The HBS(Harvard Business School) Advantage: In Conversation with Phani Nagarjuna, Founder & CEO, Sutherland



Founder & CEO

Serial Entrepreneur, AI/Analytics Guru, Digital Transformation Agent, Nimble Company Leader, and President of the Harvard Business School of Northern California

What makes Harvard Business School special?

(Now ranked #6 in the USA’s Best Business Schools by U.S.

Its student body comprising some of the most intelligent, diverse and aspiring individuals leading to a deeply educational and insightful classroom discussions; Its Socratic case method-based instruction; and its network of highly accomplished and closely-knit global alumni base.


What’s the number, make-up and mix of graduates in Northern California?

With over 8000 members, the HBS alumni in Northern California comprise a rich mix of successful entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, senior executive level industry executives in small and large companies, noted consultants, social enterprise executives, and accomplished executive from other industry realms. These alumni come from a diverse set of ethnic backgrounds from across the world.


How did the HBS experience provide the foundation for your entrepreneurial success?

Besides learning the business essentials from the MBA program, the difference really is the passion for entrepreneurship that the HBS experience inculcates in its students and the network of connections it facilitates for entrepreneurs to succeed in their ventures.


How can chief marketers realize greater value from their data assets?

As a former chief marketer, myself, I can say that “data” provides the single biggest competitive advantage to organizations in today’s digital world. With organizations collecting significant amounts of data from customer interactions, customer feedback and market trends, I believe chief marketers are the most powerful body in the corporate C-Suites…provided they generate pathbreaking insights from that data through machine learning and AI – Insights that can move the needle on delivering exceptional customer experiences, developing innovative products, designing intelligent marketing campaigns, maximizing customer life time values to just name a few.


What does it take to build a nimble, high performance culture in a growth-driven organization?

Strategy, Structure, and Measurement with a focus on culture that values authenticity, teamwork, risk-taking and results. A perfect alignment between the strategy of the organization and its organizational structure supported by meaningful measurement metrics are critical building blocks for setting up a high-performance culture. However, all of that would be tantamount to nothing if the company culture does not value transparency and authenticity.


How can you break down siloes and increase collaboration cross-functionally in the enterprise C-suite?

Authentic leadership; Compassionate management; Empathetic communication on the one hand and Data on the other hand. Demonstrating honesty and integrity as a leader is critical to establishing trust among your constituents. That lays the foundation for a transparent dialogue. When you couple that with a management style that echoes compassion for the other party’s situation be it personal or professional, it wins the “listening ears.” Finally, when you demonstrate these traits through empathetic communication it can break the siloes. Of course, it is always vital in business situations you arm yourself with facts and data to complement your leadership style to be effectively persuasive.


What have been your biggest learnings and takeaways from your time in Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley is an embodiment of a true “Melting Pot.” That gives the comfort and confidence to anyone that if they have a viable business idea, they not only would be heard but they would have the same opportunity as anyone else to go at it. That is a great “leveler,” enabling anyone to innovate, disrupt and grow at their own potential. Besides this, Silicon Valley presents the entire ecosystem of resources to facilitate entrepreneurship be it human capital or financial capital among other things right in its backyard.

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