Inside Aperian Global: Laurette Bennhold-Samaan
In our monthly interview series, Inside Aperian Global, you will get to know the passionate people that drive Aperian Global’s mission and values in day-to-day operations, find out more about their background and see what their typical day looks like. In February, we spoke to our Senior Global Account Manager Michael Shen, based in Shanghai, China, and this month we are shifting our attention to our Chief Operating Officer, Laurette Bennhold-Samaan, based in Washington, D.C., USA.
Q: Laurette, you have been in the Chief Operating Officer position at Aperian Global since 2013, implementing our vision through corporate and talent strategy planning and ensuring the organization’s growth. What led you to this particular position in the cross-cultural field?
A: My entire life— both my vocation and my avocation, my personal and my professional— has been about bridging and leveraging cultural differences and similarities. Having been born in Egypt to an Egyptian father and mother of Armenian origin and then living in Nigeria exposed me at a very young age to different cultures and value systems. Both my parents were international educators and my father taught about Edward Hall (author of The Silent Language) and Marshall McLuhan (who popularized the term “Global Village“) in his classes. My mom was a missionary in Costa Rica after she graduated from college, as there was no Peace Corps back then!
This influence and upbringing played a large role in shaping my world view. Later, I married a German and together we adopted an Ecuadorian daughter. My professional career ultimately led me to Aperian Global! This company brings all of my work experiences into one place: the mission driven and genuinely caring colleagues of the Peace Corps, working with extremely smart colleagues from around the world as I did at the World Bank, and the energy and drive of my Accenture colleagues… I have it all HERE!
One of my favorite quotes which I have taken the liberty of modifying a bit: Choose a job you enjoy and an organization you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Q: March 8 is International Women’s Day. When we look at the statistics of gender pay gaps around the world, societies haven’t reached equal salary levels in many parts of our planet. At the same time, research shows that women in decision-making positions improve an organization’s economic standing. What is your advice to women striving for leadership positions?
A: Many of the challenges that women face in the workplace are the same as those for men. These challenges include work/life balance, parenting, juggling responsibilities and multi-tasking. Whether perceived or real, I feel that sometimes women leaders— and everyone is a leader in some way— feel pressure to conform to the male leadership model. Instead, it’s important for a woman to view her own leadership style as a source of strength and personal power. The first step toward overcoming any challenge is awareness. Once aware, you can put some cues in place to remind yourself to rely on your own intuition and emotional intelligence. My advice to women includes staying true to, and acting from, your innate strengths (e.g. creativity and collaboration) in your everyday approach to work and overcoming the inevitable obstacles.
Sometimes, women tend to lead from a more interactive, cooperative style which results in strengthening the sense-of-team here at AG: “We are all in this together.” To me, this sense of unity inspires a higher degree of commitment to achieve our business’ goals. Women (and men) need to identify their unique talents, understand what they bring to AG to best enable success, and then make sure that their voice is heard. Speak up, speak out, be authentic and contribute. Women may experience difficulty with this due to various factors so it’s important to find a community, a mentor, or a role-model who can provide support. Every single person and team has a valuable and rich perspective. Let’s leverage that!
Q: Overseeing the implementation of the company’s vision while having several functions report to you is a complex task. What do you see as the major challenges of leading a global organization with teams dispersed all over the globe?
A: In order to lead an organization with teams dispersed globally, we need to mitigate complexity. We need to be very clear on our purpose, values, core processes and leadership. Once these are clear and consistent, everyone can respond to global complexity according to their own needs and realities. AG’s purpose is to provide learning solutions that enable global success. And our vision— our “guiding star”— is to be the partner of choice. These keep us focused on our goals. In what manner do we do this? With passion, integrity and excellence. By creating lines of business this year, our strategy is more clear and our direction articulated which helps in leading a global organization. One of the very practical challenges that ALL of us face is working with others in so many different time zones! I think that due to the time and distance, we struggle with virtual communication and overuse of email. Regardless of the means of communication, only 7% of communication is in words and the remainder in the voice intonation and non-verbals. Therefore let’s make sure we practice what we offer our clients about leading, managing and communicating virtually.
Q: What best practices have you as a leader personally found helpful to bridge gaps between gender, national cultures, and generations?
A: Even though this is what AG offers— we help others bridge gaps between gender, national cultures, and generations— for me personally I have found the following helpful: I believe everyone has good intentions regardless of how their actions or words may be perceived. What bridges gaps between gender, national culture and generations are individuals or groups who are self-motivated, have strong interpersonal communication skills and are results-driven while being human-oriented. Listening to others for feedback and suggestions is critical and many times overlooked.
Q: Finally, if you don’t mind, share something we don’t know about you yet!
A: Personal fun fact: I went skydiving… yes, I’ve jumped out of an airplane solo! But more in relation to International Women’s Day: As a mother of a daughter, I speak from experience when I say that we need to encourage our children’s curiosity and their natural interest with programs and activities which keep the spark alive and increase their passion to become a global citizen. I was thrilled when I asked my daughter the other day what she might be interested in studying at college in 2016, and her reply was “Maybe international affairs or international development so I can help people around the world better understand each other.” I thought to myself, “That’s what Aperian Global does!” and how fortunate we all are as employees of Aperian Global and stewards of such an essential mission to the world.