FinTech Female Fridays: Gabrielle Haddad, Co Founder & Chief Operating Officer, Sigma Ratings Inc.
You have such an interesting career path. Would you walk us through your
professional background that led you to start Sigma Ratings?
My journey to Sigma is not one that was planned nor one that I could even have
predicted at the start of my career.
I started my career as an M&A lawyer at a large firm in NYC. During my time as a corporate lawyer, I was very mission driven and knew that I eventually wanted to dedicate my career to something impactful. This drive led me to leave the law firm and
NYC to join a development finance institution in Switzerland that finances health projects in emerging markets. I spent several years with the company, which provided me the opportunity to work in over 30 countries across Africa, Asia and the Middle East during that time.
New, on the ground experiences opened my eyes to the root causes of global development problems, such as corruption and lack of access to capital. Over the course of those years, I started to believe that traditional approaches to solving such problems were not enough. I believed that more innovative ideas were needed if we were going to try to tackle problems as complex as poverty and economic development. It was through this realization that I became passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship and technology.
Finally, I made the very tough choice to leave law and returned to the US to explore my
passions more deeply. I ended up going back to school at MIT in 2016 with the goal of
immersing myself in all things tech and innovation. I wanted to build new skills and then
use them to solve the problems I saw in emerging markets. It was at MIT that I met Stuart Jones, Jr.- my co-founder - and Sigma Ratings was born. Ultimately, it was our different but complimentary experiences - mine in corporate governance and international development and his in global counter terrorism and counter illicit finance - that formed the foundation for the company.
What is one piece of advice you wish someone had told you about being a female founder?
Find a support network - of mentors, investors and other founders - and don't be afraid to ask them for help when you need it. As an entrepreneur, new problems get thrown at you every day and you are forced to figure it out. What I've learned is that more often than not, the problem I am tackling is one that someone else has already struggled with and if I ask for help, I can learn from others' successes and failures. Plus, entrepreneurship is a constant roller coaster and knowing that you have support for the hard times will make the ride even more fun.
What is been the biggest challenge in your career so far and how have you overcome it?
Letting go of the idea of what my career is "supposed to" be. If someone had told me a decade ago when I was still at the law firm that I would one day start an artificial intelligence company, I would have never believed them. Moving off of an established career path - especially when you've committed years of time, energy and effort - comes with a lot of self-doubt, a loss of professional identity and a fear of the unknown.
For me, the inner drive that was pushing me towards entrepreneurship was too strong to ignore so I had no choice but to push through. What ultimately helped me to get more comfortable with the challenge was opening myself up to new experiences and new professional communities. By doing that, I was able to see that a whole world of opportunities existed beyond the path I was on. But now, the unknown is less scary and I am able to embrace it as a learning opportunity and an adventure. Given the constant change that comes your way as a founder, this is a very important mindset to have.
Along your journey, who is one of the most influential people in your career? I have been fortunate to have the support of wonderful colleagues, family, friends, mentors throughout my career so it is difficult to choose just one. Reflecting back, I would say that one of the most influential people has been my leadership coach, Zachary. It was through our work that I gained greater confidence in my abilities as a leader. Our work has helped me to better understand how I relate and communicate with others, to trust my intuition so I can make better, faster decisions and to break through any personal limits that might stand in the way of making our vision for Sigma a reality.
Some believe that leaders are born leaders, and while I do believe we all have natural abilities and strengths, I also believe that a willingness to learn and grow combined with the right support can propel anyone to new heights. I highly recommend a personal coach to every entrepreneur.
What does FinTech mean to you?
FinTech commonly refers to companies that provide financial services - such as payment firms or challenger banks. At Sigma, we do not provide direct financial services, rather our products support the global financial services industry by giving firms tools that allow them to transact with confidence. We will continue to see similar companies that support or connect financial services play a big role in the ongoing transformation of the industry and I’m proud to be building one that is helping to shape that future.
Reach out to Gabrielle on LinkedIn.