Houston author and speaker Nina Godiwalla had just finished her freshman year in college when she left her close-knit Zoroastrain community here to spend the summer as an intern at J. P. Morgan in New York City. She took four cheap suits and two pairs of cheap shoes with her; she came home with insights about corporate culture that eventually led to her bestselling book, Suits: A Woman on Wall Street , a memoir about her time in high finance. (It's been described as a Devil Wears Prada for bankers.)
A native Texan, Godiwalla quickly realized she would have to lose her southern accent and disassociate herself from her Persian-Indian ancestry in order to fit into high-powered corporate America. Cutthroat competition became her daily standard, with heavy doses of racism and sexism thrown in. Three degrees and more than a decade later, Godiwalla was offered what should have been her dream job but suddenly walked away from it all.
The woman who once wanted to be an investment banker instead became an expert on changing the same corporate culture she once longed to be part of.
Suits, a funny, humble and insightful look at Godiwalla's life in New York, became a best-seller, resonating with readers across the country. She returned to Texas to launch MindWorks, a corporate training company working with diversity and innovation issues.
What she does: "If someone asks me what I do, I tell them I'm a professional speaker and a corporate trainer. Then people look at me blankly and wonder what both of those two things are so I explain that I wrote a best-selling book about my life experience on Wall Street. The issues that I was raising with the book were a lack of accountability amongst the leadership on Wall Street and also the exclusive culture of it all. What I do now is I go in to organizations and train on leadership and diversity. I write about those issues."
Her writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and Elle magazine. She was a featured speaker at the TEDxHouston Conference and is working on a TED book about unleashing innovation in individuals.
Why she likes it: "My days are very different, depending on if I'm writing or speaking and I think that's part of what keeps me going. I don't have to sit for months and months and just write, although I have done that. I love having the ability to change the format of what I'm doing, to move through different mediums, from sitting alone and writing to speaking to thousands of people or talking to small groups."
What inspires her: "Change inspires me, being able to change people's perspectives, change their mindsets, that's really exciting. I believe that we're all connected at some level and if we just took the time to get to know one another and be more compassionate in our society, we'd be able to accomplish so much more than we're able to accomplish now.
"Over and over, I hear 'I have a very difficult colleague' or 'I have a very difficult boss.' People seem to think that their problems are these external factors. The ah-ha for them is when they realize that even though they can't change their colleague or boss, but they can change how they react to their colleague or boss. That's one of the biggest surprises for people, when they realize that they have control over their own life and their own success. It doesn't take away the fact that there are some very difficult people out in the world. But it's empowering to learn that you can change your reaction to those people."
If not this, then what: "I would take Oprah's job. I love connecting with people and facilitating real change in their lives. Oprah's been a real icon for me. I'd be happy to take her job."
If not here, then where: "I would love to live in California, in San Francisco. I think there's a physical beauty there. It's just gorgeous with the mountains and the water. I originally intended to go to the East Coast and then the West Coast, but I never quite made it out West. But I'm going to be living in Houston for quite a while, this is my is home and my family's here."
What's next: "I'm working on a [TED] book. A lot of our work is national and I spend a lot of time traveling. I would like to spend a little more time getting to know Texas organizations and do more work here."
More Creatives for 2013 (In order of most recently published; click here for the full page).
David Wilhem, light painter Tom Abrahams, author and newscaster Browncoat, pin-up pop artist Kris Becker, Nu-Classical composer and pianist Vincent Fink, science fashion Stephanie Saint Sanchez, Senorita Cinema founder Ned Gayle, thrift store painting defacer Sameera Faridi, fashion designer Greg Ruhe, The Human Puppet Sophia L. Torres, founder and co-artistic director of Psophonia Dance Company Maggie Lasher, dance professor and artistic director Jordan Jaffe, founder of Black Lab Theatre Outspoken Bean, performance poet Barry Moore, architect Josh Montoute, mobile gaming specialist Ty Doran, young actor Gwen Zepeda, Houston's first Poet Laureate Joseph Walsh, principal dancer at Houston Ballet Justin Garcia, artist Buck Ross, dilettante and director of Moores Opera Center Patrick Renner, sculptor of the abstract and the esoteric Tomas Glass, abstract artist and True Blood musician Ashley Stoker, painter, photographer and Tumblr muse Amy Llanes, artistic airector of Rednerrus Feil Dance Company Bevin Bering Dubrowski, executive director at the Houston Center for Photography Lydia Hance, founder and director of Frame Dance Productions Piyali Sen Dasgupta, mixed media artist and nature lover Dean James, New York Times bestselling mystery novelist Nicola Parente, abstract painter and photographer Cheryl Schulke, handmade leather pursemaker Anthony Rathbun, Alternative Lifestyle Photographer David Salinas, computer-less analog photographer Danielle Burns, art curator Alicia DiRago, Whimseybox founder Katia Zavistovski, contemporary art curator Ashley Horn, choreographer, filmmaker Amanda Stevens, scary book author Peter Lucas, film and video curator, music lover and self-described culture-slinger Ana María Otamendi, collaborative pianist and vocal coach Billy D. Washington, comedian Michele Brangwen, choreographer and dancer Kristin Warren, actress and choreographer Kelly Sears, animator and film maker Colton Berry, Bayou City Theatrics' artistic director jhon r. stronks,dance-maker Joe Grisaffi, actor, director, writer, cinematographer Jordan "Monster Mac" McMahon, artist, designer