“From Expat to Culture Champion: Insights from Nihad. E. K. McBride's Journey in Organizational Strategy and Business Transformation” - with Marco Derhy
As part of our Series "Inspiring Success Stories," we enjoyed interviewing Nihad E.K. McBride. Nihad is an award-winning entrepreneur with a storied career and a track record of building businesses, delivering turnarounds, and helping organizations anticipate, innovate, and pivot in an ever-changing environment. She's been a trusted advisor to leading organizations in more than 20 countries on five continents. She's actively supported not-for-profit organizations since 1999 and has mentored young leaders for over 15 years.
Nihad is the Founder and CEO of Acquence Solutions, a Strategy Consulting firm, and the co-founder of Kako Earth, a non-profit headquartered in the State of Arizona, with a sister company in the Siekopai Territory in Ecuador.
Marco: Thank you for joining us today, Nihad! Please briefly outline for our readers your life's backstory.
Nihad: After an exciting expat career between 1999 and 2003 in corporate finance with Fortune 500 companies, I had the opportunity to build a joint venture in London, UK, and that’s when I realized building businesses was what I wanted to do. This undertaking involved building trust with government agencies in Europe, North Africa and West Africa over three years with ongoing cultural alignment activities. It was also about finding ways to mitigate the bureaucracy that stemmed from known barriers to entry.
By January 2007, I had immigrated to Canada through the skilled worker program. I quickly secured a job with an investment firm taking care of their valuation requirements, and six months later, I joined the leadership team and the board of a publicly traded multinational company headquartered in Houston with subsidiaries in Vancouver, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
I also accepted a new challenge for a leading company in financial services (5000 employees and $1.04 US billion in sales). I helped execute a turnaround for one of their subsidiaries to launch a new revenue stream, which led to layoffs that set me on a different journey: build strong organizations that can withstand change.
In 2010 I co-founded Acquence Solutions Inc. Our focus was on North America from the get-go, with a comprehensive business transformation service offering, which led to great opportunities in Canada and the United States with leading firms, including Grant Thornton LLP, where I led the business transformation practice as part of advisory services in Vancouver. I enjoyed collaborating with great professionals across Canada and the US.
The exposure to many different clients, industries, and organizations equipped me with valuable knowledge and the confidence to shift to my current niche — organizational strategy and behavioral design.
You have a multicultural background and have been an expat for Fortune 500 companies. What brought you to this career path?
Nihad: As early as six years old, I lived with my parents and two siblings in expat compounds. That made for a unique childhood in a multicultural setting. My dad, an executive, is my role model. I inherited my dad's passion for travel. Naturally, as soon as I completed university, I became an expat. I enjoyed every minute of it. Aside from that, I am a Mediterranean originally from Algiers, Algeria, and a Canadian — a citizen of the world with a unique life story.
My background is why I landed in my current niche: organizational strategy and culture alignment, as my clients tell me I have natural abilities in this area.
What led to the creation of your boutique consulting firm, Acquence Solutions? And what is the company about?
Nihad: During my days in Corporate Finance and international business development, I witnessed fraud too often. I always thought there was too much emphasis on profit, often at the expense of human capital and governance. Also, after successfully navigating the 2008 economic downturn, I experienced severe health issues and knew it was time to look inward. After a couple of months of introspection and healing, the path forward was clear: equip organizations with the knowledge and the tools to withstand economic downturns. That's when I shifted my focus on people, culture, and governance.
Because I love what I do, I find challenge stimulating and travel nourishing, so I overdid it. Despite a healthy diet following Ayurvedic teachings and a healthy exercise routine, I dealt with several burnouts. This led me to dive deeply into energy management, nutrition, and behavioral science. I was also looking for a way to maximize value for my clients around organizational change, so I pioneered an organizational alignment approach leveraging a tool developed by the US Air Force in the 1940s and continuously improved by a dedicated team of PhDs.
Today, we have a global reach, and we've been a trusted advisor to Fortune 500 and Inc. 5000 companies. These have included leading organizations across the private, public, and social sectors in more than 20 countries on five continents.
Over the years, you've held several business positions in corporate finance, built a joint venture, and led a business transformation practice for a multinational consulting firm. What has been your biggest challenge in this industry? Do you have a story to share with our global readers?
