What They’re Made Of: Secrets and Stories of Leaders on the Edge

A Series on Courageous Leadership presented by Harvard Business School Professor Ranjay Gulati

Business in the age of COVID isn’t for the faint of heart. But some leaders manage to step up in the face of extreme challenges and deliver. Harvard Business School’s Ranjay Gulati sits down with extraordinary leaders of companies from around the world to discuss their stories of bravery and boldness under pressure. How have they dared to push beyond market pressures and serve a higher, more inclusive purpose? What life experiences have enabled such gutsiness and what lessons do they have for the rest of us? How do they inspire their teams and organizations to become courageous and more purposeful too? This speaker series aims to empower and inspire current and future leaders to listen to their hearts, face their fears, take bold action, and embolden others around them to do the same.

Piyush Gupta

CEO and Director, DBS Bank

Piyush Gupta has led a turnaround of DBS, which was named the “world’s best bank” by Euromoney in 2021 and is the largest Southeast Asian bank by assets. We will discuss the dramatic digital transformation of the bank, along with some of the tough choices Gupta has had to make during the pandemic.

Piyush Gupta Bio

Mr. Piyush Gupta has been Chief Executive Officer and Director of DBS Group since 2009. Prior to joining DBS, Piyush had a 27 year career at Citigroup, where his last position was Chief Executive Officer for South East Asia, Australia and New Zealand. In addition, he is a member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Task Force on Digital Financing of the Sustainable Development Goals, Singapore’s Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI and Data, and the McKinsey Advisory Council.

Summary and Recorded Talk

In my first interview, I sat down with Piyush Gupta, CEO of DBS Bank, who discussed how the bank’s employees helped him find the soul of the company, informing its mission to become “the best bank for a better world.” Throughout the exchange, Gupta provides riveting insights into the challenges that will face DBS in the next decade, including defining the role of the company in society, the importance of using big data responsibly, and how to convince corporate boards and shareholders to focus on the long-term. Gupta explains how he repositioned DBS, a previously underperforming company, to a customer-obsessed technology-driven organization that was not only named “world’s best bank” but also make banking more “joyful” and equitable along the way.
For those of you who are interested, I have posted this hour-long conversation on my YouTube channel.

Mona Ataya

CEO and Founder, Mumzworld

Mona Ataya has built one of the most successful e-commerce companies in the Middle East by finding new ways to empower women. She explains how she’s been able to accomplish that in an industry — and a region — known for wide gender disparities.

Mona Ataya Bio
Mona Ataya, CEO and Founder of Mumzworld, is one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the Middle East, with her company reaching more than 2.5 million people across the region since 2011. She previously held positions at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson. Ataya was recently voted one of 6 Powerful Women Transforming the Business World in the Levant. The Tamer Group of Saudi Arabia recently bought a majority stake in her company.
Summary and Recorded Talk

In the second installment of my series of CEO interviews, titled, “What They’re Made of: Secrets and Stories of Leaders on the Edge,” I sat down with Mona Ataya, Founder and CEO of Mumzworld, the first and largest online baby store in the Middle East. Ataya, who describes herself as an entrepreneur “at a cellular level,” explores why brands won’t survive without establishing their purpose and how Mumzworld’s ultimate mission is not only to serve its customers’ needs, but to empower women throughout the Middle East by becoming an indispensable extension of a mother’s life. Ataya also discusses the challenges she faced as a founder of a start-up, the importance of finding talent that aligns with your values, and how to inspire employees during tough times like the pandemic.
For those of you who are interested, I have posted this hour-long conversation on my YouTube channel.

Anand Mahindra

Chairman, Mahindra Group

March 2, 2022
5:30pm IST // 7:00am EST

Anand Mahindra has led the way in showing how a giant manufacturing conglomerate can respond to climate change and other challenges. He will describe how an internal company effort called Rise transformed the way his employees viewed their jobs.
Anand Mahindra Bio
Anand Mahindra is a third-generation member of the family that started the Mahindra Group. The group’s 20-plus industries range from automotive to agribusiness to information technology. Anand Mahindra was included on Barrons’ List of Top 30 CEOs worldwide (2016) and Fortune Magazine’s list of the World’s 50 Greatest Leaders (2014). In 1996, he founded Nanhi Kali, a group that provides educational support for underprivileged girls in India.

David Velez

Founder, Nubank

March 10, 2022
10:00am Mexico City//11:00am Eastern

David Vélez took the staid banking industry by storm when he founded Nubank, now the most valuable digital bank in the world. He will discuss how his nontraditional attitude toward customers and employees led to his company’s runaway success.
David Velez Bio
Since David Vélez started Nubank in Brazil in 2013, it has grown to nearly 50 million customers worldwide. Vélez received venture funding from his former employer, Sequoia Capital, to help finance Nubank, and proceeded to challenge banks in Brazil and beyond by eliminating fees and improving customer service. Nubank, whose investors include Warren Buffett, went public at the end of last year.

Roz Brewer

Walgreens Boots Alliance

Date TBD

As one of only two Black female CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, Roz Brewer is acutely aware of the need to promote diversity. She talks about her own experiences in the corporate world and how they have shaped her approach to leadership and purpose.
Roz Brewer Bio
Roz Brewer has been CEO of the Walgreens Boots Alliance since March 2021. She previously held executive positions at Starbucks, Sam’s Club, Walmart and Kimberly Clark. She was ranked No. 6 on Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business and was named one of the 25 most influential women by the Financial Times in 2021. She also serves as the Chairperson of the Board of Trustees for Spelman College, where she was an undergraduate.

