Nina Simosko was responsible for leading the creation and execution of Nike Inc. Technology strategy and operations world-wide. With over twenty years of sales and operations management experience, Nina has a deep understanding of the global high-tech industry. Her impressive resume also boats roles with SAP, Oracle Corporation, Siebel Systems and Tandem. She speaks with us about her career path and what she believes makes a great leader.
How did you first start working with Nike as a senior executive?
After spending the majority of my career in high-tech, I wanted to get a full circle perspective of IT, meaning that from both the solution provider side as well as the customer side. It was one thing to evangelize and sell software and software related services but quite another to experience, first-hand, the challenges of a non-software company selecting a software solution, customizing and implementing it and, most importantly, ensuring in the end that the business objectives are realized.
I was fortunate to work at SAP and lead a team responsible for managing the top several hundred accounts globally of which Nike was one. The people I met and interacted with there, up to and including the CIO, were incredible and it became clear that working with them on a daily basis inside the company could be a win / win.
Nike as a company not only matched my personal passions around sport, exercise, health and diversity, but also offered me the opportunity to experience what it’s like to deploy, customize and utilize the various software solutions and services that I had been on the other side of for a long time throughout my high tech career.
For me, the net is forging excellent business relationships that can not only open doors for careers to take unexpected, positive turns but also lead to long-term professional and personal friendships.
What do you believe makes a leader inspiring and how do you convey this via your blog?
I believe a leader’s past experiences combined with an unrelenting drive toward a clear future vision makes a leader inspiring. However, the ability to articulate that vision to organizations and to know and be true to one’s core values is essential to demonstrating to others how to “walk the talk” and be authentic.
I grew up as an only child in a single parent household. As such, I moved a lot, attended various grammar schools, and often had to “restart” the process of acclimating to new environments and meeting new friends. Additionally, financial circumstances were such that I began working as a young child cleaning houses at the age of 10 years old to be able to afford the nicer clothes that I envied from others within my community. I went on to serve as hostess for neighborhood parties, delivered a newspaper route, waitressed at multiple restaurants simultaneously during high school and worked my way through college to help pay for my own education. I attended a small state school in New Jersey with the objective of getting through a four-year degree program without a lot of debt. I definitely felt intimidated and lacking after entering the high technology industry where I was surrounded by Silicon Valley’s “best and brightest” from Stanford, Harvard, Berkeley and other top colleges or graduate schools from across the country. Yet, despite these early challenges, I worked to push through these feelings and have fortunately gone on to become a successful and awarded female executive within the highly competitive technology industry. Fortitude, ambition and the overall ability to set my sights on and achieve ambitious goals while never forgetting where I came from is why I started my blog.
Via “Nina Nets it Out”, I blog about real issues that I face or observe in the hopes of sharing such experiences and fostering a forum for ideas and discussion of such topics. I try to provide current and aspiring business leaders with an open forum for ideas and discussion around leadership and careers and in some small way, contribute to the continued advancement of women and men leaders in the corporate world.
I, like you, believe that organisations need to invest more time into knowledge transfer and change management, what was it that lead you to this belief?
Knowledge transfer and change management are usually items that teams don’t think enough about and/or under invest in. Unfortunately, and to complicate matters, these are areas that are quite personal and individual. Knowledge transfer or training for a group of individuals often works for some but not all. People embrace and absorb change quite differently. I believe articulating how I think, how I attempt to achieve results, how I manage people and how I act provides insight to how I integrate knowledge transfer and change management into my daily actions as these items are not and should never be a one-time event.
Thought Leadership – How I Think
I always attempt to set an executable strategy for the team that aligns with other departments and the overall company strategy. I try to use knowledge, logic and common sense in making effective decisions; without letting emotions drive business decisions. For me, the key is to involve the right people in the decision making process at the right times. Most importantly, I always strive to drive improvements by challenging the status quo and questioning current practices as well as to analyze failures and mistakes to ensure that the right lessons are learned at every step along the way and that we don’t repeat mistakes of the past.