Nihad: My biggest challenge was working after my expat days in environments with rigid structures, a lack of appetite for innovation, a conservative approach to risk, and often archaic compensation models. It was a challenge because I couldn't contribute meaningfully and found the high turnover draining. I embraced the challenge, and I am glad I did; with the help of a few allies, we pushed and set boundaries further, and it was, in the end, a journey of self-discovery.
Yes, I have many stories from my expat days. Still, a couple of them stand out, where a case of fraud and collusion was resolved only when houses built with stolen cement fell after the first seasonal rain, as the cement was more of a binding material than construction cement.
Also, I remember when a senior leader offered cups of coffee to us, a team of finance experts working up to 4 a.m. over five days every month to complete month-end activities in collaboration with fifty other countries. And that has changed how I interact with my team: humility and people first.
You have such a fantastic profile anyone would be proud of. How did it feel to win the "Top 100 North America Awards" in 2021 and 2023?
Nihad: Thank you. Early on, I planned to see the world before my 40s and further my education. My other interests included volunteering and my love for art and nature. I had the opportunity to join British Petroleum as soon as I completed my degree in business. I was then an expat with a great mentor, which completely changed my trajectory. Being an expat for a few years allowed me to see the world, further my education, and learn from the best. It was always about learning and contributing.
Honestly, I was astonished by the Top 100 award. My mother is a teacher, and humility was, and still is, part of the course. My first reaction was to ask them about their selection criteria instead of celebrating! Then I celebrated. The top 100 awards had less to do with technical skills and more with impact, and it felt great.
Moving on to your recent collaboration with OYA. How exciting is this experience for you?
Nihad: It is exciting indeed. I have been on a path of self-discovery and healing since 2010. Anything related to energy, epigenetics, ancestral cultures, and well-being piques my interest. I am also a nature lover; OYA is about all this and more. It's a beautiful vision that blends innovation, technology, and ancestral wisdom to enable better health and positive transformation.
OYA's sustainable luxury resorts with innovative and comprehensive wellness offerings are perfect for my clients. I have been delivering leadership development offsites and retreats across the US and Latin America for a few years. This unique opportunity is to connect, brainstorm, recharge, and embrace nature in a nurturing environment while contributing to local economies.
OYA's offering is not limited to North America and spans three continents and the Caribbean. The founders created a community of innovators, advisors, health experts, and philanthropists with a shared vision.
You are welcome to share with our readers how you met Mayan and Michala Metzler, and in what capacity will you be working with OYA?
Nihad: I had just co-founded Kako Earth in January 2023. You saw similarities in what we strived to achieve in collaborating with ancestral cultures to protect the environment and create sustainable economies for the Siekopai Nation in Ecuador. So, you introduced me to Mayan and Michala Metzler, OYA's founders. Shortly after, we sealed our partnership, focusing on a unique offering for the corporate world through customized educational and wellness retreats. My role is to lead and develop these services for OYA.
How do you intend to leverage your experience in organizational design and behavioral science to help OYA and its members?
Nihad: Mayan and Michala Metzler have built unique, family-like, and highly collaborative teams. But as one grows, there is always a need to keep an eye on culture and live the values. OYA members will have access to my customized workshops, where I leverage my experience designing and leading teams and building successful businesses through a focus on people and culture.
What more can you share with us about OYA today?
Nihad: Like OYA founders, I believe in the power of holistic well-being, combining the ancient wisdom of the past with modern technology and innovation of the present to create a harmonious balance in life.
Also, delivering corporate retreats and leadership development alignment offsites in sustainable luxury resorts is a promise of positive transformation for our clients. It is exciting to rally more people to the vision as we grow and touch people's lives meaningfully, specifically the local communities and their beautiful cultures.
This was fantastic, Nihad, and just before we wrap up this excellent interview session, is there anything else you would like to share with our global readers today?
Nihad: I am all about meaningful impact at this stage of my life and career. Together with other senior executives, executive coaches, and keynote speakers, we find it humbling to raise environmental awareness while helping leaders and teams expand their knowledge while caring for their health and reconnecting with nature.