Nextdoor Founder and Shondaland COO Share Life Tips at Leadership Dallas Alumni Luncheon

By Dave Moore, Staff Writer

The key to success is taking advantage of life’s lucky breaks.

Do what makes your heart sing.

The trajectory of success isn’t a straight line.

Those are a few takeaways from the keynote speakers who addressed the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Leadership Dallas Alumni Annual Luncheon and Class of 2022 Graduation on Thursday, May 19, at the Hilton Anatole, which was sponsored by Grant Thornton, Amazon, and Hillwood: a Perot Company.

Nearly 200 Leadership Dallas Alumni attended a fireside chat between Dallas power couple Nirav and Megha Tolia and D Magazine publisher Noelle LeVeaux, who also serves as co-chair of the LD Alumni Membership Committee.

Nirav Tolia is the co-founder and former CEO of Nextdoor. Megha Tolia is the first president and COO of Shondaland, Shonda Rimes’ production company, which has produced top-rated shows such as “Bridgerton,” “Inventing Anna,” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” The couple said luck is an essential part of success, but it’s important to also grab the opportunities good fortune presents.

The couple, who moved to Dallas last year to be closer to family, described how they left their busy corporate life and Bay Area home to live in a two-bedroom apartment in Italy. Megha, who earned her undergrad degree at the University of California at Berkeley, compared the decision to climbing a jungle gym.

“Sometimes you have to go forward,” said Megha Tolia. “Sometimes you have to go to the side. Sometimes, you have to go backward to catapult yourself to the next ring. Once I embraced that truly, I found many doors opened up for me.”

Nirav Tolia, a Texas native from Odessa, was raised by his two physician parents, who wanted him to follow their footsteps into medicine. At the LDA event, he described his difficulty in following his parents’ dream instead of his own.

“When I got to Stanford, and I was a pre-med student, I began to realize that it was much harder for me to go down that path,” he said. “I asked myself, ‘Why am I not getting straight A’s in these pre-med classes? Why am I not really happy to get up in the morning and do these things?’”

Nirav found he was happiest on an alternate path — the life of a tech entrepreneur. While it was a difficult one to make, Nirav said making a decision is often better than not making a decision at all.

“You know you’re doing something (you love) when it feels like your heart’s singing,” Nirav said.

Following the fireside chat, Health Wildcatters CEO and co-founder Hubert Zajicek (Leadership Dallas Class of 2009) received the annual Leadership Dallas Distinguished Alumni Award, presented by Chris Angarola, Senior Vice President at U.S. Bank and LDA Council Membership Committee Co-Chair, for his outstanding work to advance entrepreneurship and health care technology in the Dallas Region.

“I’m an immigrant from Austria, moving here 20 years ago with the promise of a job in the idea of a career path that turned out quite differently than what I had thought possible,” Zajicek said. “Much like the jungle gym analogy, I didn’t know my personal mission to relieve human suffering would be tweaked to include harnessing innovation. I didn’t know then I’d be so involved in launching health care startups and helping them bring lifesaving technologies to the market.”

Speakers also honored Leadership Dallas’ 52-member Class of 2022. Two members from the LD ’22 class, Sandra Carrasco, Senior District Director at Target, and Trey Worley, Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Equity Fund Services at Comerica Bank, spoke briefly on the impact of Leadership Dallas. Suzanne Smith, Leadership Dallas Class of 2012 and CEO and Founder of Social Impact Architects, discussed how Leadership Dallas changed every alumnus in the room.

The Class of 2022 was officially designated as alumni by Hattie Peterson, Leadership Dallas Class of 2013, Chair of the Leadership Dallas Alumni Council, and Director of Marketing at Celanese. The Leadership Dallas Class of 2022 celebrated its graduation by showcasing its year-long community service project with Jubilee Park and Community Center. Jubilee CEO Marissa Castro-Mikoy and COO Mark Mullaney were in attendance. Leadership Dallas also hosted a service day and ribbon-cutting at Jubilee Park’s revitalized food pantry two days after the luncheon.

The luncheon concluded with final remarks from Peterson, wrapping up an engaging annual event.