Nicole Sahin: “Triple Bottom Line”

I want all female leaders to claim their place at the table and to not be shy! It’s important to sing from the rooftops about how awesome you are. There is a well-known statistic showing that women will wait to apply for a job because they are checking to see if they meet every requirement […]

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I want all female leaders to claim their place at the table and to not be shy! It’s important to sing from the rooftops about how awesome you are. There is a well-known statistic showing that women will wait to apply for a job because they are checking to see if they meet every requirement whereas our male counterparts see they fit 60% of the job and apply. I really want to encourage women to have faith in themselves that they are qualified for the job and to make that leap.

As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Sahin.

Nicole Sahin, founder, and CEO of Globalization Partners had a simple childhood growing up in the Midwest, and as she reached adulthood, she had big dreams of connecting people around the world to greater economic opportunities for everyone. Her mission is to eliminate barriers to doing business internationally and building global teams. She has created an innovative solution that enables companies to hire talent anywhere in the world without the complexity of setting up international branch offices or subsidiaries. She lives in Boston, loves to travel, and is inspired by the belief that making it easy for people to expand internationally and work seamlessly across borders ultimately makes the world a more exciting and open-minded place.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thank you for having me! I grew up in the Midwest with a normal, middle-America childhood. After I started traveling in college, I knew that if more people could get to know each other in different countries the barriers that were traditionally in place would break down. I also had big dreams of improving economic conditions for people around the world by connecting everyone, everywhere to a more globalized workplace. At one point I was living with the Mayan Indians in Guatemala, which was incredibly eye-opening. Eventually, I decided that the only way to make the type of positive change I envisioned was through business. After I came up with the idea for Globalization Partners, I traveled to 24 different countries to determine if the business model would work from an international legal and tax perspective. I ultimately concluded it would and rolled up my sleeves to change the way the world works.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

In the very beginning when we only had seven employees, I knew the business was going to be successful, but I was surprised at how many clients we were gaining and how quickly. The woman who ran the financial side of things was on maternity leave, and our head of operations was out on vacation. I like to call this my “near-death” experience because I was working 20+ hours a day, not sleeping and was absolutely determined to make the business stable and scalable. I came to the conclusion that just for the time being we needed to stop taking on new clients for three months. In this time, we hired 30 people, revamped our IT infrastructure, and built and hired a new team. At the end of the three months, we sent our VP of Global Operations and her family to Portugal and made her promise to not check her email. Not only did she need this vacation but it also served as a test to see if the company could still succeed in her absence. Within a few weeks of taking clients again, Inc. Magazine named us the sixth fastest-growing company in America.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

We were setting up our Brazil and Argentina companies in South America, and I needed to fly down in order to set up the bank accounts. As I was getting ready to leave at 5 a.m., I realized I had forgotten to get a visa for the trip. I had to laugh at myself because, as an avid traveler that runs a global business, how could I forget something so simple yet so important? It was a mistake I have to say that hasn’t ever happened again!

OK, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What is it about the position of CEO or executive that most attracted you to it?

I love having the ability to control the outcome and execution of my vision and having full responsibility for everything I put into the world. Being able to set the tone in the way we treat our customers and employees is huge for me. I also like being responsible for our employees and making sure they energetically meet our standards of positivity, good intention, and high caliber of work.

Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?

I believe the CEO wears many hats. They are the ones that set the strategic direction of the company, align shorter-term goals to the long-term mission, and hold the executive team and employees accountable for attaining those strategic goals. They have to hire and manage the executive team and also make sure that the team works together cohesively. With all this, let’s not forget that CEOs are the ones who also have to make the decisions no one wants to. When push comes to shove, no other person, not even the executive team, can call the shots. There’s a lot of positives that come with the CEO role, but you also have to own the hardest decisions.

What is the one thing that you enjoy most about being an executive?

I can wholeheartedly say that changing the way the world works is my life’s mission, and I believe that whatever you throw your energy into should be your masterpiece. There is something that feels almost artistic about entrepreneurship and creating a business. That said, I believe Globalization Partners is my masterpiece. I’ve always felt strongly about the concept, “if you are going to do something, do it well and make it beautiful.” Being an executive means that I’ve had this opportunity to create a global company that really is changing the way the world works. Therefore, what I most enjoy about being an executive and entrepreneur is the opportunity to guide a positive outcome for everyone who touches our business.

What are the downsides of being an executive?

Executives find themselves in situations where they are the ones who have to make some tough decisions. As a result, they influence other people’s livelihoods. It’s incredibly challenging to make decisions that you know have a broad impact on people. Approaching that with the highest level of responsibility and integrity is always the mandate, and yet, it’s also daunting.

What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive? Can you explain what you mean?

One myth is that being a CEO is a solo effort. Some of the best ideas can come from anywhere throughout the organization. For example, we hold an annual IdeaFest that encourages every employee to submit their ideas for company improvement and innovation. We pick winners each year and implement the vast majority of the ideas submitted and have found this to be a wonderful way to encourage innovation across our global team.

In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?

The biggest misperception I feel women are faced with is that we are sometimes perceived as less fierce or less competitive. I would like to give a huge shout out to the USA Women’s Soccer team as they have shown the world just how competitive and fierce women are! Many women executives have found a way to be competitive and fierce but in a sort of “stealth mode” fashion, rather than demonstrably so, and it has been to their advantage. Women CEOs continue to produce jaw-dropping financial results, which shows that women run some pretty amazing businesses.

What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?

Most people may believe that the bigger a company grows, the harder it is to manage. I find this to be inaccurate. My job gets easier the bigger the company grows. This is because I have such competent people working throughout the organization — it’s much easier than trying to do everything with a smaller headcount or just starting out.

Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive, and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive?

There are a few traits I believe a successful executive should possess. The most important one being the ability to make decisions. According to the book “The CEO Next Door” by Elena L. Botelho and Kim R. Powell, decisiveness has been proven to be the number one trait that makes CEOs more effective. If you’re the kind of CEO who makes decisions easily, even without having all the information at hand, you are 12 times more likely to be successful. Nothing is worse than when there is ambiguity at the top because it trickles down to the bottom, leaving the organization in disarray. There is never enough visibility of information, and executives need to be quick on their feet and decisive — as well as strong on communication and follow-through. Project management is also a critical skill for executives. You can’t run a department without knowing who is doing what, when, and what it will take to achieve your goals. Finally, if you are not analytical or not willing to keep up with the ever-changing pace of technology, then you would have a hard time being an executive.

What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I want all female leaders to claim their place at the table and to not be shy! It’s important to sing from the rooftops about how awesome you are. There is a well-known statistic showing that women will wait to apply for a job because they are checking to see if they meet every requirement whereas our male counterparts see they fit 60% of the job and apply. I really want to encourage women to have faith in themselves that they are qualified for the job and to make that leap.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Without a doubt, this would have to be my husband, Ned Sahin, who is also a CEO. He is the most amazing, cool person I know. In the time period between when I quit my job and launched my company, I had a moment of doubt and mentioned dropping everything to set up pilates studios across the world. I remember him laughing the hardest he has ever laughed. He said he knew I would never be happy until I had conquered the world. To no one’s surprise, he was right. He never fails to cheer me on, be my support system, and inspire me. He is always encouraging me to never doubt myself.

How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

As the CEO of Globalization Partners, it is my responsibility to set the tone for the company. When I started Globalization Partners I wanted to build a company people love — customers, business partners, and employees. I call that my “Triple Bottom Line” way of doing business. Part of that was to build a culture of kindness, compassion, and goodness while still being laser-focused on the business.

As the business has continued to grow and evolve, I’m inspired every day by what we have built and by the incredible, charming, sometimes funny, and very *human* experiences that we encounter as we work with our clients to build and manage their teams around the world. The greatest joy of my job 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 together people from all kinds of business and cultural backgrounds. I 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.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. You do not need a business partner or co-founder — I was talking to a prospective co-founder/business partner, and there was a lot of work to figure out who owns what, how are we going to mesh our ideas, etc. I called my friend who was a lawyer, and he said, “The only ship that doesn’t float is a partnership.” Right when he said that, it hit me, and I knew I did not want a business partner/co-founder. I think that is some of the best advice I have ever received and would love to pass that on.
  2. You can do it — As I was getting the company off the ground, I faced countless challenges, including balancing growth with resources such as when and who to hire. As is the case with most women-run businesses, I also faced added challenges, biases, and doubters. Upon launching the company, I encountered questions such as, “Is this your husband’s business?” During that time, I learned to be confident in owning my work and stepping out to say, “This is my business.” I learned that as an entrepreneur you just need to go out there and get an idea started. Every entrepreneur has a force inside them pushing them to go out and start something great. Make sure you love what you do and spread the positivity to those who decide to take the leap with you. Also, pay attention and listen to your inner voice — it’s usually right — and to believe in yourself.
  3. It will be more amazing than you can imagine — When other people begin to buy into your vision that you have created and that same dream becomes theirs, there’s nothing else like it. In the early days of my business, I would be so honored when someone would quit their job to come work for Globalization Partners. Fast-forward to years later, and I see those people have stayed with the company, raised ranks in their roles, and still feel as passionate about the company as I do. We have some employees who started in junior positions who are now the leaders setting up our European sales hub and have hired people in other countries and are training them.
  4. Take the leap — Quitting your job and starting something new can without a doubt be terrifying, but it can also lead to greatness. I used to help companies expand internationally and thought, if I could just set up one company in each country and give all of my clients access to it, I would have a much more scalable business model. When 2011 came around, my husband and I decided to sell everything we owned and travel the world to make connections that would lay the groundwork for Globalization Partners. In February 2020, Globalization Partners received a 150 million dollar investment, which is changing the way a company can operate globally. Even though taking the leap requires courage, it is well worth it.
  5. Don’t hire people you are not 100% sure about — When hiring, it is crucial you hire people you are not only confident in but are in-sync with. I view hiring as dating in a way. You have some criteria you would like them to meet, but even after meeting them and seeing that they meet your criteria, your gut may tell you something different. We had a candidate for a potential job role and even though the person checked our boxes, I just had a funny feeling that told me otherwise. This candidate called me shortly after accepting the role and ended up backing out as they felt like they were not going to be able to give the role their all. I completely appreciated their honesty, and it taught me a valuable lesson of trusting my inner voice. A few weeks later, the right person walked in the door. No matter how hard it is, you need to be patient and wait for the right people. It is well worth the wait.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would like to inspire or ask all the billionaires in the world to give away a portion of the money that they could never realistically spend. Bill Gates started this with the Giving Pledge, and I hope more people sign it. I really struggle knowing there are so many people in the world that do not have clean water or food, and with just a little bit of everyone’s help, we could make a huge difference in the lives of so many.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite life lesson quote comes from Maya Angelou: “If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” This ties into my strong belief that once you have decided to do something, put in your whole-hearted effort and make it amazing. I decided I wanted to make a business that was going to change the way the world works — that’s the legacy I want to leave.

We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them

It would have to be Zainab Salbi, the founder of Women for Women International. She is a woman who is most definitely making a positive impact on the world and was listed as one of the “100 Most Spiritually Influential Living People in 2019.”

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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