Potentially, everyone is a leader. More than a title, leaders are people who make sound decisions, act in ways that motivate others, and consistently solve problems and celebrate successes. They engage with others, stay focused even in tough times, and enjoy the ride. Fundamental to strong leadership is the belief that people can make a positive difference in the world—and for customers, colleagues, the organization and shareholders. Along with that belief, most effective leaders are keenly aware of the key principles that guide their day-to-day thinking and motivational strategies. Scratch a little below the surface and they will tell you that those principles include fairness, trust, and a large dose of compassion. Nina Simosko, President and CEO of NTT Innovation Institute Inc (NTT I³), reflects this way of thinking and working to a tee.
For more than 20 years, Nina has been a passionate leader and advocate for technology innovation, always with a focus on the people who make it happen. “I feel so fortunate,” Nina says, “to have worked with some the smartest, most innovative and hardest working people in the industry. And my team at NTT are among the very best!”
During her tenure at prestigious organizations such as Oracle, Nike and SAP, Nina has always sought to bring out the best in people, drawing from and building on their strengths, passions, skill sets and drive. She believes that engaging with people and understanding what makes them tick is key to her own leadership development and the many successes she’s enjoyed. “Dynamic engagement and developing a common vision is fundamental,” Nina says. “And you can really only do that by understanding each and every person and making sure they feel truly valued.”
A Strong Advocate of Technology Innovation
While some kids wanted to be teachers, doctors or musicians, even at a young age Nina’s mind said “entrepreneur” even if she didn’t know the word until much later in life. “My first jobs were so important,” Nina recalls. “I worked in call centres, retail shops, restaurants, and even sold insurance. Each job helped me to learn something about people, myself and getting the job done. I also learned a lot from my mom, a single woman who worked primarily in the public sector and helped bring out significant social change around the world.”
Entering the technology industry, Nina worked at Oracle and Siebel where she purposely transitioned her role from call-center management to managing and driving outside sales. Her role at both organizations evolved as she took on more and more responsibility and assumed growing responsibility for managing increasingly large and diverse teams of people and ever-expanding P&Ls for multiple business units.
At SAP, Nina was Senior Vice President of SAP’s Global Premier Customer Network (PCN). There she led both the PCN Center of Excellence and SAP’s Global Executive Advisory Board. During her eight-year tenure, she became an integral part of SAP’s Global Ecosystem & Partner Group which was charged with continuing to build and enable an open ecosystem of software and develop service and technology partners with SAP’s communities of innovation. She also served as the Global Chief Operating Officer for the worldwide Customer Education organization and had responsibility for driving more than half a billion euros in global education software and services revenue.
Following SAP, Nina joined Nike to lead the creation and execution of Nike Technology’s global strategy, planning and operations. Working at Nike, with its very different culture, changed her perspective and ultimately, her career. “When I first went to Nike,” Nina says with a smile, “I had to get used to going to work in jeans! Believe it or not, it took a bit of personal flexibility. Nike taught me a lot about organization culture and perspective.” Nina adds that had she not taken the bold step of transitioning her career to the client side at Nike, she would not be in her current position, nor would she be able to fully understand and appreciate how to collaborate and support innovation initiatives for global companies.
Focused on Fostering Strategic Innovation
In her current position, Nina is focused on fostering strategic innovation. NTT Innovation Institute Inc. (NTT i³) works with established enterprise companies looking to adopt new and evolving approaches into technology-first and digitally-driven businesses. Likewise, NTT i³ partners with early-stage digitally-native businesses are keen to expand their presence and establish competitive differentiation within their respective marketplaces. “As one of the most prestigious and largest ICT companies in the world,” Nina observes, “we have a huge opportunity and equally, a huge responsibility. There is always a bit of magic between those two and thankfully I have a fantastic team to enable us to navigate the course!”
