Vanessa Akhtar


Vanessa Akhtar


As a Principal at Kotter, Dr. Vanessa Akhtar has two main areas of focus. She works on our most complex engagements, walking alongside clients in their transformation efforts. Additionally, she collaborates with Dr. John Kotter and a core team to drive Research + Development of our Intellectual Property. Her ultimate goal is to help individuals and groups develop leadership skills across all levels of organizations, using carefully identified principles based on decades of Dr. Kotter’s research and business experience. With a doctorate in sport psychology and her prior working familiarity in Kotter’s work, she brings a unique perspective to her work at Kotter.

Vanessa is based out of the Cambridge, MA office.

Why did you decide to work at Kotter?

I decided to work at Kotter because I believe in the mission of the company and the work that we do. We believe that so much more is possible – and all of us try to live and breathe that every day in our work. Beyond the work that we do, I also joined Kotter because of the culture here. I love showing up to work every day, and collaborating with people who are committed to our clients’ growth, our business growth, and individual growth.

What is the biggest impact you’ve seen take place at a client?

The stories that stay with me are the ones about individual transformation. The person who says work is finally fun again. The third shift worker who had been completely overlooked and finally has a chance to shine. The hourly employee who gets a chance to stand in front of the CEO to present her ideas. These stories are why I’m so passionate about this work – to help create an environment that allows people to thrive and become better, more engaged leaders.

What in your background helps you in this job?

When people hear that I have my doctorate in Sport Psychology, I’m usually met with, “wow, you really changed directions.” But I don’t see it that way. John’s writing and philosophy closely aligns with the theories I most relied on in my work counseling athletes and coaches. At the core, it’s about the human condition and the environment we seek to create that allows for peak performance. In addition, the work I did in academia and youth development has given me critical knowledge that has shaped the work we’re doing in Higher Education and K-12.

What’s got you thinking right now?

As part of the R+D team, we’ve been exploring the implications of brain/body hard-wiring on how people experience and react to change – and the impact this has on how to effectively lead through transformation.

Share something about you that would most surprise people.

I studied abroad in France and was fluent in French for a while. It’s been so long now, though, I usually get too embarrassed to use it – unless I’ve had a glass of wine first! If I hadn’t met my husband, who was in the military at the time and tied to living in the US, I probably would have moved back to Paris.