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Merchant, Nilofer

Nilofer Merchant, MBA 00
Nilofer Merchant
Author, Speaker, Leader

Nilofer Merchant speaks internationally on leadership, appearing with people like Malcolm Gladwell and Arianna Huffington; has more than 50,000 Twitter followers; is a Harvard Business Review (HBR) columnist, published the Rules of the #Social Era in 2012, and still gets to walk her son to school every day. 

That's something she wasn’t often able to do as CEO of Rubicon Consulting, which advised companies like Adobe, Symantec, Nokia, HP, Genesys and Logitech on strategy. She decided to close Rubicon in 2010, shortly after her book, The New How, on collaborative strategy creation, was published. The book was the culmination of more than a decade on the front lines in the business world. When she started graduate work in the Leavey School of Business, she was a mid-level manager. By graduation, she was an executive at a Fortune 500 company, before starting and serving as CEO at Rubicon.

“F. Scott Fitzgerald said ‘Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over,’” Merchant said in an interview, adding that Rubicon was strong, but she was exhausted and ready to do something different. After an eight-week sojourn in France, she returned to Los Gatos to plan the next phase of her career.

“I stepped out on this cliff believing there was something else out there for me, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I wanted to do,” she said. In typical strategic fashion, she made a list of 10 people she respected, including SCU professors Barry Posner and André Delbecq, and asked their advice.

“I really wanted to know what other ideas were out there for me. I wasn’t looking to have any preconceived ideas validated. A third of the group said I should keep doing what I’m good at. Another third gave me ideas I hadn’t considered but could imagine, and another third suggested things I’d never imagined. The process really stretched my envelope of what I would consider.”

The group’s responses also strengthened her view that the modern approach to a career not only focuses on a particular job, but includes what is necessary to make a life.

“We’re moving from a world of resumes, to a world of portfolios,” she said. Her portfolio these days includes continuing to speak (including a popular TED talk), guest teaching at Santa Clara and Stanford, and serving as a corporate board member of the People to People Ambassador Program. she was recently named as one of INC Magazine's Top 50 Leadership Innovators; last year Thinkers 50 named her as "the #1 person likely to influence the future of management." She continues to write: drafting a third book, guest columns for HBR, and on her website,, where her blog, "Yes and Know" appears.

“People send me all sorts of problems,” she said. “It’s a fascinating dialogue. I’m getting a chance to think more deeply about problems with organizations. We’re still operating under 20th century models in a 21st century world. As André Delbecq taught me, each of us needs breathing space to be innovative.”

 — Sandy Burnett