Chiefly, NTT i³ accelerates the movement of innovation from an initial idea to commercial implementation. As Nina describes it, NTT i³ enjoys access to significant global infrastructure resources, investment funds, vast research knowledge, and trusted long-standing customer relationships of NTT Global which has its own software startup expertise and deep enterprise relationships. “Working in this environment is incredibly challenging and stimulating,” says Nina. “It is so exciting.” Nina believes that an essential part of her job is to create a positive work experience for everyone involved NTT’s many initiatives to ensure that each person feels valued, is able to give his/her best, and routinely have a chance to develop and enhance their opportunities for personal and professional growth. “I love to see people grow into new positions and contribute at a higher or more demanding level,” Nina says. “When that happens, I feel I’ve done a good job of encouraging or inspiring people to challenge themselves and continue to grow. Watching that happen is one of the most satisfying parts of my work.”
CloudWAN: Empowering Businesses with An Accelerated Path
NTT i3 recently announced the global delivery of a product named called CloudWAN in partnership with Internet Solutions (IS), the leading pan-African telecoms services provider and NTT PC Communications (NTTPC), a network service and communication solution provider in Japan. A collaborative, worldwide development effort across several members of the vast NTT Group, CloudWAN combines both software-defined Wide Area Network technology (SD-WAN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) into one environment, enabling enterprise customers to deliver advanced services to the computing edge.
CloudWAN empowers businesses with an accelerated path to leverage new software easily and in an agile way at the “edge of their network”. This opens the door to a whole new level of business flexibility and enables rapid business transformation. “It is the very heart and soul of what NTT I³ does,” explains Nina. “CloudWAN delivers an enhanced user experience, powerful flexibility and extraordinary agility to NTT’s enterprise customers.”
A Path Finder on A Mission
Nina believes that there is no single path to success. Rather, many different and diverse paths can lead to the same outcome. She is a strong advocate of hiring people who are more accomplished than she may be. This means truthfully acknowledging her own strengths and limitations 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. It takes a mature, self-aware view of the world, and a lot of experience, to get to this place,” shares Nina.
“When it comes to the way that I approach each day at work, there are two main themes that I emphasize: optimistic leadership and business bravery. Optimistic leadership is about being more than a mindless cheerleader. It’s about coming to work each day and being positive about yourself, your company, your mission, and your team – but making certain that you are backed by the facts. Business bravery is another way of talking about the need for leaders to have and follow a clear moral compass. Companies don’t necessarily have moral compasses. Leaders must have one and use it to set the tone and guide the company at large. A lasting and innovative business can only be built on top of a base of meaningful relationships that reflect honesty and transparency,” Nina says emphatically.
Believer of People-Centered World
Having worked as an executive at several top-tier technology companies in Silicon Valley, Nina has learned that people come to work searching for purpose and meaning, much as they do in their everyday lives. People ask themselves why the organization that they work for exists. She has observed that if they come to believe that the company’s sole mission is to make money for shareholders, they don’t find that attractive or meaningful.
As she puts it, “Most people are searching for a more noble purpose, which doesn’t necessarily mean something along the lines of “we are going to end world poverty”. Rather, it can be a software company saying, ‘our purpose is to connect communities via infrastructure’ or ‘our purpose is to empower innovation in technology so lives are improved’ or ‘our mission is to develop new technologies so that businesses and their employees can run more efficiently.’ People can go to work in those kinds of organizations knowing that they’re making a difference, that they have an opportunity to be part of the equation in a people-centered view of the world.”
Throughout Nina’s career, her goal has been to be part of an organization which is human-centered, that consistently puts its people first. According to Nina, organizations should strive to recognize that there is a certain way that people and their teams want to be treated. “People want to know that they are essential to the creation of a business environment in which people have room to flourish as individuals and become the best they can be.”
A People’s Favorite Leading from the Front
When asked what motivates her, Nina provides more insight into her own set of values. “Stan Slap, a bestselling author, always told me: ‘Be human first’. Bill McDermott, CEO of SAP frequently repeated, ‘Believe it. Achieve it’. I think and follow these pieces of advice daily. But the net is you do what you love, have fun every day and the rest will follow. Maybe it was my mom who told me that for the first time, but of course we all hear this or similar sentiments all the time. It’s so very true though. Never be beholden to a paycheck. Personal happiness and satisfaction are much more important.”
