Nan Isenberg

VP, Talent Acquisition, Citi

1. Do you remember a time when you were happiest as a child? Where were you, who were you with and what were you doing?

I was with my younger sister, it was summer. We were outside laying on our backs and looking up at the sky and watching the clouds pass us by. We were trying to decide what each cloud looked like. We had just finished making daisy chain crowns out of flowers that grew in our yard. It was such an innocent, uncomplicated and carefree moment in time.

2. Who was your favourite teacher at school? What did you learn from that person?

I had two favorite teachers. The first was Mrs. Hull, who was my 4th grade teacher. She made learning fun by incorporating games, imagination, and field trips. Annually she invited her class to her home to watch The Wizard of Oz and Sound of Music. She and her husband could not have children, these outings in which she spoiled us with the snacks that our parents would not allow to have, were highlights for her and her husband.

My 8th grade literature teacher, Ms. Richardson, was another one. I always loved reading, but she introduced her students to books, themes, and authors that we might not otherwise have been exposed to. Reading these books, I got to travel or immerse myself in other worlds, time, or places. I continue to seek out books that expand my exposure to different voices. We were assigned to write and produce a book, on any theme. This exercise allowed us to develop our own voice, our storytelling skills and our creativity through the illustrations, the look and feel of the book. Storytelling and presentation skills continue to be important skills that are very important in my professional work to this day.

3. What are the three books that you would unhesitatingly recommend to others? Why?

Dr Zhivago, Les Misérables and The Submission

Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak – classic book, well written and an interesting period of time in history.

Les Misérables by Victor Hugo – classic book, very philosophical, speaks to one’s ethics and values, and if man’s fate is predetermined or not.

The Submission by Amy Waldman – a fictional book about the awarding of the 9/11 memorial commission. The book challenged one’s bias, and speaks to the continuing discussion of diversity and immigration.

4. Name a well-known person you admire and explain why you hold them high esteem?

Eleanor Roosevelt. She recognized from an early age she was different, and decided to carve out a path for herself which would lead to her own self-fulfillment. She was not concerned about what others thought and took positions and roles at the time that were not popular or thought of as a women’s role. I admire her for creating role models for future women.

5. What’s one misconception people generally have about you?

Most people say I am aloof when they first meet me. I am not, but I am naturally an introvert, I am quiet and stay back to access the situation before engaging. Once I feel comfortable in the situation and with those involved, I am very engaging, not aloof.

6. What is a Ted Talk that changed your life?

Brene Brown’s talk on vulnerability. It speaks to being one’s authentic self.

7. What is that thing which is OK to ask you about, but which other people are wary to do so?

There are two topics, one why I have chosen to keep Kosher and the other about being single.

8) When was the last time you felt like an outsider in a group? What/How did you learn?

I felt like an outsider when I moved to the Netherlands to work. I did not speak nor understand the language. I attended business meetings and social events where the conversation was conducted in Dutch. I felt like a Martian. Initially it was very lonely. While I never mastered speaking the language, I did eventually gain a solid comprehension of the language, so I could follow and engage in business meetings, casual conversations, and eventually had the ability to attend Dutch native language films. Through reading comic books, reading magazines, forcing myself to listen to Dutch local news and radio stations I started to follow and pick up phrases and words. I kept up to date on news, sports, politics, the news and celebrities which I could weave into the conversation and did not remain the outsider for long.

9) What app or tech product have you most recently fallen in love with?

ChatGPT- game changer for revising and crafting letters

10) What’s the last image on your camera roll? Care to explain?

Snapshot of either jobs or LinkedIn posts that I need to follow-up with – I took a screenshot so I would not forget.

11) What is your most prized possession? What’s the story behind it?

A ring that was given to me when I was five years old by my maternal grandparents and an art deco bracelet that was my maternal grandmother. I was very close to my maternal grandparents, while I had other pieces of jewelry that I received from them, unfortunately several pieces were taken when I was mugged in NYC. These are the remaining items, so I cherish them and think of them when I wear them.

12. What would be the perfect gift that someone could buy you right now?

The perfect gift is time- I do not need anything, so spending time with my friends, whether it is taking a walk, having a coffee, enjoying a dinner out and/or going to a concert, play or art exhibit is the gift because I am with that person and sharing the moment.

13. Aside from family & friends, if you could invite any 3 people - living or dead - to your final dinner party before the end of the world, who would they be and why?

Coco Chanel (her creativity and sense of style), Picasso (to discuss his art and inspirations) and Merly Streep (her longevity in her craft, how she has stayed true to herself and how she has maintained work/family balance).

14. If you could witness one moment in history which one would it be and why?

The ‘I Have a Dream” speech- the beauty of the words, the power of the moment and inspiration, and the activism that resulted in the moment that led to social change, which is still a work in progress.

15. Can you give an example of a time when you had to learn the lesson the hard way?

I was in graduate school and anticipating my mid-year evaluation. My previous evaluations from my advisors were excellent, but this one was not so. This advisor and I clashed; he felt challenged by me and was projecting his own frustration and career disappointments onto me since I was the person at the time who was making him look at himself and his professional career. I learned that one can learn as much or more from a negative experience, always establish each party’s working style and establish ground rules and practice radical candor.

16. What's a skill that isn’t on your resume, but your former bosses would recognize as one of the reasons you are successful?

My compassion and empathy.

17. What’s the one bad quality you wouldn’t mind in a colleague? Why?

Being a bit scatter brain- usually comes when someone is creative. Their mind can’t keep up with them- but it generally creates interesting new challenges and possibilities.

18. What role do you find yourself playing when you join a newly formed team? Can you explain why this happens?

The Whisper or silent influencer. I tend to stand back, listen, and access the situation prior to sharing my thoughts and opinions. Others seek me out, ask my thoughts and opinions outside of the meeting, ask me how I do things or solicit input on how I would approach a situation or ask who I know who can assist them in accomplishing a task.

19. If you could add a question for the next person to answer, what would it be?

If you chose a different career path/profession what would it be and why?

20. Who would you recommend to do the next 20 Questions With … ?

Satya Nadella

Thank you to Nan Isenberg for taking 20 Questions for The Brainfood Tribune. Make sure to follow Isenberg on LinkedIn.

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