(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)
Here is my interview with Nicole Sturgill, Principal Executive Advisor at CEB.
What makes you do what you do?
I’ve worked in Financial Services for over 20 years and have been given tremendous opportunities to learn. My work at CEB allows me to pull those experiences together and to also explore new areas. What gets me excited is the psychology behind financial management. How people think about money and how that impacts how they do business with their bank is a fascinating subject and I’m fortunate to be able to research some aspect of that every day.
How did you rise in the industry you are in?
Defining what “rise” means to me personally has been very important. I worked at Fifth Third Bank for almost 10 years before moving to London where my husband was attending graduate school. We sold our house, quit our jobs and moved to the UK, not knowing exactly where that path would lead but knowing that living in another country, experiencing many cultures and traveling were important to us. Relatively quickly I began working for Transoft, which provided the software for one of the areas I managed at the bank. That illustrated the power of the network very clearly. For Transoft, I worked from home and traveled throughout Europe, helping me see that it was possible to combine the work I love with a life I could enjoy.
When we moved back to the U.S., I knew that flexibility and travel were just as important to me as the content of my work. My role at CEB has given me opportunities to develop skills and knowledge and has allowed me to travel and work from a place I love, first in New York and now in New Orleans.
Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?
What’s the purpose of taking any role if it’s not a stretch? Growth is important, skill development can always be better and we always benefit from more knowledge. The best roles are those in which one can use the skills developed over time and combine them with new goals that one has never tackled before.
My current role, specifically, is constantly changing. Financial services technology is getting better every day and the challenges that banks face are always evolving. Helping banks and technology providers assess their problems and identify solutions requires me to constantly gain new knowledge and think creatively.
Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?
I feel lucky to have a strong network of professional support – individuals from the companies I’ve previously worked for, at CEB and within the industry. Plus I have great friends from a master’s program I completed at Columbia University a couple of years ago. They are outside my company and my field and give me an objective view. I firmly believe that gaining input from many sources is important to seeing the world, and our options, from a fresh perspective. We still have to make our own decisions but you can never have too much information from people you trust.
Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?
My role as an executive advisor at CEB, working primarily with our members, means that I get to work with CEB’s research teams for both our financial institutions and our technology providers, but in more of a collaborative role than a direct management role. Financial services aren’t the easiest industry to learn. How a bank operates isn’t particularly intuitive. A lot has to happen behind the scenes requiring knowledge of bank processes and technology. When I’m working with someone new to the industry, I try to relate banking knowledge to an individual’s own experience of making deposits, getting cash, making payments or buying a car. The more we can personalize teaching and use stories to illustrate the need for financial services, the faster it makes sense in the context of our research.
Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?
I hope that I’m supporting diversity unconsciously but for fear of complacency, I can’t assume that I do. CEB has a number of internal programs that support diversity and inclusion but we’re all responsible for learning from the differences we each bring to the table. We have to ask questions of one another to make sure we are gaining unique perspectives and that is true in how we work with colleagues, clients and other business partners.
What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?
Leaders in retail banking are the ones that are working to help customers better manage their finances and help them understand that how they think about money – and the way to reach their financial goals – can impact how they save and spend. While some may gain accolades for increasing their share price in the short term, only those that take the time to understand and develop products and services that meet customer need are long-term leaders in financial services.
If I had to name one quality that a leader has to have, I’d say it’s empathy. It’s not easy to put yourself in another’s position, especially when there are vast differences in things like personal beliefs, lifestyles and education – but it’s worth it. A leader often has to make big decisions and understanding the positions of those affected are critical to making choices that uplift rather than discourage.
Advice for others?
As we head into 2017, challenges in financial services abound. Keeping the needs of both the banked and unbanked front and center will help all of us make business decisions and technology choices that help customers manage their finances and, in turn, help the bank gain trust in the eyes of consumers.
Marion is a leadership and development coach, entrepreneur, writer, and angel investor. She has over 20 years of experience in coaching, teaching, mentoring, training, and investing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Human Development and Psychology from Harvard University.http://marionneubronner.com/