In this regular feature, we hear from women academics and professionals about their lives, their faith, and the way it all intersects. Pull up a chair and join us as we chat with engineer and business leader Sheeba Philip. (If you’re going to Believers in Business 2019, look for Sheeba’s keynote talk on failure and how God might meet you in it.)
Welcome, Sheeba! Tell us about yourself.
Name: Sheeba Philip
Current job: Founder & CEO, Ethos Brand Group
Current location: Dallas, Texas
Schools attended: University of Virginia BS in Chemical Engineering, 1998; Harvard Business School, MBA, 2003
A unique thing about me: I have a passion for international travel. I love visiting interesting places and experiencing different cultures. I’ve done that a lot in my professional career, and when I have some personal time I love to get on a plane and hopefully stamp something in my passport. My most recent trip was to Jinja, Uganda.
What was the hardest part of grad school and what kept you sane?
For me, the balance of academics and community. It’s really hard hard when you’re coming into an environment like HBS, and feeling like you need to be on top of all of your case work, and on top of all of your academics, and getting that internship, and your job. You almost can forget that you’re there actually to build community, to meet amazing people, to build deep relationships that you will have for the rest of your life. For me, one of the things I really got involved in was InterVarsity’s HBS Christian fellowship. I was involved with it my first year, and then I was president my second year. That became a true anchor for me during my time in school because it created the space for me to build meaningful community, to build deep relationships, and keep my focus centered on God. That for sure was a means for me to maintain my sanity during a very hectic time in my life.
Up to that point, I hadn’t quite figured out how to actually live out my faith in a public way. It was personal, but I hadn’t had the opportunity to live out and articulate my faith in way that people could see and experience. Coming to HBS, and joining the HBS Christian Fellowship pushed me into a public space. I was leading a weekly chapel service; I was telling other people that I was involved with a Christian fellowship. It motivated me and encouraged me to figure out what I really believe.
My faith has been best expressed when I love people well, when I operate with integrity, when I have a spirit of excellence about my work, when I’m serving my team. It’s about demonstrating Christ’s values day in and day out. By doing that, it sets you apart from everyone else, and makes people ask “what makes you do what you do?”
What do you love most about your job right now?
There are two things: First, I love solving interesting and dynamic business challenges. I’ve spent my career not in just one industry. I’ve been in CPG, I’ve worked in retail, I’ve worked in non-profit. Part of the reason is that I love jumping in and learning something new and being able to solve strategic business problems for an organization. In consulting and advising that’s what you’re doing, you’re not necessarily an industry expert, but you’re taking your skill sets and experience in solving problems and applying it in a new situation.
Second, I love working with different people. When you’re advising start-ups and entrepreneurs, you’re working with dynamic leaders that have a huge vision for how they want to change the world. It’s very inspiring. It’s exciting to work with different leaders. In the role that I’m in, it’s been tackling problems in different industries and across different sectors and working with very interesting leaders has been a real opportunity and highlight.
How does your faith inform the way you think about or do your work?
I think that faith, over time, has helped me redefine what success at work looks like. Very early in my career, and during the course of many years of my career, work was defined as being great at my job, or earning as much as I could, or hitting that next promotion. As I have deepened my walk with God, it has challenged me to think about my life and people differently. Work is now not a thing to accomplish, but a platform to serve. It is transforming the way I look at people and the way I evaluate challenges. Now I think about work as: how am I serving people and how am I advancing God’s kingdom? How is my work benefiting others? It’s become less about me.
As you grow in your career, God challenges you to redefine identity. Many of us define it through what we do versus who we are in Christ. When we get our identity shifted to a place where we’re just defined by being a son or daughter of God, it really influences the way we approach work. Work becomes less about our identity and more an expression of a relationship that’s bigger than it.