7 Questions with Santosh Mathew
Name: Santosh Mathew
Current title: Director of Technology
Current organisation: Nielsen
Santosh has spent the last 16 years in multiple industries ranging from Government, Health Care, Insurance, Manufacturing in numerous technical capacities. Currently at Nielsen as a Director of Technology, he leads the Global Mergers and Acquisitions integration practice to rapidly integrate new companies into our HR, Billing, Finance and Payroll systems. For six years and counting he has co-led Nielsen’s Asian Affinity Link Employee Resource Group driving cultural exploration and inclusive practices, and leads the North American Green Team, to ideate ways to make the company more sustainable.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
The most challenging thing about being a board member is always fighting an imposter syndrome. The feeling of belonging versus impacting. You being present can impact more than you being "ready" for a role.
2. How did you become a board member of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
A number of ways you can become a board member. The simplest is give. Give your time to the organization in a volunteer way, and many times, if you give value, and sometimes find monetary or in-kind donations to help move the organization forward, you will be asked to take on bigger opportunities, and then when vacancies come, you are usually on the shortlist to join.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
Mindfulness & gratefulness practice in the morning, family out the door and all the things that go with that. Since I have global teams, I will check email intermittently to make sure no immediate challenges have come up, and then usually will tackle work for the mid-morning to late-afternoon. Most of our board obligations are 1-2 hours a week, and these usually come in the early morning or late afternoon/evening hours per my family and personal schedule. Most of the time these positions are volunteer and unpaid, and while they are important, they have to be prioritized. If a board seat is taking a significant portion of your time, and it doesn't contribute back to you in a meaningful way, you may need to consider a reduced role or step back completely.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Main lesson I have learned is that even the largest organizations still are learning, and many times the larger the organization, the slower and less receptive to change they are. So you may be fantastic and a driver of change or accolades in one industry, and may hit a brick wall in how you can impact in your board opportunity. You need to learn how to adjust to meet the organizations style, so you can be most effective.
5. What are some of the keys to doing governance well in a large enterprise?
If you don't have a good governance and compliance organization, the best option is to bring an external consultant and/or firm. Even if it is for just a few months or years, truly let experts come and poke holes, bring transparency to the organization, and build levels of trust that can be maintained by other direct hires or budgeted external resources. It will help avoid unacceptable surprises and breakdowns.
6. How do you differentiate between the role of board member and the roles of CEO or executive team member of a large enterprise?
Most board roles are advisor roles. You have a 30000 foot view of the situation, and you do your best in your limited commitments to apply your real world knowledge to the need of the organization at hand. CEO's and executive teams are non-stop trying to run organizations and they are paid to grow and run the organizations.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a board member of a large enterprise so far?
As part of one of my Sustainability non-profits, I was able to help provide some insight to the organization that had been run by one individual for a number of years. That individual, who personally successful, and passionate about the organization, had stagnated and was always hesitant to move the organization forward. I had some transparent discussions with the other board member and this individual, and even moved to have an offsite retreat. During this time, we identified what each other bring to the organization, and where our passion levels were currently at. Doing this simple exercise helped the current President of the board realize that he no longer was at the same passion level, and had become a blocker. And he graciously stepped aside. We created an executive advisor role for him, and honored him by keeping him connected to the organization, and he was able to be recognized for all his work, without any sort of guilt of stepping down. The organization flourished and grew almost 40% in donations and new board members. Win Win Win.