Increases innovation — Having a diverse team that brings together people from dissimilar walks of life who approach the world from a wide range of perspectives provides the company with unique intellectual capital. Listening to the viewpoints of those who have had different experiences enables richer brainstorming sessions, which fosters outside-the-box thinking and higher levels of creativity. These sessions in turn could lead to an idea or invention that will help a corporation distinguish itself from its competitors and become more successful.
As a part of our series about “How Diversity Can Increase a Company’s Bottom Line”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nita Sanger, the CEO of Idea Innovate Consulting, who brings over 20 years of experience transforming businesses for growth in financial, professional, and legal services. After successfully transforming several large, complex, global, regulated businesses, Nita now works with PE firms advising them on businesses to invest in financial, legal, governance risk, and compliance and business services, in addition to optimizing the performance of companies in their portfolio. Nita also advises mid- and small-sized businesses on growing revenues and optimizing operations and talent models.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive into the main part of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you share a bit of your “backstory” with us?
I grew up in India, where I often faced a gender bias, as women were not treated as equal to men and had to work extra hard to be treated as an equal. I was fortunate to get the opportunity to live, study, and work in multiple countries before coming to the US to go to business school. I believe my global experiences during my formative years played a key role in shaping my perspectives as they provided me with unique insights into how bringing together diverse people, thoughts and ideas were so critical for success. My experiences helped me as I worked with various leading global financial and services businesses, bringing together global teams with diverse backgrounds to innovate, transform and grow businesses for continued market success. After successfully innovating and transforming several large global businesses I started Idea Innovate Consulting, to guide mid and small-sized companies to innovate and grow and advise PE firms on how to improve the performance of companies in their portfolio.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? Can you tell us the lesson or take away you took out of that story?
One of the funniest mistakes (which was mortifying at that time) happened at the beginning of my consulting career. My firm had been brought in to transform the investment banking division of a large well reputed investment bank. I was still learning how the busines world operated in the U.S. The investment banking partner was talking about a recently held football game, discussing his favorite team and its performance. I did not realize that American football, is different from football in the rest of the world (football is called soccer in the U.S). I made some remarks about a recent soccer game that I had watched which was totally out of line with the discussion and made me come across as ignorant. After I made the comment, my partner quickly stepped in and covered up my lack of knowledge of American football. We then moved on to the presentation, but I realized that my credibility had been somewhat diminished in the eyes of the banker because I was unable to discuss American football with him. What this experience taught me was that it is critical to understand the cultural nuances of the people who you are working with, and it can be an effective way to build a personal rapport, which translates into a stronger working relationship. After that I always made it a point to do my homework on the background of the person/people I was going work with.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you tell us a story about how that was relevant in your own life?
My favorite quote is “You live every day, you only die once” by Gautam Buddha. I believe that this philosophy is key to being successful in today’s world, as we are living in a time of constant change and need to be open to living and learning new things and having a growth mindset. During my first experience with drastic change, which included moving countries, going to an international high school, and dealing with students from 80 different countries, I threw up every day for the first month. Then I started building skills and coping mechanisms to deal with change and now now tend to get bored with “steady state” and relish the challenge of a new situation. I believe the skills I developed and the lessons I learned, have underpinned my approach to life as I lived worked and studied in multiple countries, worked with some of the leading financial and professional organizations, and learnt about the new tools and exponential technologies, that are changing our professional and personal lives in ways we could not even imagine a few year ago.
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?
Yes, I have been lucky to have many great leaders guide and help me. The one I would like to talk about is the CEO of the Global Audit business at Deloitte, who gave me the authority and the responsibility to transform the business. He was of Cuban origin and came from a family of strong women. He made it a point to have several women on his team and empowered them speak and execute on his behalf. He was also a true visionary and recognized that the business needed to change drastically if it was going to continue to be profitable. He brought me in from the consulting side of the business. When I mentioned that I was not an auditor and did not know how to do an audit, he stated that he wanted someone with a different perspective and mindset who was not hindered how things were done in the past, to drive the change. He encouraged diversity of thought, so that we could get to a better outcome for the business. As we were driving change across the organization, he pushed me and the team, to be bolder and think about how we could disrupt the business before an outside firm came and disrupted us. He showed me what a true leader should be, by being bold in his vision, encouraging diversity, giving the necessary funding, air cover, and the authority and responsibility to drive the change. In many ways, he set the benchmark for what a great leader needs to look like.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes my company, Idea Innovate Consulting stand out is that our focus is on helping our clients be successful as they deal with a volatile, uncertain, changing, and ambiguous (VUCA) business environment, which has been exacerbated by the current market conditions. We strive not to sell our services but instead meet the needs of our customer. We do this by reexamining their external environment including the business and competitive landscape, changing customer needs and traditional and non-traditional competitors, reassessing their internal environment, products and services, go-to-market strategies, business operations and talent models and then reengineering the business, by developing customized approaches and solutions that would enable them to be successful.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I use my skills and capabilities to give back to the community and support efforts that align with my passions. I am on the Board of Peer Forward, an organization that works with low-income youth to increase their post-secondary completion rates. In addition, I am an Executive Board Member of I.WILL (Inspiring Women Igniting Leadership and Learning), an organization with a mission to empower women in business. I mentor junior talent from various financial services businesses, and founders that are part of the Columbia Technology Ventures accelerator program.