Results Leadership – How I Achieve Results
I take a customer focused approach, proactively driving improvements in products and services to better serve customers. Customers in this sense can be internal customers within Nike or external partners, vendors, clients, etc. My fundamental belief and approach is that a long-term customer relationship is always going to be more beneficial than any individual transaction. I encourage my team members to always look at situations from the customers’ point of view so as to understand their motivations when dealing with us. I believe that to achieve loyalty from customers, which leads to the greatest long-term results for me and my team, we must demonstrate loyalty to our employees. If we treat the employees well, they in turn will treat our customers well. I always strive to set clear priorities that align with the strategic direction and hold people accountable for delivering quality work. A big mantra at Nike is to simplify complexity to ensure clear focus on execution.
People Leadership – How I Manage People
I try to identify and leverage the diverse strengths of team members and provide open, constructive feedback to team members on their performance to ensure strong talent development. I do my best to deal constructively with performance problems, resolving them without delay; recognize and reward people for successful performance and most importantly, encourage people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. I tend to be more inclusive than exclusive, often inviting more people into meetings and decision making processes than others might. I believe that if I treat people with respect and include them in more aspects of the business than their role/title might otherwise imply, that they will have a greater context and understanding of the bigger picture within which they operate. I try to operate as flat an organization as possible. I call my style “democratic dictatorship” in the sense that I will ask everyone’s opinion in certain matters, but then make a final decision based on my belief of the best course of action. I live by the expression “it is better to be respected and not liked than to be liked and not respected.” I encourage my team members to push themselves beyond their own comfort zones. Often, I have found that people take the “safe” path with respect to work initiatives so as to not make any mistakes. I believe, however, that mistakes should be tolerated so that people are constantly learning and pushing their thinking. That said, mistakes should not be repeated and this is something that my teams understand about me – a tolerance for making mistakes, but not for repeating them.
Personal Leadership – How I Act
I try to ensure my own passion for the work and the company I’m working for translates itself to others. I always act in the best interests of the company rather than focusing on my own individual gain. I always treat people with fairness and respect and try to maintain consistency between my words and actions. I like to say that I “say what I mean and I mean what I say.”
I’d rather be honest and tell someone a negative so that it can be worked on and improved than let a negative situation fester and hope that somehow it miraculously improves on its own. – Nina Simosko
You also donate your time as a member of the advisory boards for Appcelerator and Reflektion, why is volunteerism important to you?
Volunteerism I believe is very important. It broadens horizons and ensures one maintains other interests and drives focus on other things than just the “day job”.
As a senior technology industry leader, I am frequently asked to mentor other men and women who are aspiring leaders. I embrace these opportunities and push them to take risks, work harder and ask for what they want from superiors or influencers in the workplace. I find that the asking is harder in many cases for women to do, whereas men don’t seem to struggle with this as much in my personal experience.
In addition, a few years ago I joined the Board of Directors for Reading Partners, a Bay Area based nonprofit literacy organization that recruits and trains community volunteers to provide one-on-one reading tutoring to students in under-resourced schools across the country. This highly effective program has helped thousands of children master the fundamental reading skills they need to succeed in school and beyond. Surely, many of these children will ultimately enter the business world as well as become active members within their respective social communities.
While being an advisor for a for-profit software company doesn’t fall into the category of volunteerism (there is stock and cash compensation in most cases), it is a great way to stay connected and involved in leading edge technologies. It keeps me “on my game” and in the midst of some amazing, creative innovation. Beyond that, I totally enjoy assisting small companies who may not have the extensive enterprise experience or network that I have developed over my years working in Silicon Valley and high tech in general. Assisting them with access and accelerating their understanding of operating and navigating large enterprises is a ton of fun.
Nina Simosko worked for Nike, Inc. in Beaverton, Oregon and was responsible for leading the creation and execution of Nike Technology strategy and operations world-wide. Previously, she worked at SAP where she last served as the Senior Vice President in charge of SAP’s Global Premier Customer Network. Nina also served as the Global Chief Operating Officer for the worldwide Customer Education organization.
Photo credit: Nina