For Maria Pinelli, growth is more than part of the entrepreneurial process — it’s a passion.
Currently, she’s the global vice chair of strategic growth markets for EY Global, where she advises business owners on high-growth trajectories and guides others focused on accelerating growth and achieving market leadership. In all, she has over 25 years of experience in business and has led more than 20 initial public offerings of stock in three continents.
“I have been so fortunate in this line of work, and I can’t help but be inspired by those I’ve met along the way,” she told us, citing interactions with the likes of Richard Branson, Francis Ford Coppola, and Nobel Peace Prize winners Kofi Annan and Muhammad Yunus.
But it’s the female entrepreneurs and supporters she’s encountered throughout her career who have really motivated her. “I especially love when I hear about women funding other women in business — especially in the emerging markets, where it seems to happen more than in the developed markets,” she says.
During our chat, Pinelli offered growth tips, gave insights into the state of women-owned firms around the globe, and discussed why diversity matters in entrepreneurship.
Edited interview excerpts below.
The Story Exchange: When it comes to growing staff, what should business owners watch out for?
Make sure [a hire is] the right fit, and think about where you are with the business. Don’t hire a superstar if you’re not at a point of really needing those skills and talent. Someone who will help get the product or service out the door may be all that’s called for. Save the visionary for when you need to get to the next level.
The Story Exchange: You recently wrote in Forbes that questions “lie at the heart of all human progress.” In terms of growing a company effectively, what are some important questions for entrepreneurs to ask during the startup process?
At World Entrepreneur of the Year in Monaco last June, we had some great, inspiring leaders who gave entrepreneurs in the audience some terrific questions to ask themselves. Biz Stone of Twitter wants to know if you are having fun. Howard Schultz of Starbucks wants to know if you are humble. Sir Martin Sorrell wants to know if you are learning Mandarin. Bill Ford, great-grandson of Henry, wants to know if you are collaborating with others in the industry for a common good. Martha Stewart asked if you could stay curious, inquisitive and up on what technology has to offer. Those are all better questions than what I’ve heard in awhile!
The Story Exchange: What are some trends you’re seeing in the growth of women-owned businesses, here in the U.S. and abroad?
It’s clear: Women’s advancement and leadership are central to business performance and economic prosperity. Indisputable data shows [companies’] profitability, return on investment and innovation all increase when women are counted among senior leadership. That’s the good news.
The bad news? According to the World Economic Forum‘s Global Gender Parity Report of 2014, it will take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity in the workplace. That’s too long to wait! We need to accelerate the rate of change toward gender parity now — worldwide. Women need to stand up, raise their hands and take their seat at the table — be it in business or politics. And women need to stay in the game. We can’t win in business, if we drop out along the way.
The Story Exchange: What are some valuable lessons that entrepreneurs in the U.S. could learn from business owners abroad?
I’ll sum this up in one thought. Cherie Blair has founded the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, which runs programs in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East to help women start and grow their own businesses. She told our EY Women in Leadership Summit last June that women’s entrepreneurship is so vital because it lifts whole families and communities out of poverty. I wish the developed world would consider this when it comes to funding and supporting women-owned businesses.
The Story Exchange: Why, in your opinion, is it important to foster female entrepreneurship?
How can we ignore half of the world’s population? It makes no sense — economic, politically and socially. Who could afford to ignore half the world’s talent and contributions when running a business?
The Story Exchange: Beyond gender, why is it important to foster diversity within the worldwide community of business owners?
Building diverse talent teams has become a business priority, and must continue being one, even as progress is made. It’s so important to look beyond our differences and comfort zones and learn to appreciate talent in all its forms. I’ve seen so many successful entrepreneurs put people and diversity at the heart of their strategy — and win because of it.