YOU CONNECT OR IT’S OVER:
Up-Close and Personal with Sheryl Chamberlain
Sheryl Chamberlain is an eloquently articulate, petite woman with a long and powerful resume that only hints at what is her rather enormous impact in the corporate world, but it’s her warm smile that makes the biggest impression. Chamberlain’s authenticity is her superpower and her genuine positivity is contagious.
A contributor to Forbes.com, Chair of the Board of the CSR Initiative of the National Diversity Council, and founding Advisor at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center (the DEC), Sheryl Chamberlain was Chief of Staff at the Linux Foundation and a remarkably young Group Partner/Vice President at international management consulting powerhouse Capgemini in their Group Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships organization. Chamberlain was responsible for managing key partnerships with Dell Technologies, leading the $800M+ partnership strategies and overseeing execution of go-to market activities globally.
Few people are as keenly and authentically present as Sheryl Chamberlain and though she is what most people find impressively accomplished, her warmth puts everyone at immediate ease. A powerhouse by any measure, no one is intimidated in Chamberlain’s company. Parking lot attendants, CEOs, colleagues, old friends, and new acquaintances are all warmly greeted by that genuine smile and, often as not, a friendly hug.
“You connect or it’s over,” she says, pointing to a sign in the DEC. “That’s really the summation of my philosophy…and it’s the key to making impact. Genuine, human connection is what people really need and it is what smart companies are finally starting to achieve through what are still formalities called ‘Diversity Initiatives’ and ‘Corporate Social Responsibility.’”
The proudly Jewish Ms. Chamberlain now chairs the Hult Prize Foundation Council, where she sets and drives the expansion strategy for the Council, building engagement between and across an international network of stakeholders.
In partnership with the United Nations Office for Partnerships, and the Hult International Business School, the Hult Prize is generously funded by Swedish entrepreneur Bertil Hult. Since its founding, the Hult Prize movement has mobilized over one million students on nearly 2,000 college and university campuses from more than 100 countries to “re-think the future.” It is the largest student competition on the planet and the world’s largest crowd-sourcing platform, generating over 2.4 million man hours of problem solving each year. The world’s largest engine for the creation and launch of sustainable and impact-centered startups emerging from university, the Hult Prize offers a grand prize of USD1 Million.
TIME Magazine captured it best with a cover story that dubbed the Hult Prize “the Nobel Prize for students.”
Nothing could align more perfectly with Sheryl Chamberlain’s worldview than this program that authentically values diversity and facilitates people working together to create social good.
Chamberlain, now happily reunited with her beloved dog Gabby, has just returned from a Summer spent in an English castle with this year’s finalists, young entrepreneurs from 35 countries who are, she says, “solving the world’s greatest problems” and she is excited to talk about the experience:
“Each year, a critical social problem is identified by The Hult Prize, and President Bill Clinton issues the challenge to all university students around the world. Teams of students work with others at their university to develop a custom-tailored, innovative start-up enterprise to respond to the challenge.”
“Access to Education. Clean water. Affordable housing. Food insecurity. Healthcare. Returing the Dignity to the refugees. The 2018 Hult Prize was an invitation to student teams around the world to find and develop energy innovations that can be scaled to improve the lives of 10 million people.”
From more than 1,000 colleges and universities in 120 countries came 100,000 applications. 1,500 of these entrepreneurs met Sheryl Chamberlain at regional finals around the world. 50 teams were invited to participate in the Hult Prize Incubator at the Hult Castle just outside London for a rigorous six-week curriculum to transform their ideas into viable startups, one of which would be funded with the coveted Prize. Sheryl took up residence as a mentor and expert in the castle and helped curate the experienced professionals mentoring students this Summer.
“I love Millennials,” she says. “I know that’s unusual for someone of my generation to say, but it’s the truth! Because they’ve grown up in this hyper-connected Mobile Age with vast libraries and the treasures of the world’s greatest universities and museums available on a device in their pockets, they genuinely feel and behave like world citizens. The problems we face are huge, but the Hult Prize demonstrates that by bringing people together the answers are within reach and Millennials in partnership with other generations are the ones reaching out to provide them.”
The 2019 Challenge has just been issued and, appropriately the 10th anniversary of the Hult Prize, each team’s objective will be “to build the foundations of a venture that will provide meaningful work for 10 million youth within the next next decade.”
Chamberlain says: “We call it For Us, By Us: The Global Youth Challenge.”
Her work has Sheryl traversing the globe for meetings with tech executives, venture capitalists, and business schools from Silicon Valley, New York, Boston, and Mexico City to Shanghai, Egypt, and Tel Aviv, but she still considers Dallas home. A typical day in Dallas includes headlining a panel discussion at the National Diversity Council’s annual conference as she did this past April, followed by a meeting at the Dallas Entrepreneur Center with Abe Minkara, Director of Business Development at Mark Cuban Companies, and a quick consult with Trey Bowles, Executive Chairman of the Board at the DEC. She’s presided over a congenial working lunch, but dinner is purely social, and she spends the evening with friends.
“She’s the great connector,” says Minkara. “Sheryl Chamberlain knows everyone and truly the best people know her. She has great insights into the way human capital powers enterprise and in every interaction she adds genuine value because she is demonstrating how it’s done.”
“I hope I’m showing people the power of being kind, warm, and authentic – and demonstrating that pretense and barriers aren’t necessary. I put everyone I speak to at the center of the conversation. ‘Me’ is very important but, ultimately, people must learn that life is about ‘we.’”
Sheryl Chamberlain’s career path from being an auditor to a technology geek to a tech company executive who nurtures mission critical corporate alliances to heading global foundations was a natural result of following her passion to make the world a better place.
“The poles are melting, species are disappearing, and we need to work together to preserve the world for our children and our children’s children. My Jewish worldview informs everything I do,” she says.
“My goal is to contribute to and repair the world, to perform what my nephew the rabbi calls tikkun olam, and I am completely straightforward about that. No politics, no hidden agendas. People are immediately comfortable because of the simplicity of my style,” she says.
“I am able to be ‘open source’ and work cross-culturally and cross-functionally because people trust me. I believe that because I see the best in people, when I connect them to each other, I am bringing the best of who they are to each other.”
“My work is to help corporations understand how to do that and still be profitable. I help organizations create alliances and do things together, more strategically for everyone. Businesses have product development, marketing, sales – I help all of these departments work together and comfortably step outside their functions. We are so much more than our job titles indicate!”
“Everybody understands the need for diversity now and for ‘green’ business practices, but unless CSR initiatives are meaningfully tied to profitability they are just a concept, not a business imperative. I help companies understand that buying sustainable products, working in under-served markets, helping people inside organizations commit time to help other people in the world, using renewable energy is smart business. Being socially responsible is a value that is finally beginning to supersede the value of the commodities we produce, sell, buy, and consume.”
“Life isn’t a series of transactions,” she says. “It isn’t a big bank where you deposit and withdraw until you die. You connect or it’s over,” she smiles.