Ok. Thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. This may be obvious to you, but it is not intuitive to many people. Can you articulate to our readers five ways that increased diversity can help a company’s bottom line? (Please share a story or example for each.)
Studies have shown that diversity can help a company’s top and bottom line in the following ways:
- Improves overall business performance — According to a 2020 McKinsey study, firms that have gender and ethnic diversity at the C-suite and Board level tend to outperform their less diverse peers, by 25% to 35%. Also, by having a diverse leadership team, the C-suite is setting the “tone-at-the-top” regarding the importance of diversity to the business.
- Has higher market penetration in new markets — Studies have shown that businesses that have a diverse product development and marketing team can improve their market penetration of new products and services by up to 70%. A diverse team introduces the potential to reach new demographics in ways that may not have come to light with a homogenous group at the helm, as the team is more likely to relate to a particular audience’s wants, needs and pain points.
- Resonates better with customers and investors– Increasingly, customer and investors want to do business with firms that are diverse and reflect the makeup of the community in which they operate. For e.g., private equity firms that were white male dominated are being pushed by their investors to have more gender and ethnic diversity in their own firms and to invest in firms with diverse founders. Law firms, which tend to predominantly have older, white male partners, are being pushed by their corporate legal department buyers, to have more diverse legal teams and are penalizing those law firms that are less diverse.
- Increases innovation — Having a diverse team that brings together people from dissimilar walks of life who approach the world from a wide range of perspectives provides the company with unique intellectual capital. Listening to the viewpoints of those who have had different experiences enables richer brainstorming sessions, which fosters outside-the-box thinking and higher levels of creativity. These sessions in turn could lead to an idea or invention that will help a corporation distinguish itself from its competitors and become more successful.
- Attracts better talent — Talent is going to be the single differentiating factor between successful and less successful companies. Companies that have ethnic, gender and age diversity appeal to a broader spectrum of job seekers, giving those companies a better chance at attracting top talent. Today’s companies are in a fierce competition for the best employees and are always looking for ways to draw them in. Diverse companies appeal to a diverse workforce and have a distinct advantage over companies that do not have a healthy percentage of women and people of color and varying ages on staff. When recruiting, businesses that source candidates from a diverse base are more likely to hire people with diverse characteristics.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive?
I would advice business leaders to create an environment, where there is a common understanding of the vison, mission and values of the firm. Leadership should establish a diverse leadership team, that encourages open dialogue and dissent, as necessary, to achieve better outcomes for the firm and its clients. At the same time, the key is to recognize that employees are part of the solution. Employees usually brings deep insights into the business, provides various perspectives and skills that would end up creating a better end solution. The leadership should create a feedback mechanism for the talent to provide their thoughts and insights to improve the businesses to better meet customer needs and encourage open and honest dialogue without fear of repercussions.
What advice would you give to other business leaders about how to manage a large team?
The advice I would give to leaders managing a large team would be to “play to people’s strengths.” I will use a soccer analogy to illustrate my point. When I coached soccer to the kids in my town, I learnt that to win a game, we needed a diverse team, with strong offenders, defenders, and a goalie. We did not lose when we had a strong defense as no goals would get scored against us, but we did not win till we had a strong offence, to score the goals. Some kids were better at offence, while others preferred to be on defense. Finally, the entire team had to work together for success. Similarly, a team needs people with diverse skills and each team member may have a skill that they are good at. A good leader needs to establish a common goal for the team, identify the strengths of each member, and then assign them tasks that best fit their strengths. The role of the leader should be of a coach, who establishes the guardrails,, advises the team on action to take, and guides them, while allowing the team to work together for success.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this 🙂
I would like to meet with Jane Fraser, the new CEO of Citigroup. She was the first woman CEO of a large financial institution. I believe the banking industry is going thorough significant disruption with no end in sight, and incumbents like Citigroup are going to need to drastically innovate and transform their business to continue to be market leaders. I would like to be able to support and guide Jane in transforming the business and positioning Citigroup for long term success. I believe that Jane’s success would, demonstrate the value of diversity at the highest levels of the business and pave the for other diverse talent to move into leadership positions.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can go to my LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nita-sanger/ and read my various articles or go to my website at https://ideainnovate.com/reports-tools/ for my articles, media appearances, etc.
Thank you for these excellent insights. We wish you continued success in your great work.