How I Got Here: Nilofer Merchant
Full name: Nilofer Merchant
Hometown: Los Gatos
Current position: CEO/Founder, Rubicon Consulting
First job: Administrative Assistant at Apple Computer
Favorite job: My current one
Education: B.S. in Economics from University of San Francisco, M.B.A. from Santa Clara University
Years in the industry: 18
How I got here in 10 words or less: Many companies, many positions, failing fast, and having courage.
Q: As CEO/Founder, what are your responsibilities?
A: Leading an ensemble of strategists, and each of those strategists is responsible for doing transformational client work.
Q:You talk about working with some of the smartest people in the industry, whether it's your clients or your team of strategists. How do you make sure that you are on the ball each day?
A: I think that's the gift. First of all, I have the ability to context switch. Secondly, I just really work on being me at all times. I think it would be hard to fake the energy. If you were operating all from your brain and your ego all the time, it would be more demanding. But I operate as much from my heart and my intuition where I can help them see the truth in their business, and that's operating from the gift. It's a really easy place to come from for me.
Q: You had 23 managers at Apple alone. Was there anything you learned during that time and from that unique experience?
A: Every leader has a particular style, need, and way of looking at information. While it would be easy to say one was good or another was lacking, the reality is that no person has the same facts, abilities, or perspectives as what they might need. Today, I walk into organizations looking for what any leader does have to offer, and then try to complete the picture if I can.
Q: Making that jump from working for others to founding your own company, how did you do it?
A: I got fired by Carol Bartz [the CEO] of Autodesk. So, it wasn't as if I jumped from a successful venture to create another successful venture. I got divorced and got fired in the same week. It was more like a "pull the plug from the wall" kind of thing, and it was a do-over. It was a starting over and really thinking about what were my gifts, what did I really want to accomplish, how could I serve other people, and the company really came from that genesis.
Q: How long between getting fired and getting started with your new venture?
A: I probably took three to six months to process on it and kind of figure out what was the next thing.
Q: Where do you go next?
A: I've never been one to be focused on doing bigger. I have been one to focus on being better. So, I've been thinking about how to add more value to the industry, be a greater thought leader for the industry. What if rather than just shaping the quality of decisions of our clients, what if I could improve how the tech industry makes strategy decisions? So, I've been thinking a lot about what is the best way for me to start shaping the way the industry thinks about things. That's the question. I'm not sure if I have the answer yet.