From International Study to International Executive
During CES we had a chance to spend some time catching up with James Nixon, the General Manager for Digital Globalization at Marriott International. He has had a compelling career in enterprise software, news media and now international hospitality. He shared some of his lessons learned and thoughts about following his passions for international travel and growing as a leader.
Name: James Nixon
Grew up in: Rahway, NJ
Role: General Manager, Digital Globalization at Marriott International
Favorite Book(s): Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed
Degree: Computer Engineering
How did you get into the world of technology and/or finance?
My introduction to technology was in the late 80s. My uncle had an Apple II computer, and I was amazed that I could play games on this white box with a keyboard and screen. My parents bought our first IBM computer a few months later. I was captivated by this new world and yearned to learn all I could about it.
During middle school, I attended a number of summer computer programs that further piqued my interest. In 10th grade, I landed a highly coveted summer internship at AT&T Bell Labs, where I was responsible for creating programs that would test the operability and integrity of telephone lines. It was during this time that I learned about my future college major: computer engineering.
After graduating from Lehigh University with a BS in Computer Engineering, I officially entered the technology space as a computer programming professional at Microsoft Corporation. The rest is history.
Who has been your most important professional mentor and why?
I have had so many important mentors in my life, including Bob Logan, Jerry Levy, Denmark West, Kay Madati and Reggie Van Lee, but I would have to say that Mario Pipkin has been my most important professional mentor.
Mario mentored me during my first job at Microsoft Corporation. They were the most impressionable years of my life, the years when I would determine if I was going to be a leader or follower. Mario inspired me to be a leader and helped me realize that I could achieve anything once I gained a solid foundation. His guidance and mentorship were exactly what I needed to achieve success at Microsoft and in the years that followed.
I could achieve anything once I gained a solid foundation.
What has been the most meaningful professional experience you’ve had and why?
The most meaningful professional experience I’ve had is also my current one. As the General Manager of Digital Globalization at Marriott International, I am responsible for running the international digital business, which includes building innovative digital products and services that are relevant to consumers no matter where they live. To accomplish this, I travel around the world and study a myriad of digital consumer behaviors and cultural norms in the travel space. Through my experience as a “travel anthropologist,” I’ve learned about more than just other people and cultures. I’ve learned a lot about myself and my professional aspirations; to be an influential leader in the global digital space.
What is the most difficult professional or personal challenge you’ve had to overcome?
My most difficult personal challenge was supporting my mother through her cancer treatments. Nothing could have prepared me to see her go through so much pain and suffering; even worse, there was nothing I could do to take away her pain. However, God has a plan, and I prayed for her and stayed by her side. She eventually recovered and has been enjoying life ever since.
What advice do you have for young people of color who are looking to get into technology?
When Wayne Gretzky was asked about the key to his success, he replied that he skated to where the puck was going to be, not where it had been. That is the advice I offer young people of color who want to get into technology. Have an insatiable curiosity about both current and future technological trends, and relentlessly take chances to position yourself for where the technological puck is going to be.
Who is one person you follow on social media who you think others should follow?
What news outlets or media sources do you read on a regular basis?
I read Harvard Business Review, CNN, and TechCrunch.
Find your passion, understand your strengths and then find an opportunity that brings them both together. Doing this will greatly improve your chances for success in any industry.
You have a wide range of experiences from working in enterprise software, media and now hospitality. What lessons have you learned and what advice would you give to someone switching industries?
Harry Wayne Huizenga is an American businessman and entrepreneur who owned a number of successful businesses including waste management, Blockbuster video stores and the Miami Dolphins. When asked why he owned businesses that seemed completely unrelated, he responded, “They are related…I’m in the rental business.” Whether they were videos from Blockbuster or seats at a Miami Dolphins game, he rented things.
With this idea and my career history in mind, “digital” is the common thread that ties my experiences together. I create and grow successful digital businesses, whether they’re in the media industry or enterprise software industry, or for US or international consumers.
To those who want to switch industries, find your passion, understand your strengths and then find an opportunity that brings them both together. Doing this will greatly improve your chances for success in any industry.
You seem to have had an international orientation for a long time. You studied abroad in business school and you have an international job now. When did you start thinking about having an international purview?
It started in my childhood, when my grandfather would tell me stories about growing up in Kingston, Jamaica. I spent the next two decades traveling to a few international destinations, but it was my time studying in Barcelona, Spain that solidified my international passion. I encourage people to live overseas; vacationing is great, but living there is a completely different experience.
You work with a company in Marriott that not only has international reach but international presence. Other than figuring out what to do with your frequent flier miles what challenges present themselves in helping to manage a business of such broad scope? What are some of the opportunities?
Marriott was founded in 1927 and since then has achieved a great deal of success operating in the United States. However, future growth for Marriott predominantly lies in international markets and therefore the company is aggressively expanding worldwide.
This aggressive expansion poses a number of challenges and opportunities, the greatest being able to consistently deploy and operate world-class digital solutions that are relevant to consumers no matter where they live in the world. Without relevancy there’s no growth.
You have worked in large corporations for most of your career and are now a senior executive in a large multinational corporation. What are some of the lessons you have learned that have helped to make you successful thus far?
I have always been a hard worker who produced strong results, and attribute much of my early career success to this disciplined approach. However, there came a time when producing solid deliverables wasn’t enough to continue moving up the career ladder.
It was at this point that I was introduced to what’s now my favorite book, Empowering Yourself: The Organizational Game Revealed by Harvey J. Coleman. This book taught me that achieving success is simply a game of people and their reactions—everything else is detail. Coleman explained the notion of written and unwritten rules within corporations and also defined his formula for success, P.I.E. (Performance. Image. Exposure).
Applying concepts from this book helped me take my career to the next level and accomplish things in life that I never thought I could.
Without relevancy there’s no growth.