Every entrepreneur is a leader in their own right. A leader is not just a title. It is someone, who in any given moment takes action based on their principles along the lines of “I’m going to act in the right way. I’m going to do a good thing here.” It is in that instance that they become a more authentic and compassionate leader.
One such successful, innovative and passionate business leader is Nina Simosko, President and CEO at NTT Innovation Institute Inc. (NTT i³), the prestigious Silicon Valley-based innovation center for NTT Group, one of the world’s largest ICT companies.
An advocate for innovation in the technology industry for more than two decades, Nina has worked in an executive capacity for several well-known global companies. Prior to NTT i³, she was responsible for leading the creation and execution of Nike Technology strategy, planning and operations worldwide.
Before that, Nina served as Senior Vice President for SAP’s Global Premier Customer Network (PCN). She was part of the company’s Global Ecosystem & Partner Group, which was charged with creating an open ecosystem of software, service and technology.
She also served as the Global Chief Operating Officer for SAP’s worldwide Customer Education organization, responsible for driving more than half a billion euros in global education software and services revenue.
Currently, Nina leads an organization that is a part of a global multi-billion dollar entity with over 900 operating companies around the world. She also plays an active role on the advisory boards of two early-to-mid stage technology companies, Reflection and AppOrchid.
Speaking about what keeps her schedule busy, Nina says, “Much of my energy is focused on building deep working relationships and cultivating a culture of compassion and innovation that naturally enables self-directed inquiry, learning, and collaboration among the company’s diverse team members and enterprise customers around the world.”
From Tech Enthusiast to Innovative Business Leader
“I believe that there is no single path to success. Many different paths can lead to the same success outcome,” says Nina.
Nina started her career from the ground level when she entered the tech industry. Her first jobs in Silicon Valley were managing global call centers at Oracle and Siebel. She then transitioned to supervising and driving external sales and successfully running increasingly larger P&Ls for various business units.
After 15 years with technology companies selling to the enterprise industry, Nina made the move to the consumer side to broaden her experience and gain valuable perspective. She joined Nike in a senior IT role, leading the creation and execution of Nike Technology’s global strategy, planning and operations. This was the turning point in Nina’s professional journey.
“Without taking the bold step of transitioning to the client side at Nike, I would not be in the position I am in now, nor would I be able to fully understand and appreciate how to collaborate and support innovation initiatives for global companies,” said Nina.
When asked about the lessons which have helped her to succeed, Nina says, “My most important and valuable learnings have been focused on people, behavior, and culture – how I see and treat others, as well as the maxims I use to guide my own behavior.”
With a strong emphasis on fostering strategic innovation, Nina now leads the team at NTT i³ working with established enterprise companies looking to adopt new approaches to help them evolve into technology-first, digitally-driven businesses. Under her guidance, the company partners with early-stage startups and other NTT operating companies to assist them in establishing product differentiation within their respective marketplaces.
Driven by Passion
“When it comes to the way I approach each day at work, there are two main themes that I emphasize: optimistic leadership and business bravery,” says the modern business leader.
Nina believes that optimistic leadership is about being more than a mindless cheerleader. Rather, it is about coming to work each day and being positive about oneself, the company, the mission and your team. To her, business bravery is defined as the need for leaders to have and to follow a clear moral compass.
“A lasting and innovative business can only be built on top of a base of meaningful relationships that reflect honesty and transparency.”
Working with top-tier technology companies in Silicon Valley, she has learned that more often than not, people come to work in search of purpose and meaning, much as they do in their everyday lives. The idea that a company’s sole mission is to make money for shareholders is neither attractive nor meaningful for employees. People are willing to work for organizations where they know they are making a difference and where they believe they have an opportunity to be a part of the equation in a people-centered view of the world.
When Nina talks about the organization’s need to recognize the way in which people and their teams wish to be treated, she says, “Throughout my career, my goal has been and is to be part of an organization which is human-centered, that puts its people first.”
