses to be open-minded to hiring local team members when expanding internationally. Many business executives fall into the trap of believing that taking what worked in one market and duplicating it in another will generate success — or worse, sending an expat who has had success in one country take that same mindset elsewhere. While it’s a little intimidating to hire someone in another country, local hires not only speak the native language, but they understand cultural norms and customs, and this makes local partners and customers in that country much more comfortable and more willing to work with you.
  • Beyond that, embrace diversification within each hub office: Make sure your teams are hiring people of color, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, women and members of the LGBQTIA+ community — whatever it is that diversity means in that specific country.For me, the greatest joy of my work is working across cultures and geographies. I get to see people’s perspectives from different parts of the world and witness the kaleidoscope of the human experience. I feel incredibly lucky to have built a business that brings people from all kinds of business and cultural backgrounds together and strongly believe that people are just people and that making it easy for anyone to hire anywhere in the world provides a unique perspective that helps bring the world a little bit closer together. I believe through commerce, comes peace.
  • Give Back When You Can: Be Human, and honor your team: When a group of people is suffering in a crisis — whether it’s the Black community after George Floyd’s death, or for instance, in the case of our India team when their entire country shut down with four hours’ notice — reach out and be vocal about your compassion, and do what you can to support your team. Not only is giving back useful for your team and your partners, it creates loyalty and a real human experience of coming together. Everyone will remember how you treated them in times of crisis or need, and this is a great time to be an even better partner to your customers, employees, and business partners.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

Yes, I’m optimistic, but we have a lot of work that needs to be done quickly. The world is full of incredibly intelligent people, and if we unlock our love for humanity and our human potential, we are able to overcome absolutely anything. I know our world is going through a tough, dark time, but I believe that one of the keys to overcoming these challenges is seeing each other as people. We have some huge problems to tackle right now, from global inequality to climate change, but we also have a track record of solving huge problems. In just the last 100 years, women got the right to vote and we’ve gotten more than 90% of the world out of extreme poverty.

Even though these trying times are painful, I believe they actually help us because underlying issues have been brought to the light of our everyday lives, which is why we are motivated to address them now more than ever.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Well if you’re going to tag someone…I would absolutely love to meet Oprah Winfrey. Oprah is an incredible person who overcame all odds and is the face of the American dream. I listen to her podcasts regularly and would just love to meet her.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please check out the latest from Globalization Partners on our website:

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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