September 20, 2018

Lead(H)er: Shivani York, COO at InRhythm

When Shivani York raises her hand to say “I’ve got that,” it’s not necessarily because she has it all figured out and knows the exact solution to the problem. Rather, it is because she trusts in her passions and experience for solving problems and transforming businesses.

“I thrive on challenges and what I call these ‘big hairy problems’, so as long as there are those big hairy problems that I can kind of sink my teeth into, and help an organization get to that next level, that’s where I continue to see my career going, said Shivani, who is currently the COO at InRhythm, a technology consulting firm.

Shivani’s first career challenge came in college when, as a biochemistry major with her heart set on becoming a doctor, she realized that seeing people in pain affected her too deeply. Shivani switched to a psychology major and, while she took classes in computer science after graduation, considers the empathy that derailed her medical career to be one of her greatest assets.

“In business, so much is about empathy and relating to people,” Shivani said. “It took me a while to realize that. People want to not just be heard, but they want to feel like their ideas are valuable.”

Armed with her innate sense of empathy and using her passion for building brands, growing organizations, and creating cultures as her guide, Shivani eventually found her way to the New York Times. Within her first year at the company, she had earned a breakout performance award. Shivani managed various verticals across the, from the job market section to the travel section, and eventually led its overall social, community, and personalization strategies.

Shivani stayed within the online media world for the next few years, working at as the head of product and strategy. There, she was able to build strong teams, product development processes, develop the TIME’s mobile strategy, as well as drive through the next phase of growth.

Taking her expertise to a different set of industries, Shivani spent the next several years of her career at advisory and technology companies. At NPD Group, she launched the company’s main online business intelligence platform within the first year of her tenure. She continued to launch new businesses for NPD, stretching herself outside of her comfort zone to do so and working her way into a similar role at Ziff Davis where she helped launch new lines of businesses for recently-acquired tech companies.

Now, Shivani is the Chief Operating Officer at In Rhythm, with a mission to accelerate innovation and modernization journey for Fortune 50 companies. She and her team work on high priority initiatives across these Fortune 50 clients by creating processes, strategies, and products that will help them grow.

Shivani York
Getting ready for a panel

“You can have the greatest product, but if you don’t have the right people in the right seats, it doesn’t work,” she said. “I have a passion for creating those successful brands and products,  and really scaling them up for growth. Being able to do that coupled with building the right teams for success, is really what gives me energy.”

It’s those passions that has driven to Shivani work harder to make things happen, even when she doubted herself or reached outside of her comfort zone. “I feel really strongly that if you have passions they can’t really steer you wrong, and if you’re passionate about what you do on a day to day basis and don’t lose the hunger and the hustle, you will excel at whatever it is that you’re trying to do,” she said. “I’ve realized that being uncomfortable is good, and that’s where you have your biggest learning, because you’ve forced yourself to learn new skills, new areas that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise.”

Rapid-Fire Questions

What do you like to do in your free time?

I thrive on learning new things, and it’s not just reading a new book. It can be a new type of fitness class, or reading a book, or trying something completely brand new, or just having a conversation with somebody I’ve never spoken to. I also have a seven and a ten year old, so I really prioritize spending the time with them. I also try to include them in any learning and growth across my life.

For example, my daughter was taking a trip with me, and she was sitting on the plane with me and we ended up striking a conversation with a guy right next to us who was the owner of a company in the Midwest. With my daughter sitting next to me for the next five hours, she came back to me and was like “That was great!” She was chatting with him and what he did, and I love seeing that my kids are able to get as much out of it as I am. We should always be learning, not just from reading books but from people around us. I think people forget that at times.

How do you typically handle stress?

I try to! I’m a big believer in practicing gratefulness and meditation. I actually do ‘5 things that made you happy today’ with my kids almost every night.

I do tend to meditate more when I’m stressed or struggling, just to find my center. I realized that it really does calm me down.

I’ve also found that a healthy dose of stress is good. It keeps you going, it’s just that you can’t let it get to a point where it’s actually not helping you get to your goal and it’s stopping you from taking that next step. If you’re preparing for a speech for example, or a panel or a project, if you didn’t have a little bit of stress, we would just sit there and relax, which is not the best for focused productivity. You just need to have a healthy dose of it, and you need to be able to calm yourself down.

How many cups of coffee do you drink in a day?

