Nancy Ramamurthi ’93 has never been drawn to the well-traveled path. Her experiences have spanned an amazing breadth of interests, from military service to consumer packaged goods to the tech industry to entrepreneurship. Her most recent venture, Proper, seeks to provide holistic solutions to sleep issues and improve health outcomes.
To hear Ramamurthi tell it, there is a clear throughline uniting all of these seemingly disparate moments in her professional journey. It’s an organization’s values — being innovative, purpose driven and people focused — that have prompted her to explore each new opportunity.
“My career has always been about change and challenge. I’ve not only been guided by my assessment of the business but my assessment of the culture. And that’s led me to some wonderful opportunities,” said Ramamurthi.
Here is Ramamurthi in her own words, with the stories behind some of her biggest career milestones.
Working in service of others was almost a family business. Most of my family were either educators or in the civil service. I joined the military not only because it was financially best for my family, but more importantly, it was an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than myself, in service to our country.
It was during my time as an officer that I was first exposed to the power of authentic leadership, where cooperation was encouraged over competition and developing trust in your people — and their trust in you — was paramount to success. Additionally, I found that change and innovation in a large organization like the military was not only possible but encouraged and rewarded. It just took a bit of vision, initiative, and work. An example: we had a German partner unit with whom we were officially paired with for wartime missions, yet we had never trained with them. This seemed an obvious area to address, so we reached out and began to conduct that training.
These experiences not only developed my confidence and ability to drive positive change in new arenas but showed me how the statement “but we’ve never done that” should not be a barrier to progress. This informed who I am as a leader for the rest of my career.
I was fortunate enough to be at Yahoo! during an incredible time, after my military service and about five years after graduating from Kellogg. I was on a five-person team, and the brand and company were in hypergrowth stage. At the time, it was one of the hottest, most respected companies in the world. There was so much variety and newness, and the entire company was running really fast, making smart decisions and executing brilliantly. I credit this to the quality of the talent across the organization and a clear and shared authentic purpose.
Being at Yahoo! during that time was perfect for me because I stretched my learning and could make connections about growth opportunities across diverse areas, from enterprise, to ecommerce, mobile and brand. I gained confidence in successfully launching businesses and new tech products and services in areas that were still new to consumers and businesses, navigating that untrodden landscape as a pioneer. There was no playbook, no well-trodden path to follow, and that early “market making” experience is something I thrive on to this day.
When I think about the experiences that were most special to me, it was usually because of the people and the culture, and the fundamental purpose of the organization. ModCloth, an inclusive women’s fashion company that I joined in 2014, was one of those extraordinary organizations. Being there was a true joy, as I believed in the mission and purpose of the brand, which strove to celebrate and support all women. This brand was a real pioneer in building a true community of women who believed in and bought from us.
What was especially distinctive about ModCloth was that while it was mostly a company of women, the employee population was incredibly diverse. I embraced that diversity in our efforts, and it led to better outcomes and even more authentic innovation supporting our purpose.
I joined Walmart after spending nearly two years at ModCloth, and my experience at Walmart definitely contradicted some misperceptions of the company. From the start, I was immersed in a purpose-driven culture filled with truly committed people and genuine leadership. It also happened to be one of the fastest-moving organizations I’ve ever worked at — which surprised me because of the size and scale at which Walmart operates. They had a true bias for action. I’ll never forget attending a large officers’ meeting where an issue emerged early in the discussion. It was succinctly described, and by the time we wrapped up it had been solved behind the scenes with the decision and answer quickly mentioned at the meeting’s close. It was a true lesson in remarkable agility and efficiency.
Though I was well equipped to enter a company like Walmart, I was able to refine how to be a change agent and work across teams where there might be cultural differences. Watching CEO Doug McMillon in action was a privilege as he positioned the company to better compete against Amazon.
Before I founded Proper, I was in a period of reflection, thinking about work-life balance and the issues that were meaningful to me. That’s when I began to think about solving my long-standing issues with sleep and helping to address it by looking at root cause issues — an approach that didn’t exist in the market. I was fortuitously connected with an innovative consumer health care incubator, Redesign Health, and in partnering with them we were able to quickly bring this to life.
While I had co-founded a startup before, this was my first CEO and co-founder role. We went from Google slides to in-market within six months, during the start of a global pandemic. In the last two years I’ve been focused on shaping and creating a purpose-driven organization dedicated to helping people get healthier through better sleep. Though leading this startup has required significant personal sacrifice, the opportunity to build a business and be a part of something that can do so much good has ultimately been the right path for me.