100 Creatives 2013: Nina Godiwalla, Author and TED Speaker

Photo by Raychel Deppe
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

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