Shideh Sedgh Bina: Culture, interrupted
Shideh Sedgh Bina says the biggest influence on her life was her grandmother. Born in Iran, her world was one where all women
were required to wear a veil—a chador—as a sign of modesty and morality. But to Shideh's grandmother, the chador symbolized
Shideh Sedgh Bina
Bina's grandmother dreamed of being a doctor. Those dreams were put on hold when at age 13, she was removed from school to
help care for her brother. By age 16, she was married.
In 1936, in an attempt to "modernize" the country, Iran became the first Muslim country to ban the veil. But in the community
where Bina's grandmother's lived, the women were hesitant to take off their chadors. Who would be the first?
Shideh's grandmother felt moved to take action. She was young, in her 20s, married with two daughters, pregnant, and absolutely
terrified of retribution and violence in the small city in which she lived. Still, with her husband's blessing, she volunteered.
Scared for her life, security came to escort her to a town meeting. It was there that she stood in front of the community
and removed her veil. As she talked about why she was removing the chador, other women began to follow suit. Her reason? Decades
later, she said it was so her daughter wouldn't have to put away her dreams like she had.
Shideh was born two generations later and emigrated with her family from Iran to the United States. In 1981, she graduated
from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania where she earned a BS in multinational marketing. Wharton would
eventually recognize her as one of the top 40 prominent business leaders under 40 in the Philadelphia tri-state area.
Following graduation, Shideh quickly became a successful entrepreneur. She went on to lead the New England region for an international
training and organizational development firm. In 1990, Shideh co-founded High Performance Consulting, which merged with the
Rosenberg Group in 2005 to co-found Insigniam. Today, the consultancy has offices in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Paris, and
Hong Kong, and has worked on projects involving all of the 15 top pharma companies. Bina helps large companies create a stronger
internal dynamic that generates breakthroughs in management results—whether that's top line growth, strategy implementation,
profitability, or culture change.
These corporate transformations are Bina's work, but the first and most important transformation was her own. In the early
days of the consultancy, she was charged with, among other responsibilities, business development. But would male clients
take her seriously? Shideh was scared of taking on the assignment and possibly hurting the bottom line. It was then one of
her partners told her something she would never forget: "He said, 'We are in the business of breakthroughs, thinking outside
of what is traditional, separating old beliefs and assumptions,'" says Shideh. "You have to make a choice: You are either
going to become the culture or interrupt the culture. This bit of wisdom became my mantra."
Bina's grandmother took off her chador with the goal of a better future. Given all the challenges in healthcare today, Shideh
says, executives have the same opportunity to scrap the veil imposed by conventional wisdom, to envision a better future—and
"There's no question on anybody's part that the healthcare industry is in a state of total disruption, which is also an incredible
opportunity for transformation," says Bina. "There is a group of executives that see this as the opportunity it is, have taken
the ball and run with it and in doing so are shaping the future of healthcare in our society around their own vision."
Precisely this is what Bina says is so exciting about being in healthcare right now—there is an opportunity to change society
and build a new platform for healthcare. So what distinguishes the executives that are willing to shape the future versus
those that are just reacting to it?
"With all of them, there is fear—fear that emerges from the risk is inherent in disruptions," says Bina. "Except there is
a certain group of people who are willing to give themselves permission to envision something bold and inspiring. For these
people, being proactive actually reduces the risk."
It is statements like those that show how deftly Bina is able to channel emotion. Shideh says it wasn't until she was married
with children, in her 40s, that she was really able to tap into that compassion. People who know Bina say she is not afraid
to wear her heart on her sleeve. She shares herself and is not afraid to be vulnerable in the work environment.
"What is in your heart?" asks Shideh. "Trusting that doesn't make you soft, it makes you more effective."