What is your name, age, location?
Sarita James, 38, New York City.
What's your background?
I studied computer science as an undergrad at Harvard and did my MBA at Oxford’s Said Business School. My passion has always been launching new technology products – first at Microsoft as a product manager, then at McKinsey as a consultant advising tech companies, and more recently at Citi Ventures as COO for our corporate venture capital group. I’ve always cared about the social impact of what I do, and I spent a few years in government with the Bloomberg administration in New York City and then a year as a White House Fellow .
What inspired you to become President of Embark, an education technology company?
I love Embark’s mission of connecting people with opportunity. We help universities and fellowships identify and select the right students for their programs. It’s been fulfilling to run a tech company that helps both students and the institutions they will attend.
Please walk me through your day, what do you do at your company?
Running a start-up is never boring. I spend time with our clients and Embark’s client associate team discussing client needs, with our technology team deciding what features should get rolled out next, with recruiting candidates in interviews, and with our finance team and investors planning for the company’s growth. Of course, being at a small company means that I get involved in practical things with the team, too – from choosing lounge chairs and plants for the lobby to restocking our pantry!
Can you see yourself in ten years doing the same thing you do now?
I could definitely see myself running a tech company with a social-oriented mission in ten years’ time.
What is the best advice you ever received?
It wasn’t a specific line of advice, but I’ve learned from my mother the importance of keeping everything in perspective and staying grounded emotionally. She is a pediatrician and, when I was growing up, she ran the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit of a hospital. She was able to save thousands of lives but I also saw her lose patients to whom she was very attached.
Especially in the tech world, where things can feel “make or break”, it’s important to have mental resilience in the face of the setbacks that inevitably come up. It’s a deliberate balance of caring deeply enough to give something your full effort while maintaining enough perspective that you can always focus on what needs to get done next.
And what are your plans for the future?
I’m very excited to grow Embark over the next few years – just in this past year, we’ve expanded into several new countries including Kyrgyzstan and South Africa. We have some new services in the works with the potential to shake up how students and universities think about education.
Any advice for your local/global Geekettes?
Sheryl Sandberg and the Geekettes have all made this point, but I think it’s worth restating.
I have sometimes heard talented young women say that they will wait to try founding or running a start-up until they have had their children. Yes, start-up life is intense but, if you are in a leadership position, you have more of an opportunity to set the level of flexibility related to how and when you and others get their work done.
I have two small boys, close to 4 and 2 years old. I get to spend time with them in the early evening nearly every day before I start my second shift of work from home. I really do believe they benefit from having both of their parents energized by their careers.