Probably way too many! I have to have a venti Starbucks with peppermint in the morning. That’s my ritual. The rest of the day, it really depends on how the day is going. It might be another cup or two, sometimes three. My rule of thumb is that I’m not going to have any coffee after 2, because after that it starts to add to me not being able to sleep at night. So until 2:00 I can have as many cups of coffee as I want to have, and then I have to stop. I think after your 20s you realize what your limits are, and the coffee is one of those things for me!

What’s your favorite spot in the New York City area?

I spend so much of my time in New York City because I work here. New York City is just such an amazing place to be. I don’t know if I have just one spot I can pick. I feel like I’m still discovering, even after being here almost my entire life. I love the walk to Brooklyn Bridge and I love Central Park in the summertime, and I love the rooftop bars in New York City. My kids are huge fans of the Museum of Natural History. Even the architecture of Grand Central – I am in awe of it and used look at that during my commute when I commuted through there. New York City is such an amazing place, and having come to the US as an immigrant early in my childhood, I feel like I still find myself in awe of its beauty, the diversity, and the wonderfulness of New York City, as much as we like to complain in the wintertime.

What do you consider one of your greatest accomplishments, unrelated to family?

For me, it’s honestly really been the journey that has gotten me here, that’s made me the person that I am. I wouldn’t be who I am today if I didn’t have some of the failures. I actually think I learned more from my failures than I did from my accomplishments. Yes, the accomplishments were great, and I wish life was filled with only accomplishments. For me, it’s really been the journey and how I’ve been able to bounce back from things that I didn’t do so well in and then being able to learn from it. I feel like when I go into a situation now, I always look back at how I handled it in the past or if it didn’t go well, how I should have handled it. I definitely think my greatest accomplishments have been the lessons learned from my failures.

Shivani York and her children
Hanging out with her children

Is this where you saw yourself 10 years ago?

I think where I’ve landed in my career is where I think I wanted to be. I knew I always wanted to be learning, growing myself, and working with terrifically smart people. There’s a lot to be said for not being the smartest person in the room. I wanted to be where I felt I was making an impact in my career for either the organizations and the people I have led or that I’ve worked with. From that perspective, that’s exactly where I am today.

I do plan on continuing to help organizations scale and grow. I want to make sure that anywhere I am, I’m creating an impact. That’s important to me. I do thrive on building amazing products and cultures where people are proud to work at and solving those big, hairy problems. I’m a fixer at heart, and I love doing this. From that perspective, absolutely. Did I think I was going to be a GM versus a COO, probably not – I don’t think I gave that too much thought.

What’s your advice for recent college graduates?

When I was starting off, I wish that someone had told me some of the things that I’ve learned along the way. I’m sure they would have if I had reached out at the time, but there are a lot of things that you also figure out on your own. So, here are my 5 big lessons:

First is: Raise your hand at opportunities. Don’t worry about knowing your job 100%. You’ll figure that out, but really focus on following your passions. I keep saying passion, but it really is, figure out what you really, really care about and don’t worry about the job, but continue to raise your hand, because if you don’t -  you’re not going to get the opportunity.

I think the second thing is: Don’t lose the hunger! Be the hardest working person in the room. That applies a little bit later on – as some people get midway in their careers, they tend to lose that hunger. Never ever lose that, because that’s when you stop learning.

Third: Focus on your goal and figure out the path to get there. I talked about failures – failures are super important because they help you grow, but don’t focus on yours. LEARN from them, but don’t focus on them. I feel like in life, we focus on things that are not going well instead of focusing on things that are going really right, so it’s the same thing here. You have to focus on the things that you want to do and not necessarily on the things that haven’t worked out.

The fourth would be: Be your biggest advocate. Hard work is really great, but I feel like it’s also the starting point. You need to be able to speak up, showcase what you’re made out of, and make it visible.

The fifth is what I call Kryptonite. Whatever your Kryptonite is, don’t let that hold you back from moving forward. Everybody has their own Kryptonite that they allow to hold them back from taking that risk, asking for a promotion, being the first one to speak up at an important meeting. Instead, focus on your strength and use that to make your Kryptonite weaker.

These are the five main things that I’ve learned over the years that I continue to go back to.  Hopefully, they will be helpful to others who are just starting off or are doubting themselves.

Samantha Costanzo Carleton is a Contributor to VentureFizz. You can follow her on Twitter @smcstnz.