Holly Ransom is the CEO of Emergent, a specialized consulting firm focused on building the capacity of organizations to execute change. At just 28 years old, she is one of the world’s most highly regarded thought leaders, asking the tough questions to reveal the emerging trends and challenges affecting businesses and working professionals today.
By Rebecca Heaton
“If you walk past it, you tell the world it’s okay.”
These words were spoken to Holly by her grandmother when she was a young girl, and they stuck with her. Since then, she began to understand the importance of personal responsibility and has become a natural critical thinker. As a business leader, she has been successful because she asks important questions like: how do we do this more sustainably? How do I get more scale with the change I want to see? How do I engage more people?
Holly describes herself as a “personal development junkie” and is always reading the latest literature on business and leadership. She is a popular keynote speaker and has presented across six continents. Her most in-demand topics include: leading change and capitalising on disruption, igniting (and sustaining) workplace innovation, engagement and influence in the age of short attention spans, and how to engage intergenerational workforces, customers and communities. Most recently, she sat down with President Barack Obama to talk about innovation, diversity and leadership. “A riveting experience,” she says.
Holly’s career has been nothing short of spectacular. What started as working in traditional charities and grassroots community organizations led her into microfinance and social enterprise, advocacy and policy making, then ultimately to starting her own business. At Emergent, Holly works every day to challenge leaders’ and organizations’ thinking and evolve their strategy to meet 21st century demands. Her mission is “to be a force multiplier behind individuals and organizations who want to make the world a better place”.
Emergent specializes in disruptive strategy, and Holly is the ultimate disruptor. According to her, “change is inevitable but growth is intentional.” She explains that while the landscape evolves naturally, we can decide which way it grows, and companies have a big role to play because at this point in time, they “can’t afford not to be changing.” And she emphasizes that this type of thinking is not only for business: “Each and every one of us, in order to make the planet a better place, needs to see our lives as [part of ] that journey of disrupting for the greater good.”
Part of Holly’s job is giving businesses a compelling reason to change; to challenge existing patterns of thinking, organizational behavior patterns and latent attitudes. She explains, “We’re twice as sensitive to loss as we are to gain as humans, so often for those resisting change it’s about finding a personal and compelling loss that will materialize (or perhaps is already in the process of materializing) if nothing changes.”
What Holly is most passionate about are the barriers stopping women from becoming successful entrepreneurs around the world, and particularly in developing nations. She has been working at the G20 and UN for a number of years on this issue. “One problem is that this issue is rarely part of the conversation. We hear some focus on women’s economic participation as it pertains to women as employees, but not as employers or self-employed economic agents,” Holly explains. She believes that the barriers women face in getting loans and government procurement is a huge problem globally that must be addressed.
On a positive note, things are moving in the right direction and Holly recognizes this. She is most excited by the momentum behind organizations taking a broader view of social license to operate, inspired by the likes of Larry Fink, Paul Polman and Richard Branson, and responding to growing consumer pressure. “One of the big takeaways from the most recent Edelman trust barometer was the growth of what they’re terming the ‘belief-driven buyer’ i.e. 57% of consumers globally are now buying or boycotting one or more brands because of the brand’s position on a social or political issue,” she says.
“It can be a real point of transformation when you can bring a different set of perspectives and inject fresh ideas into a conversation.”
But what really keeps Holly up at night is emerging technology ethics and governance. “Every business will become a technology business — in the sense that technology will be integral to business operations, product and service offering,” she explains. “Additionally, companies will be strategically thinking through and responding to a whole series of emerging technology risks — malicious AI, complex data and privacy ethics.” Holly makes clear how critical it is to consider how we define the moral and ethical use of AI, machine learning and other emerging technologies, and how we ensure that it is supported in law and policy — at a societal level as well as a corporate level.
Holly has also made clear that she is an advocate for girls, women, and young people of all kinds. She is more excited than ever about the new generation of leaders who embrace disruptive thinking, strive for a collective purpose and are interested in diversity and inclusion. “Professionally, I think it can be a real point of transformation when you can bring a different set of perspectives and inject fresh ideas into a conversation. Personally, I think it can help you to think laterally about the way you apply your skills — you’ll see opportunities where others may not.”
Looking forward, Holly wants to continue spreading insights, having conversations and facilitating global change. “A growing part of our portfolio work is helping organizations around the world to facilitate the right conversations — be that launching cross-industry dialogues or bringing together divergent points of view and I’d love to see this component of our business expand rapidly. I’m keen to cement a strong North American footprint over the next five years. I would also like to see Coffee Pods, a podcast for the game- changers and the change-makers with the goal of democratizing access to learning, insight and inspiration, grow globally.”
Holly’s business plan is intentionally bold. She believes better is not just possible, it’s vital, and that inside all of us, lies the capacity for not only change, but growth too.