Neal Sharma is co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of DEG. Under his leadership, DEG has established itself as one of the nation’s fastest growing and most insightful digital consultancies, was recently named one if Inc. Magazine’s “25 Companies That Are Changing the World,” and has become a trusted partner to flagship national and global brands.
As DEG’s strategic leader, Neal is focused on enabling businesses and organizations to identify smart, objective-led approaches and leverage the power of technology to actualize them. He has been recognized as one of Kansas City’s most accomplished business leaders under the age of 40, by Ingram’s Magazine as one of its “50 Kansans You Should Know,” and by The Kansas City Star as one of the 50 most influential people in technology.
Neal proudly serves on several public boards and steering committees for organizations focused on education, healthcare, and civic issues, among them the Advancement Board of the University of Kansas academic medical center, and the Boards of the Overland Park Chamber of Commerce and the Alliance for Childhood Education. In addition, he is a Fellow of the Helzberg Entrepreneurial Mentoring Program.
Prior to co-founding DEG, Neal worked in commercial real estate and served in several capacities for former U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Robert Dole, including as one of the youngest salaried members of Senator Dole’s presidential campaign staff.
He received his MBA from the University of Kansas in 2001 after graduating cum laude from American University in 1998 with an inter-disciplinary degree in Communication, Legal Institutions, Economics, and Government.
Away from the office, Neal enjoys spending time and traveling with his wife and two daughters.
What is it about KC that inspires creativity in you?
There is a unique energy about Kansas City, especially over the last five years or so. It is almost as if people in our town know we have much greater potential and are yearning to find any limits our potential may have. So you see people and businesses always trying to improve and innovate, and looking to kick off a virtuous cycle of growth. When people are working towards something bigger than themselves (instead of just working), this energy works its way into everything – they feed off each other, they inspire each other, they help each other through any tough times. And in Kansas City, we create this energy with a genuine, friendly smile on our face.
What is your favorite spot in Kansas City?
I’m fascinated by both politics and history, so I’m always drawn to the places around town where you can feel our rich local past shining through. The River Market and the older neighborhoods are great examples, as are the art deco buildings downtown. But where I always bring out-of-town guests and one of my favorite places is our “speakeasy,” Manifesto. I feel really close to the days when, for both good and bad reasons, Kansas City was truly a part of the national scene. It’s a great place for a conversation and, of course, they pour a really good drink there, too.
Where's your favorite place outside of Kansas City?
Travel is something I value highly, so this is a really hard question. I spent a good slice of my post-high school and college years backpacking around Europe, so there are a lot of little out-of-the-way places that I have fond memories of. I went to college at American University in Washington, D.C., so there is hardly a corner of that city that doesn’t recall a great story, too. And nowadays, I try to get out to Estes Park in Colorado as much as I can with my family.
What's your most treasured possession?
I try very hard not to be a guy who is hung up on possessions. Experiences are much more important to me, which is why I value travel so much. So if I have to pick something, I’d say it’s my panuela from when I ran with the bulls in Pamplona. It’s just a little red scarf, but it’s an incredibly vivid reminder the importance and payoff of taking risks, and how alive one feels when they do.
Who's your favorite fictional hero?
I’m a big fan of both literature and pop culture, and there are so many characters that have been created over hundreds of years that could qualify for my favorite. I’m going to have to go with Superman. His is the ultimate “small-town-boy-makes-good” story, and given that I am from Syracuse, Kansas, that strongly appeals to me. Plus, not even being from Earth, he’s the embodiment of the best humanity has to offer and what we all strive to be. Who wouldn’t want to be Superman?
Who do you most admire in real-life?
I have a number of mentors who have guided me as we’ve created a business. Each is a remarkable individual who has accomplished much while maintaining a wonderful perspective on what is truly meaningful. And I learn from and admire things about people I am with every day – from my business partners to our associates to my wife. If I had to choose just one, I immediately think of my father who was a scholar and a searcher. He died a few years ago, with each passing year I realize how much the lessons he taught me guide me still. I miss him very much.
When and where are you happiest?
My days are incredibly hectic. I’m seemingly going 100 miles an hour from the time the alarm goes off in the morning until I can’t keep my eyes open any longer. I’m happiest during those times when I can just stop for a few minutes to be with my daughters doing all of the little things a dad does. Nothing grandiose, just being present with my wife to enjoy the beauty we have brought into this world.