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Tanya Monsef: The Value of Global Citizenship

Tanya Monsef is a global business consultant and professor with 25+ years of Silicon Valley high tech, startups and non-profit business success in the areas of finance, marketing and strategy.  She has coached and delivered programs with leaders from 40+ countries.


She is Dean's Executive Professor at the Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. She is the chair of the board for Global Women’s Leadership Network, and program director of the Global Fellows program. She designs leadership training, leads workshops, provides one-on-one coaching, and facilitates conversations to clients around the world. She speaks globally about the power of leading from authenticity as a way to create harmony in the workplace.


In this conversation, we talk about so many things that I can’t even begin to list them here. The birth of her entrepreneurial spirit, discovering her mission early during her career, her time living in Turkey, how she makes decisions, her 1-word themes for the year, advice for students and the value of global citizenship are all covered.

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Interview Highlights

Gavin Cosgrave: What was your family background?


Tanya Monsef: My parents both are foreign and they met here in Silicon Valley on a blind date, so I’m a first-generation American. My parents didn’t have a US education, and my dad was working as a bus-boy. He decided to buy a restaurant with a partner, and ended up having four restaurants at one time. They were fancier restaurants, so Silicon Valley executives would come and have business lunches at their restaurants.


As a child, I was given a lot of responsibility because my parents were working pretty hard. In 8th grade, my parents had me start working in the restaurants, and I worked through my time in college.


GC: You attended Santa Clara studying finance. How was your transition into the working world? 


TM: I was blessed to get a job through on-campus interviewing. My first job was working at a bank. I was there for about a month, and I hated it. I had never quit anything in my life, and I knew I had to get out of there.


Part of it was that I had an entrepreneurial spirit, watching my parents. I worked temporary for about a year. I had interviewed with a Santa Clara grad from Lockheed, and they said to come work for them, so I worked there as an analyst. They gave me a ton of responsibility early on, I was probably 22 or 23 negotiating $5-$20 million contracts. I worked on the space station there and some missile defense projects as well. Probably the smartest people I ever worked with. It gave me a great sense of what structure is like inside a big company, but it also helped me realize that you can’t change culture or make many improvements in a large structure like that.


I left there and went to a company called Maxim Integrated. I was one of the earlier employees, ran their financial planning department and loved it there. It was a very entrepreneurial and very competitive environment and loved it.


GC: Do you think it’s possible for someone with an entrepreneurial spirit to thrive in a corporate environment? What would you tell a student thinking about starting something but not sure if they should pursue something safer?


TM: I think nothing is safe, working in a corporation isn’t that safe. Today, we’re so lucky: you can work at a large company but still have a side gig. I like the idea from a security standpoint, when you’re first starting and need medical benefits, take a job and start working on your startup. Finding the right culture within a company is important. Finding a culture that allows you to be innovative. We’re lucky to be here in Silicon Valley where innovation is a key quality for a lot of companies. You can have that opportunity inside a company and you can have it by starting your own company.


GC: What was your experience like during your year in Turkey?


TMB: I don’t do a new year’s resolution every year, but I pick one word every year and design my year around that word. That year, in 2012, my word was “freedom.” I wanted to see what it would be like to live outside the Silicon Valley comfort of everyone knowing me. I was trying to get in touch with who I really was. My kids were in college, so I could just be an independent woman living abroad.


Turkey, for me, was ideal. I lived in Istanbul which is half in the west and half in the east. That’s my heritage: half west and half east. I worked there running women’s programs. I spent a year exploring the culture, who I was in the culture, and just seeing the world differently. I’m passionate about bringing different perspectives to anything you do.


GC: What is the Global Fellows program and why are you passionate about it?


TM: Global Fellows is a global internship opportunity for students. We send about 30 students a summer to work in a developing country inside a “company,” which could be a small NGO or large corporation. I’m looking for students to have an opportunity to take the skills they have developed through the curriculum and practice them in the world. The program is run through the Leavey Business School but it’s multidisciplinary with engineering, arts and science and business students. They do everything from marketing to product development to working on a project. We have about 15 different placements, and we try to align the organizations’ and students’ needs.


GC: Should students or graduates go abroad?


TM: It’s a personal choice, but I think it’s a necessity. At Santa Clara, we’re really lucky to have so many opportunities for undergraduates to go abroad. I fundamentally believe that no matter what company you go to, you have to be able to play on the global landscape. You have to have cultural intelligence. Whether you stay in Silicon Valley or work abroad doesn’t matter, but you have to be able to work with people who are very different than you.


GC: How does someone become a better global citizen without travelling abroad?


TM: Absolutely. I think it’s about understanding what’s going on beyond here. We talk about the Santa Clara bubble, but I think there’s also the Silicon Valley bubble. Really reach beyond what your normal news sources are.

We have so many people in our area here who are immigrants and who you could go have a conversation with. I think there are opportunities if you seek them out. I think people get comfortable with what they know and who they know. People talk to people who are like them. Push your boundaries to talk to someone from a different country or even a different culture within the United States.


GC: What have a couple other of your 1-word year themes been?


TM: One year I did a year of adventure. I did rock-climbing and surfing – all kinds of things I had never done before. One year I did a year of creativity, so I did jewelry making, guitar lessons, went to more art exhibits. I design my life intentionally around that word for that year.


The word seems to come to me, I don’t know how that is. This year, my words are wonder and discovery. I feel like I’m on the verge again of another pivot or change, and I don’t know what that is. So, I’m out there looking at new things with a state of wonder and discovery to see what might show up.


GC: How do you make decisions about how to spend your time?


TM: I have picked three words that I use to discern new opportunities. My first word is global: I like to do things with a global perspective. Second community: I don’t like to work alone, I like to be surrounded by people who challenge me and who I can partner with. Then the last is leadership. Anything that advances leadership in others, or advances my leadership.


GC: You said earlier that you think you’ll be working for the rest of your life. What do you think that future career will look like?


TM: I want to live to be 100, and I want to be a very vibrant 100. I think I have a lot of really good role models for what that can look like. You asked me about the future of work and I don’t think you can miss a blip. I don’t know exactly what it’s going to be. Maybe this year with my “wonder and discovery” theme I’ll understand more of that. I tend to run in 7 year cycles.


I’m thinking about how I can leverage what I’ve already done for the next thing. I’m also really interested in health and mind-body connections, so we’ll see what shows up.

GC: If you could give a piece of advice to a first-year student, what would you say?


TM: I teach freshman business students, and I always say on the first day of class, “please be very very greedy with your education at Santa Clara.” It’s extremely expensive to go here, and there are a wealth of opportunities. You will never in your life have the access to opportunities that you do here. Meet every professor, get involved in whatever your passion is, try something new, look for leadership opportunities, global opportunities. Set the foundation for who you will be in your adult life. Only 3 or 4% of the world has the experience of going to college and living in residence like you do. Be present to that and take advantage of it.

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