Simpiwe Tshabala

Chief Executive, Standard bank

Date TBD

As CEO of the largest bank in Africa, Sim Tshabalala feels the weight of both financial and social responsibilities. He will discuss the role that apartheid has played in his life, and how it affects the way he views his company, his customers and his employees.
Simpiwe Tshabalala Bio
Simpiwe “Sim” Tshabalala joined the Johannesburg-based Standard Bank Group in 2000 and was appointed CEO in 2008. He was born in Hlabisa, a poor area of South Africa, and grew up in Soweto. After initially training to be a lawyer, he switched to a banking career. He serves as vice president of the International Monetary Conference and vice chairman of the Institute of International Finance.

Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara

Executive Director and CEO, Temasek

Date TBD

Can an investment company both serve its clients and save the environment? Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara thinks so. He will talk about Temasek’s plan to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 through strategic investments.
Dilhan Pillay Bio
Dilhan Pillay Sandrasegara is the top executive at Temasek, a Singapore-based investment company with a portfolio of around $400 billion. Before joining Temasek in 2010, he was a lawyer specializing in mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance and corporate law. He is a member of the Future Economic Council, sponsored by the Singapore Government; and a member of the Financial Centre Advisory Panel of the Monetary Authority of Singapore. He also serves on the boards of the National Research Foundation, Enterprise Singapore and the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

Alan Jope

CEO, Unilever

Date TBD

Alan Jope Bio

Alan was appointed Chief Executive Officer in January 2019. As CEO of Unilever, Alan is responsible for leading one of the world’s largest and most geographically diverse consumer goods businesses, with presence in 190 countries, serving 2.5 billion people every day. Alan is Chair of the Board of UNICEF’s Generation Unlimited, Vice Co-Chair of the Consumer Goods Forum, and Vice Chair of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) Executive Committee.

Ralph Mupita

Group President and CEO, MTN Group

Date TBD

Ralph Mupita talks about the role that telecommunications companies like his can play in improving Africans’ lives. He also discusses the philosophy and strategy behind MTN’s expansion into financial services.
Ralph Mupita Bio

Ralph Mupita became CEO of MTN in August of 2020 after previously serving as its chief financial officer. MTN, founded in 1994 and based in Johannesburg, is one of the largest telecommunications providers in Africa and the Middle East. It has more than 280 million mobile subscribers in 20 countries, along with more than 45 million mobile money subscribers. Before joining MTN, Mupita worked for the financial company Old Mutual South Africa, rising to become chief executive of emerging markets there.


Mudassir Sheikha

CEO and Co-founder, Careem

Date TBD

Mudassir Sheikh talks about the challenges and responsibilities that Careem faces as it continues its transformation into a “super app.” He also assesses Careem’s future now that Uber is an owner of the company rather than a competitor.

Mudassir Sheikha Bio

Mudassir Sheikha is the CEO and co-founder of Careem, which started out as a ride-sharing company and has expanded to deliver a range of services to customers in the Middle East. In January of 2020, Careem was acquired by Uber for $3.1 billion. Before starting Careem, Sheikha was an associate partner for McKinsey & Co. A native of Pakistan, he has a master’s degree in computer science from Stanford and spent a decade after graduation working on start-ups in Silicon Valley.

Woods Staton

Executive Chairman, Arcados Dorados

Date TBD

Woods Staton, executive chairman of the world’s largest McDonald’s franchisee, describes the steps his company is taking to reduce waste from packaging and vegetable, along with its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. He also talks about his company’s role as a first employer for many Latin American youth.
Woods Staton Bio
Woods Staton is executive chairman of Arcos Dorados, which employs nearly 95,000 people in 2,000 restaurants across 20 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean. Staton was previously a joint venture partner of McDonald’s in Argentina. He founded Arcos Dorados when McDonald’s sold its Latin American operations to Staton and a group of investors in 2007. The company went public in 2011. Staton is on the Global Board of Advisors of the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington, as well as on the Chairman’s International Advisory Council of the Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Ranjay Gulati

Ranjay Gulati is the Paul R. Lawrence MBA Class of 1942 Professor of Business Administration and the former Unit Head of the Organizational Behavior Unit at Harvard Business School. Ranjay is an expert on leadership in turbulent times, having studied and written about the topic for the past twenty-five years. The former head of the organizational behavior unit at Harvard Business School, Gulati served for almost a decade as chair of the Advanced Management Program, HBS’s premier leadership development program. He has taught senior leaders around the world via a socratic, case-study method and interviewed over 150 CEOs in classroom settings. 

His latest work, Deep Purpose: The Heart and Soul of High-Performance Companies (Harper Collins, February 2022) shows how companies can embed purpose much more deeply than they currently do, delivering impressive performance benefits that reward customers, suppliers, employees, shareholders, and communities alike. Deep Purpose has already been selected as among the top handful of Books to Read in 2022 by The Next Big Idea, curated by the likes of Adam Grant, Malcolm Gladwell, and Dan Pink.”