“I have worked so hard to realize our shared dream but she is no longer here to celebrate this with me”, says Sameera Sandhu about her mother – who was her mentor and guiding light. “She put me on the path of financial independence, gave me courage to believe in myself – she taught me that I had a voice”.
Supporting her family since she was 20 years old, Sameera has had no opportunity to stop working, and no funding for a higher education – until now – with that ‘shared dream’ of a world class B-School education finally coming true. Sameera’s acceptance into the Global Executive MBA program at INSEAD has proved her competence and includes the endorsement of her company.
This young woman is fiercely independent, and in her words, a Global Citizen. Her industry? Mining!
Mining is considered an “Evil” industry she says, yet “there is nothing you can do in life to escape the fact that most things and the infrastructure you use come from the ground. As a society, we can and should hold companies accountable for mining responsibly and sustainably, with principles, rather than simply paint the industry as evil.”
An analyst in EY before Egon Zehnder recruited her, her love affair with metals started with understanding how the gold, copper and zinc markets were diagnostics for the economy, and how the correlation between market conditions and trends actually directed our lives. Looking at the market holistically, understanding metals and their economic as well as social implications, led her to develop a world view that ignited her curiosity, and has resulted in her co-authoring with 2 colleagues – in London and Johannesburg – a detailed thought leadership report on how mining leaders can embed an Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) mindset into the core purpose of their companies.
“ESG was an unarticulated need in 2018. At the time, many of our clients were preoccupied with increasing gender diversity on their Boards. Curious why all of a sudden this criteria gained a sense of urgency, I realized it was being driven by a strong push from investors. Diversity was actually the tip of the iceberg. It was evident that for mining companies to be good corporate citizens, the message would have to come from the top. We were certainly ahead of our time in picking up this movement – our completed report was published a couple of days before the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos where ESG was the hot topic. In this way, we have positioned ourselves as strong advocates of ESG and continue to have conversations with mining companies about adding ESG expertise at both, the Board and Executive Leadership levels.”
What she loves most about her work is being able to solve complex problems for her clients, having worked for over a decade at strategy and talent consulting firms. This means she has worked on numerous client projects, ranging from market entry strategies to global talent studies on technical cave mining methodologies; across base and precious metals, bulk commodities, to more recently, battery minerals; and finding talent in remote markets including Mongolia, Colombia and Liberia. She is thus able to share her wealth of diverse insights with mining companies that they themselves may often miss. “What can I bring to the table that can be an ‘AHA!’ moment for them?” she says.
“To help clients make people leadership decisions it is important for them to understand the trends and best practices prevalent in the industry, and in key markets”. Sameera, as a trained business and strategy analyst has always had roles with a global focus. She feels that her biggest contribution is the ability to connect the dots: identifying not only current business risks and trends, but also future opportunities and challenges. “People decisions are strategic decisions – at the Board and Senior Executive levels – these are the individuals who must deliver business strategy and purpose.” This is where her industry knowledge plays a key role – providing insights to clients based on the talent implications of these trends and finding people with the right capabilities.
Staying ahead of the trends is integral to the work she does and she is energized by what she calls ‘predictive thinking’, which allows her to develop a forward-looking view, in client situations and the various thought leadership pieces she has published to date.
For Sameera, the core of her success has been communication – clear and succinct – based on what you have done, what needs to be done, bringing in the focus and delivering. “Ambiguous situations need clearer communication”. Simple yet profound.
Ambiguous situations need clearer communication
Her success has been the function of her relationships – “Get to know who you are working with – their personality – what makes them tick. And be mindful of the fact that you are but a cog in the wheel, no matter what your role”. Strong mentors and trusted partnerships have seen Sameera through tough times – she has had to learn from others, and lean on them when required.
“Everyone is effective in some way, while nobody is perfect – and if you know and understand the strengths and blind sides of your colleagues without judging them, you can build a strong team with complementary strengths.” Cultural differences she calls cultural adaptability – as teams often juggle cultural norms, time zones and differences in language and its interpretations.
Everyone is effective in some way, while nobody is perfect…
Sameera has worked with different teams in different project environments in a firm she calls “entrepreneurial” – and for her, the freedom to develop and hone her leadership style has been a gift. These then, are the crucial skills a leader should have:
- Integrity, humility, consistency and assertiveness when required
- The ability to inculcate curiosity
- No task is too small – every task is a building block towards higher things
- It’s always team effort towards a common goal – collaboration is the key
- Understanding the client’s mindset – put on the thinking cap – why should the client be listening to you?
- There are no bad ideas – leverage the way everyone sees things – different perspectives add huge value to the problem solving approach.
- When things go wrong, collectively arrive at a solution – it requires courage to take the responsibility rather than pin blame.
Sameera believes that the culture of any company must be embedded in purpose and a strong identity. Values must be unassailable, and there should be a strong system of accountability, irrespective of one’s seniority or title. She is thoughtful as she states that nobody lasts in an organization where the culture doesn’t resonate with them – and if it that happens with a lot of people, the attrition rate will go through the roof.
And as I reluctantly let the interview come to an end, I ask her how she feels about her journey, and true to form she is looking at the positives as she says:
“For me it is highly gratifying to be in the room (virtually or physically) with senior mining industry leaders – to hear directly from these executives how they think, the challenges they’ve dealt with and future opportunities that they seek to embrace. It brings to life the companies and leaders I spent years reading about in earning call transcripts, annual reports and articles! I meet and get to know industry leaders globally and it brings a perspective that is rich and unedited… and I have learnt many a thing about people, businesses and strategy in this way.”