That is why she has created a business environment in which people have the room to flourish as individuals and become the best they can be. At NTT i³, she ensures that her team gets opportunities to grow and contribute at a higher level. She personally voices appreciation for each individual’s work and makes them feel their importance.
Speaking of her greatest moments of achievement, Nina adds, “If I do all these things and more—I will have succeeded in inspiring – which is and will be among my greatest achievements.”
Nina actively supports a culture of wonder and curiosity and believes that it is the responsibility of business leaders to create organizational cultures that continually renew and change. She makes certain that the working environment at NTT i³ is one where people are talking about innovation – true innovation – as a fundamental responsibility of the business.
Freedom, the Secret Behind Creativity and Innovation
The willingness to be comfortable to lead the charge in embracing serendipity is a key indicator of a risk-tolerant and risk-embracing organization.
This means that there is support and encouragement for people to explore outside the organization’s own walls and for breakthrough ideas. It represents the organization’s tolerance for failure. Nina is an ardent believer that through failure, true innovation occurs.
She says, “You should give people the freedom to do what they need to do, no matter where that may be or where it leads them. This philosophy can be difficult for large organizations to embrace, as they sometimes incorrectly see serendipity and freedom as synonymous with chaos. They are wrong. It is synonymous with business creativity”.
With the belief that compassion empowers the environment of risk required for innovation, Nina reveals that she thinks that “For entrepreneurs – young and old alike – working towards a philosophy centered around compassionate leadership will bring both personal and professional success in the workplace”.
The Principles of Open Innovation
At NTT i³, what is created, shared and learned between employees is founded on the principles of open innovation. A core premise of the Silicon Valley-based company’s innovation practice is the belief that the best ideas come from – and are developed by – a well-curated and engaged global ecosystem of technologists and business experts.
Nina gives credit to her team and the people involved in NTT i³’s daily business, saying, “We are fortunate to have an amazing group of individuals with which to engage – from NTT‘s own operating companies, to the startup community of technologists and investors, to NTT‘s global customers, to industry partners, and to our own executive advisory board.”
Over 2018, NTT i³ is doubling down on innovation partnerships, investigations, and proof of concept development with its colleagues at NTT’s operating companies around the world. These collaborations will not only enable the company to address real industry problems, but also create best practices which NTT i³ can share with others.
In the near future, NTT i³ will continue to evolve as one of the world’s premier innovation centers.
Recently, the company launched CLOUDWAN in a globally collaborative effort with NTT Group operating company partners: Internet Solutions (IS), the leading pan-African telecoms services provider, and NTT PC Communications (NTTPC), a network service and communication solution provider in Japan.
CLOUDWAN is a powerful networking solution for the next generation of businesses, connecting legacy systems with powerful, centralized visibility and control. It delivers an enhanced user experience, powerful flexibility and extraordinary agility to NTT’s enterprise customers. With CLOUDWAN, NTT i³ is helping organizations to grow and respond to changing business needs.
The Key to Motivation
Nina remembers a quote that the best-selling author, Stan Slap had once told her: “Be human first”. She has also quotes a line by the CEO of SAP, Bill McDermott, “Believe it. Achieve it”.
Nina follows these mantras and she says that these themes are what motivate and guide her to achieve success. “What influences me consistently is the belief that if you do what you love and find joy in what you’re doing every day, the rest will follow”.
When talking about her sources of inspiration, Nina acknowledges that they are “My family, numerous amazing women leaders I’ve worked with in the past, all my colleagues at NTT with whom I collaborate, and friends and colleagues, past and present, who are in my professional network.”
Nina shared her view of the factors that drive success in any organization, saying, “You need to hire people who are better than you, specifically in areas where you know you are not the best. This means truthfully acknowledging your own strengths and weaknesses within the team. Leaders need to know how to find the better person rather than always needing to be the better person in their organization.”