Faces of Modern Leadership: Arsha Cazazian-Clement

Kira Ciccarelli
5 min read

The Faces of Modern Leadership series spotlights rising directors who are part of Diligent's Modern Leadership initiative, a network of nearly 700,000 CEOs, board directors and executives. Modern Leadership aims to impact diversity, equity and inclusion at more than 25,000 organizations worldwide, dedicated to building the largest, most diverse pool of highly qualified directors and executives in the world.

Arsha is a seasoned real estate executive with over two decades of experience planning, executing and leading teams for large-scale public and private development projects. She currently serves as Director of Global Real Estate for Shearman & Sterling, LLP and Associate Fellow at the University of Oxford. She is a board member with Global Nomads Group and KMJ Consulting, a council member with Nationswell and a trustee of CBC in New York. Previously, Arsha has served in various managerial roles across commercial real estate, taught as an Associate Professor of Architecture at the New York Institute of Technology, and founded Soho-based D I A W R K S, a full-service solutions firm. Throughout her professional career, Arsha has been involved with sustainable development initiatives and projects in emerging markets, with the United Nations Development Programme and other NGOs.

Backstory: Architecting a Path to Business Expertise

Arsha Cazazian-Clement's journey through the business landscape has been anything but linear and chock full of rich experiences across multiple industries and roles. With a Master of Architecture degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Architecture, Planning & Preservation, and a women's scholarship from the University of Oxford, Saïd Business School with a diploma in Strategy & Innovation, Arsha found herself catapulted into entrepreneurship and corporate spaces.

After an eight-year stint as an Associate Professor of Architecture at the New York Institute of Technology – during which she also founded and ran a full-service solutions firm for growing businesses  Arsha was ready to take her skills and talents to a new arena.

"When I left that world, I scaled up," says Arsha. She quickly gained experience working for public companies, managing 60  130 people, balancing roles that required extensive turnaround strategy, business development and leveraging the skills she studied in school.

Arsha's numerous roles have given her a deep understanding of the importance of interconnectivity in driving business success. 'Innovation itself causes significant change in interactions or behaviors. A lot of companies fall into the trap of dressing up an old model instead of really changing the way they operate. What makes an organization special, what gives it a competitive advantage, is tapping the unrealized potential that comes from collaborating and integrating across different silos within a company's operations. This is true innovation, and this interconnectedness and coordination drives a company to stay relevant, nimble and inspiring to its customers and people.

The Secret Sauce for Success

As a leader, Arsha relies on two key traits to continually see results: empathy and design thinking. "All teams regardless of industry and size can apply design thinking; it helps to build community," she explains.

Ultimately, having extensive experience in most aspects of operating a business is what gives Arsha the ability to lead with intention and purpose and consistently exceed goals. "Being empathetic to workplace strategists, consultants, HR, costs, and time associated with them is valuable. Understanding what's happening on the cutting edge of new technology, having experience with environmental and social justice, operations, real estate, portfolio reduction, general business models  it's all about optimizing what you have based on your people and business," says Arsha.

Thoughts on the Future of Work

With the impact of COVID-19 giving rise to a new 'future of work', organizations are now faced with establishing corporate cultures that meet the demands of stakeholders, shareholders and investors. Particularly, Arsha highlights the need to design equitable frameworks that account for diverse representation and give people a voice in the company's direction.

"Agility and hybrid work models cannot be achieved without establishing policy around choice, giving people the opportunity to have a voice, and answering the demands for a digital community that allows for equity aside from rank or statute. Companies actually have to do this now! Thirty percent of employees won't return to their jobs if they believe their employers aren't meeting their needs."

Arsha notes that technology as a whole is already giving people access to data like they've never had before. "The more technology is embraced and adopted, the more we can use data to inform how we approach solving for work environments," explains Arsha.

Who gets to sit at the decision-making table is also changing, and Arsha emphasizes the critical need for multi-disciplinary skillsets and backgrounds: "There will be in the next five years, a true understanding of who brings value to an organization...If [companies] don't bring in empathetic leaders, design thinkers, leaders who have tripped over enough rocks and learned how to appreciate a multitude of perspectives...the companies will not be able to grow. Evolution is dependent on agility, flexibility and understanding the kind of board members you need are multi-disciplined board members, able to inform their peers and other organizations. You need people with multiple perspectives  the "mortar between the bricks' is usually overlooked."

A Passion for Driving Equity in Real Estate

Knee-deep in the intricacies of the real estate world, Arsha finds herself lending focus to driving more equitable decision-making within the industry. "Things like spreading the wealth in your space from an urbanization standpoint, creating economic social justice in cities and thinking about how landlord decisions make an impact on zip codes," says Arsha.

As she examines systems and trends in construction, design, innovation, trade school pipeline, demographics and ESG, Arsha hopes to spark discussions around the most pressing issues that require change today. "I am deeply passionate about companies being brave. Bravery needs to be unpacked and defined. Change the metrics you use and how you review the performance of your people ' embrace that vulnerability."

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Kira Ciccarelli
Kira Ciccarelli is the Lead Researcher at the Diligent Institute. Diligent Institute is the modern governance think tank and research arm of Diligent Corporation, the leading provider in board collaboration software. In her role, Kira works to conduct and provide high-level modern governance research to inform director decision-making and identify best practices.