Nina has many mentors and has written more than once about it taking a village for her to show up and do what she does every day. Her family, numerous amazing women leaders she has worked with in the past, all the colleagues within NTT that she collaborates with every day and friends and colleagues, past and present, who are in her professional network are all sources of inspiration. She sees acts of professional heroism happen frequently. It all adds to increasing her enthusiasm and driving her forward.
An Open Innovation at the Core
NTT i3 is founded on the principles of “open innovation” and the way that they create, share and learn from each other. This is a core premise of the company’s innovation practice, 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 considers herself very 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 their own executive advisory board. “How can you go wrong with a group like that,” Nina asks rhetorically. “I feel so grateful to play a small part in this incredible group of global leaders and great minds!”
Over the next year, Nina and her team are doubling down on hands-on innovation partnerships, investigations, and proof of concept development with their colleagues at NTT’s operating companies around the world. Their particular areas of interest include healthcare, sports, artificial intelligence, machine learning and IoT. In support of this, they are also reaching out to select startups with relevant technologies to explore and integrate, and customers with interesting challenges to explore and solutions to pilot.
Nina believes that these collaborations will not only enable NTT i3 to address real industry problems (as opposed to the theoretical explorations of traditional research), but also to create best practices, learnings, and IP that they can share with others. As Nina puts it, “We have the opportunity to meet and discuss these problems—and potential solutions—with executives who visit our Customer Experience Center (CXC) in Silicon Valley. Our executives integrate these problems with all their inherent challenges into their ongoing work and discussions with companies around the world from South Africa to Germany to Singapore and Japan. With the collaborative innovation approach and the building of technology proofs, all engaged parties benefit from taking ideas and solutions that were once only in the lab to real marketplace settings.”
The Philosophy of Compassionate Leadership
Since her early days in Silicon Valley, Nina has seen first-hand a belief among many people that a high salary is sufficient motivation for top performance. Yet, as she’s come to realize, money is not necessarily the reason why people excel in their jobs. “Yes, people want to earn fair wages for their professional efforts,” Nina explains. “But more importantly, they want non-pecuniary benefits including recognition, validation, and working in an environment that fosters their individual growth. I think we all want basically the same thing: a caring and nurturing setting in which we can contribute our best, share a sense of purpose—and enjoy a laugh or two!”
Nina’s advice for entrepreneurs is straight-forward. “For entrepreneurs, young and old, I believe that working towards a philosophy centered on compassionate leadership will bring both personal and professional success. Traditional leadership theories have told us for years that the best managers are the brainiest and most analytical—intentionally insulated from emotions. In fact, traditional leadership is often oriented toward a “command and control” mentality and approach. I disagree strongly with this notion. Rather, I believe that compassion fosters, supports, and promotes risk, the only environment in which real innovation and discovery can soar. Compassion, a cousin to empathy, enables us to understand other’s distress or concerns and explore ways of alleviating them.” Without this, it would be too risky to share new ideas at work. If employees are frightened or inhibited to present new ideas, innovation can never happen. Compassion builds trust in the workplace – and most anywhere else for that matter.”
Picturing Beyond the Future
Nina sees NTT i³ continuing to evolve as one of the premier innovation centers in the world. There are so many vibrant regional innovation centers and creative people around the world – Tel Aviv, Austin, NYC, Boston, South Africa, Singapore, and Poland to name a few and she thinks the team at NTT i³ is fortunate to have the opportunity to meet and work with many of these worldwide innovation centers, both on their own and in partnership with NTT’s operating companies, Nina says, “By learning and working around the world, and bringing executives and entrepreneurs from those areas to our offices to learn and collaborate, we get to see a picture of truly global needs and opportunities, and not just those that directly impact us within a 50-mile radius of Palo Alto.”