“Those in senior roles should always aspire to inspire.”

Nerissa Naidu, A courageous woman influencing others across continents.


Hello everyone. I am so thrilled to speak today to Nerissa Naidu on today’s episode of She’s A Boss Podcast. I have always been in awe of Nerissa and all she has achieved and continues to. We do not have enough time for me to espouse all her credentials, so I will have to compress as best as I can! Nerissa hails from South Africa and originally trained as an engineer. We will let her tell us more about her career transition and adaptation along the way. She serves on various boards and is currently the global head of strategy, chief operating officer at AIG. She is based in New York and London. Well, on that note – welcome to the show Nerissa. I am super excited to learn more about you and am sure our audience is eager too.

“Believe in yourself and don’t concede.”

Show recap:

  • Nerissa is 5th generation South African. She was a scholarship student who got into engineering

  • Her first job was at a steel plant at the Mittal group – she became an engineer at 20 and developed her grit, perseverance, resilience in this male-dominated industry

  • She switched gears two years later to work with Accenture which opened up the world to her

  • She moved to London and then New York

  • Coming from South Africa, a country she considers conservative and isolated, she had the ability through Accenture to develop networks globally

  • She is grateful for the opportunity some companies have given her

  • She considers herself lucky especially in the face of South Africans, at least in the past, being limited in global movements

  • She studied further degrees in London and New York – with MBAs from Stern and London Business School

  • She moved on to AIG in New York to do global restructuring

  • She now leads global strategy for AIG. It is a huge portfolio

  • One of the crucial things that she enjoys is being on the diversity and inclusion groups. She is a chapter lead in the women’s group, does a lot of work for the African-American group as well as the LGBTQ groups

  • As a woman at the top, she does feel isolated at times, when she is not understood. Sometimes there is comfort in knowing someone else has walked the walk that you walk.

  • Nerissa is generally outspoken and speaks her mind. She is quick to correct. She feels women in senior positions may need to fight a little harder.

  • She has had mansplaining where she has had to be resilient

  • Sometimes people put pressure on you as a woman that you need to behave in a certain way

  • Not everything has to be about gender.

  • She would like to be the example for any woman starting out

  • Creating mentorship is something she is really aspiring to do

  • She also empowers men to be supportive of women who go up the ladder

  • She understands some of the constraints for people coming from the African continent, hence she still currently mentors people

  • She feels it is her duty to give counsel and advice to seek similar opportunities she has managed to stumble upon

  • She enjoys interacting with people and understanding – what the influences are, what makes them tick. Besides the food!

  • People’s desires, ambitions vary across the globe and it is crucial to understand them and their manner of working to get the best of them

  • She believes in advocates – the biggest game changers. Even when there is wrong, we tend to put our heads down and see it pass

  • Her parents have been her greatest allies and advocates. They always gave her choices rather than push her in a certain way

  • People need to know how to break norms – societies should have the opportunity to break stereotypes

  • She was empowered by her father who came to her school and insisted she should not be sewing and instead be allowed to do technical drawing – so she broke the gender stereotypes.

  • Her husband continues to champion her on – she never has to apologise for who she is which she considers a gift

  • She has also always had bosses who have fought for her, her advocates both male and female who have pushed her along

  • She developed a blood clot due to stress as part of her intense workload – she sees that as a failure in not identifying a proper work-life balance

  • She had sacrificed herself and her health before she could put it all in perspective

  • One of the big success is that she has diverse teams – teams that do different things and are different

  • She find the possibility to get people to work towards a common cause – a major success for her

  • She is glad to have led groups through big change

  • Believe in yourself, as much as strong we are, we do have doubts – in the moments when you are vulnerable – believe in yourself. Have confidence in what you believe – have evidence, and be courageous.

  • Even if you get no as an answer – find out why and you owe it to yourself to be focused, ruthless so you can plan your next action. No one is going to make sacrifices except yourself. Don’t concede. Don’t be shy! Speak up.


Connect with Nerissa:

Linked In: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nerissanaidu/

The article on advocates: https://www.cornerofthecourt.com/nerissas-story-alan-and-nilesh/

“Sometimes there is comfort in knowing someone else has walked the walk that you walk.”