Nilofer Merchant, MBA '00
Author, Corporate Director, Speaker
Nilofer Merchant (SCU ’00) speaks internationally on management, appearing with people like Malcolm Gladwell and Arianna Huffington; has nearly 33,000 Twitter followers; is a Harvard Business Review columnist, and has a book on the new Rules of the Social Era that was published in 2012 – and still gets to walk her young son to school every day – something she wasn’t often able to do as recently as 2010.
That’s when she closed her company, Rubicon Consulting, which advised companies like Adobe, Symantec, Nokia, HP, Genesys and Logitech on strategy, and also shortly after her book, The New How
, on collaborative strategy creation was published. It was the culmination of more than a decade on the front lines in the business world. When she started graduate work in the Business school at Santa Clara, she was a mid-level manager. By graduation, she was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, before starting and serving as CEO at Rubicon.
“F. Scott Fitzgerald said ‘Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over,’” Merchant said in an interview, adding that Rubicon was strong, but she was exhausted and ready to do something different. After an 8-week sojourn in France, she returned to Los Gatos to plan the next phase of her career.
“I stepped out on this cliff believing there was something else out there for me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. In typical strategic fashion, she made a list of 10 people she respected, including SCU professors Barry Posner
and André Delbecq
, and asked their advice.
“I really wanted to know what other ideas were out there for me. I wasn’t looking to have any preconceived ideas validated. A third of the group said I should keep doing what I’m good at. Another third gave me ideas I hadn’t considered but could imagine, and another third suggested things I’d never imagined. The process really stretched my envelope of what I would consider.”
The group’s responses also strengthened her view that the modern approach to a career not only focuses on a particular job, but includes what is necessary to make a life.
“We’re moving from a world of resumes, to a world of portfolios,” she said. Her portfolio these days includes continuing to speak, guest teaching at Santa Clara and Stanford and serving as a corporate board member of the People to People Ambassador Program. She writes frequently on her blog, Yes and Know, Sparks for Innovators, at www.NiloferMerchant.com/blog
“People send me all sorts of problems,” she said. “It’s a fascinating dialogue. I’m getting a chance to think more deeply about problems with organizations. We’re still operating under 20th Century models in a 21st Century world. As André Delbecq taught me, each of us needs breathing space to be innovative.”