Sarita Nayyar (MBA 1987) is a member of the Managing Board at the World Economic Forum, who heads strategic partnerships with partners at Board and C-suite levels, for the purpose of improving the state of the world. She led the international expansion of the global Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (C4IR) network. The network seeks to rapidly achieve global scope and scale in establishing a new operating system for international technology governance and cooperation. Prior to this work, Ms. Nayyar worked with Mondelez International in the Post Cereals Division.
Describe the experiences that have most influenced your path to the WEF.
After graduating from Ross business school I joined General Foods, a consumer packaged goods company where I practiced and learned marketing and business management skills. Through various mergers and acquisitions, General Foods became Kraft General Foods, then Kraft Foods, and more recently it split into Mondelez and Kraft Heinz. My 20-year career in business management was exciting and fulfilling. I worked on brands like General Foods International Coffees, Crystal Light, Kool-Aid and Capri Sun. I travelled to LA, Hawaii, and New Zealand for TV advertising commercial production. I was involved in new product launches, in pricing actions, and in integrating new businesses that were acquired. In my final years at Kraft Foods I was the General Manager of the Post Cereal Division where I had full business responsibility across product, manufacturing, marketing and people. Kraft Foods offered me world class marketing and general management experience.
How have you leveraged your Ross experience in your career?
My Ross experience was one where not only did I learn the MBA curriculum, I also learned the western world of business. The university experience was very special as I worked as a teaching assistant and as a part-time staff member in the marketing & Communication department of the Executive Education program. The entire time I also worked to cover my out of state tuition. There was the University Consulting Group, a student run consulting that provided consulting to local businesses in Ann Arbor. I joined this group and worked on many projects with other classmates. This group did quite well in getting consulting assignments. Everything I learned at Ross was key in helping me succeed in the business world.
What led you to make the switch from Mondolez (Kraft Foods) to the WEF?
I get asked this question a lot. The answer is not very exciting. Actually, my career at Kraft Foods had reached a level where my next move required me to relocate from New York to Chicago where the headquarter was based. I wasn’t able to make the move to Chicago for personal reasons. I left Kraft and took a sabbatical year during which time I explored what I wanted to do for the rest of my professional life. A few general management opportunities came my way but I wasn’t excited about them. The World Economic Forum opportunity came to me from a head hunter and while initially I wasn’t sure if it was for me, the more I learned about the organization the more I was intrigued.
I made the switch and it turned out to be the best decision for me. I haven’t looked back ever since.
What is a major social impact issue you seek to address during your tenure? What is the most pressing issue that WEF is currently addressing?
At the World Economic Forum we work on many issues — climate change, biodiversity, natural resources, jobs, skilling, diversity & inclusion, technological advances, industry transformation, economic and social development — to name a few. Our core principle is anchored in “stakeholder capitalism” which suggests that business needs to think about all stakeholders (employees, citizens, communities, societies) and not just shareholders. With this principle in mind, we engage business in public-private collaboration.
Business organizations have tremendous capability and responsibility to ensure that they pursue sustainable and inclusive approaches in the ecosystem in which they operate. In the past, corporations would have Corporate Social Responsibility teams to make positive contributions separate from the core business. Even the Sustainability teams in many organizations are often run as separate units. Today, it is critical that environmental sustainability is built into the core of the business. How products are designed, what materials they are made from, the environmental impact of product consumption and/or disposal are all aspects that need to be part of business strategy.
Probably the most critical issue for this decade is climate change — as a collective the world needs to get to net zero emissions by 2050, and to make this target we need to reduce emissions in half by the end of this decade i.e. 2030.
It is great that Ross and the University of Michigan offer special masters programs that include sustainability curriculum. More business schools need to include sustainability courses as part of the MBA curriculum.
Do you have any advice for students aiming to make a career in the social sector?
I started my career in the private sector and after more than two decades, moved into the social sector. I don’t think business schools offered programs for entering social sector then. I found my business school learnings and private sector experience quite helpful in approaching the issues in the social sector. The discipline of analysis, goal setting, outcome measurements are applicable in all sectors.
Today, with special master level programs and the technological developments, starting careers in social sectors is a growing momentum. My advice would be that you follow your passion and use the discipline to develop solutions that can be scaled and amplified with speed.