Niharika Singh was born in Delhi, raised in Calcutta and has lived all over India thanks to her father’s civil service. A diligent student, Niharika pursued her engineering studies at IIT Delhi, then an MBA at IIM Bangalore. She then joined McKinsey & Company in Mumbai, and subsequently held management positions at Treebo Hotels.
In March 2019, Niharika saw an important moment in her life when a friend introduced her to ONE Championship, the largest mixed martial arts (MMA) organization in the world. in sports, media and product technology, which she was not very familiar with. Despite this, the company executive became obsessed with ONE’s vision and was determined to work for the company. Two years later, today, she is the only Indian as an SVP in the MMA organization.
In a conversation for HerStory’s 100 Emerging Women Leaders, Niharika talks about her journey so far.
HerStory (HS): Tell us about your childhood and how did it shape you?
Niharika Singh (NS): I remember being a very diligent student of academics. At IIT Delhi, I actively participated in the university festival Appointment, and I credit the dance for the discipline I instilled. Soon after graduating I realized that engineering was probably not my cup of tea, so I decided to do my MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore.
After that, I moved to Mumbai, where I joined McKinsey & Company, and then took up managerial positions in Treebo Hotels. I feel like I lived in the North, South East and West of India before packing my bags and coming to Singapore to join ONE.
SH: What prompted you to join ONE and what challenges have you encountered in the industry so far?
NOT. : I logged into ONE Championship very randomly through a mutual friend and spoke to the VP. I still remember the first conversation, which was very short. I had never worked in sports or media, and I had never really led a technical team, and the role they wanted me to play as a product manager for the company. Over the next 24 hours, I read all of the public articles on ONE Championship and it really struck a chord.
I also reached out to Chatri, the CEO of One Championship, and could see that he truly believes in the mission and purpose of the company.
In terms of challenges, I wouldn’t say they were sector specific. The challenges I have seen at ONE are more about the fact that there are so many naysayers and non-believers who are dedicated to bringing down a person or a company that is trying to achieve something crazy. In 10 years, ONE has really put Singapore on the world map, and according to Nielsen’s latest Sports Industry Report, in 2020 ONE was in the top 3 global sports properties in terms of broadcast and reach, and also, among the top 5 in terms of Facebook video views.
HS: What is the overall vision for MMA in India, and how are you working to raise awareness and change?
NOT. : Firstly, I am not going to limit my answer to MMA alone because if I speak on behalf of ONE, I am talking about martial arts since ONE is the home of martial arts. We also have other disciplines such as Muay Thai and kickboxing, and we will continue to bring other martial arts disciplines into the fold.
ONE Championship has always intended to bring Asia to the world stage through martial arts because martial art is an Asian heritage. In India, the struggle in the form of Kushti has been around for a very long time.
For us at ONE, India remains a target country. We’re trying to get our content, our storytelling, to as many people as possible, through our partnership with Star and Hotstar, and we will continue to do so. We also have one of the biggest Indian athlete rosters, of all the global martial arts companies in the world.
Ritu Phogat is now an athlete with ONE. I truly believe that one day Ritu could be the first Indian athlete to become a world champion in the MMA space. ONE also strongly believes in teaching Indian women self-defense.
HS: What do you personally see in sports and MMA, and why watch this segment?
NOT. : Sport has always excited me and really motivated me. I haven’t had any formal martial arts training, but the fact that it’s deeply rooted in Asian values like integrity, courage, humility, and resilience means a lot. I have to say that resilience stands out the most for me because I think it is the most invaluable skill that I have learned in life.
HS: How was your filming experience for The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition?
NOT. : It was one of the most surreal and fun experiences I have ever had! What started as a very difficult first day has turned into something beautiful. It was also a very emotional journey for me because their stories made me think for myself.
HS: Why is it important to schedule shows like The Apprentice for today’s youth?
NOT. : The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition is the toughest apprentice in history because not only does it test business acumen and personality, but it is an effort to seek out the person with the fittest mind, the strongest body, and the most unbreakable mind. And I think this combination is something that young people today should aspire to. I still do. In addition, the values that the show cements and the message it sends are highly relevant not only to young people, but to every human being.
HS: Do you think that the values / skills acquired in sport help young people in their professional life?
NOT. : I think that the values / skills acquired in sport help people not only in their professional life but also in their personal life. Graciously accepting and learning from failure, being a team player, persistence and discipline, and learning to use the mind to overcome even physical challenges are all skills that I first learned. in the sport.
HS: Tell us about the challenges you encountered and how did you overcome them?
NOT. : I like to challenge myself and take on roles that make me a little uncomfortable. And that’s why, when I left McKinsey, I took on a sales manager position at a start-up when I had never done a professional sales in my life. From there I decided to pack my bags and move to Singapore to take on a product manager position at ONE without ever having worked in sports or media, or even leading products and technology.
The reason I do this is only because I like to test my own limits. And I think when you take on something that you don’t have direct experience in, it really gives you the opportunity to overcome your fears and discover new things about your abilities, allowing you to enjoy a much steeper learning curve.
HS: Women are a big part of the ONE Championship. How do you find the right fit and the process to make it work?
NOT. : That’s right, we have a lot of very high level female leaders in ONE. But I don’t think it was the result of a conscious effort to encourage women. At ONE, we don’t necessarily encourage a particular segment of people, but instead we encourage people who are dreamers. And it has nothing to do with gender, sexual orientation, race, country, religion, etc.
And when you are looking for such people, you don’t need any process to make it work. You come across these people by accident, and in our case, many of them happen to be women.
HS: How do you see the segment? And what can be done to ensure that more women occupy leadership and leadership positions?
NOT. : I’m glad this topic has finally become mainstream around the world. I think, first of all, women themselves need to stand up, believe in themselves and show off. And second, all who have the opportunity to donate should be aware of both conscious and unconscious biases, and ensure that no deserving woman is denied a chance to play a role because of her gender. And I have to say that today in the circles around me I see so many men who are very prejudiced and actively propagate fairness in hiring practices, including hiring women for jobs. C-Suite and leadership positions.
HS: How can women leaders deal with conscious and unconscious biases?
NOT. : I don’t really see a difference between conscious and unconscious bias because the impact on women is the same. The first one makes me more angry, but the second saddens me.
Women must defend themselves. If you feel a certain way, if you feel discriminated against, it’s always OK to stand up for yourself and speak up. Second, stand up for other women as well. If I hear someone talk about women in a particular way, I investigate and ask them to validate their statements so that they can see (in most cases) that they were too quick to judge.
Third, women leaders need to find their own leadership style. I was called aggressive, bossy and even scary at times, most of the time in a jovial way, but I didn’t care because I was on my own and did whatever it took to do move the business forward. Sure, take your feedback and act on it if it makes you a better version of yourself, but be genuine.
HS: Any advice for young girls?
NOT. : Two things – first, take risks. I wouldn’t have been to ONE Championship or The Apprentice if I hadn’t taken the risks! Risks can lead to the most life changing events in your life.
Second, don’t be ashamed to ask for help. For a very long time, I wanted to do everything on my own, not ask for help – maybe to prove a point. But I was fortunate that there were a lot of people in my life who willingly offered to guide me, and as I went through more experiences like this, I realized how great it is. wonderful to be ready to ask for help. You don’t have to do everything yourself.