From a manager to the CEO of Intellecap, how Nisha Dutt is reaching for the stars
Nisha Dutt’s story is one of serendipity and hard work. She joined Intellecap as a Senior Manager in Consulting and Research in 2009. Within six years, she became the CEO of the company. As the CEO, she helps guide the global positioning of the business.
Intellecap provides innovative business solutions that help build and scale profitable and sustainable enterprises dedicated to social and environmental change.
Here are some excerpts from my chat with Nisha.
From India to USA and back
With early years spent in government schools in India, Nisha, 39, moved to the US in 1999 to pursue her Industrial Engineering from Oklahoma State University and MBA from Ohio State University. “I come from the armed forces, and my mother was a businesswoman, so the dual values of discipline and business acumen were the lessons I had learnt at home. As the youngest, I grew up with a fair amount of freedom. The empowerment and freedom to choose coupled with a strong sense of discipline is something I treasure and believe it has laid the stepping stones to the many risks I have taken.”
Nisha spent a decade in the US and worked with companies like Cessna, Xerox and Deloitte, gaining expereince in strategy and operations. “My roles have been different across different industries.” In Xerox, it was supply chain/ operations research, while in Cessna it was program managing the expansion of Cessna from its base in US to Europe and India and creating efficiencies in procurement, supply chain and outsourcing. At Cessena, she also learnt how to fly a plane and is a trained pilot.
“I moved to Deloitte to get into a core consulting role. I loved the diversity of the work from financial restructuring to outsourcing to working on M&A deals.”
In 2009, Nisha, then 33, returned to India and joined Intellecap. “The main trigger was to move close to family and the strong sense of working on problems which were localised, which when I think about is exactly what I did. I found the for-profit development sector very intriguing and felt that it aligned with my aspirations and need to do something different and more meaningful.”
Global positioning of Intellecap
The Intellecap-Aavishkaar group has geographic presence in US, South Asia, South East Asia and East Africa. Founded in 2002, it has directed more that $600 million capital to entrepreneurs working on such challenging problems like sustainably through consulting, research, investment banking, networking platforms, tech platforms, equity funds, venture debt vehicle, microfinance lending and investment banking intermediation. Nisha says, “We nurture innovation and social entrepreneurship. I can see the benefits that low income communities are deriving from this environment and that is the real purpose and passion, the raison d'etre of our service.”
Nisha also serves on the board of directors of the Intellecap-Aavishkaar group and has been responsible for conceptualising programmes such as Startup Wave, Innovation Labs and Credit-tree.
So far, they have executed over 600 projects across 36 countries to multilateral agencies, development finance institutions, social enterprises, corporations, investors, policy makers and donors. “We have not only entered new geographies, but have added more mettle to our investment banking, research and consulting businesses. My pride is in the fact that we have seen the gaps that exist in the lifecycle of an entrepreneur and have created new products to empower them.”
Accesibility and transperancy maketh this leader
Quoting David Ogilvy she says, “If you hire people who know more you will remain a company of giants. If you hire people who you think know less than you, you will forever remain a company of dwarfs. I follow that principle and am glad to admit that I work with a bunch of great passionate people who know how to turn knowledge into value. I am just an enabler, if you will, making that happen.”
Over the years, Nisha has witnessed Intellecap become more structured but still retain its entrepreneurial zeal and spirit to make a difference.
From the time she joined as a Senior Manager to becoming a VP and then Director and now CEO, Nisha has had time to nurture her leadership model. She subcribes to a model that allows for accessibility, transpearncy and opportunity. Nisha has ensured that she is easily accessible and also stresses on transparency in decision-making process and giving opportunites to people.
Hard work is the only key to success
While hard work has played a major role in her success within the organsiation, Nisha says, it was her ability to understand her limitations that stood her in good stead. When she had joined Intellecap, Nisha had no context about development and India. She spent the first two to three years in travelling the length and breadth of the country to see how things worked at the ground level. “I worked hard to gain knowledge and arm myself with information which provide me a context and give me an edge over others.”
The initial hard work, travelling and knowledge gathering to over come her limitations have helped Nisha climb up the lader of success at Intellecap.
The future is technology
Nisha paints a vision for the future. She says, “By 2050, personal medical devices will evolve from clunky wearables to injectables, and dashboard-based health apps will evolve to personal AI health workers we have daily conversations with. Over time, technology will replace over a million jobs in the developed world - with labour intensive, repetitive, and semi-skilled jobs disappearing first. Manufacturing will move out of factories and closer to consumers, and many of the jobs outsourced from the West, which fuelled the rise of India's middle class such as software and BPO jobs will disappear. Soon enough, automation technology will trickle down to India as well, replacing unskilled and semi-skilled workers across manufacturing, infrastructure, retail, hospitality, and several other industries.”
In the face of things to come, according to Nisha, one needs to look out for innovations and solutions that make life more predictable and ideas that will be at our doorstep.
Technology is going to play a primary role in solving problems. As an organisation, we are trying to throw our weight behind technology as that is the only way to break inequities.
Love for flying and travelling
At the end of the day, she turns to the two loves of her life ‑ travel and flying. Since her work demands travel, Nisha is always happy to explore news places, meet new people, and see new perspectives. “This helps me unwind and relax,” she says.
However, flying has helped her become patient and control situations deftly.
“This helps me at work where I can draw a close parallel of how we all want to touch the skies, but doing it with planning, precision, the right tools and using the right time to one’s advantage is important. Flying is about experience and factoring in quite a few things to ensure you are in control and it does serve a different high. On a lighter note, she also ensures that as a CEO, a little bird eye view always help.”