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Women on Top in Tech – Lisa Kuhn Phillips, VP at Allied Payment Network & Founder at inaVision, LLC

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(Women on Top in Tech is a series about Women Founders, CEOs, and Leaders in technology. It aims to amplify and bring to the fore diversity in leadership in technology.)

Here is my interview with Lisa Kuhn Phillips, fintech professional and seasoned financial services leader. A ‘Why Not’er + Silo Buster + Pattern Finder ( in math, data, people, behaviors) + 21st c company Culture Transformer. Her career also includes 25+ years in fiscal, strategic and organizational change responsibility. She is Vice President at Allied Payment Network and Founder at inaVision, LLC.

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What makes you do what you do?

Insatiable need to learn and lead progress – through a vision, a better solution and communication with people who believe the same. Math came easy for me, empathy probably too much so, yet it is a powerful combination in the business world today. I’ve always felt much of the financial industry didn’t serve those who need it most. So I was typically the one in meetings questioning status quo, and speaking for the “end user”.  Math, data, patterns and human behaviors – all tell a story to me. I can see behaviors from the data. My adrenaline rush was and is influencing behavior and business change and watching it play out (which is never quick enough in our industry).

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

My industry is Financial Services – whether it is in financial institutions or a financial tech startup. I started in the late 80’s when the culture du jour was fairly hierarchal, yet I had the opportunity to be mentored (and more importantly, sponsored) by the CEO of our financial institution. He was the first leader and businessman I met who believed in progressive work, and supporting women in real leadership roles.

I started in accounting, learned the ins and out of service/tactical support work, then on to front end work, leading a lending/management team that was as diverse as they come. I innately knew how to listen, learn and guide others. From there, I was moved to different roles or responsibilities – training, compliance, development, human resources, special projects (community/government charter work), operations (everything under the sun), information technology, finance, marketing, e-services and others… giving me a well-rounded knowledge of operating a business and influencing others.

The strategic intent was to build a team-driven, tech-enabled company culture and agile operation in constant learning mode. This evolution didn’t happen in the last 5 years. It started methodically in the late 90’s, then ramped up in 2004 -2009 as we eliminated a legacy system, focused on information technology as a strategic partner, and utilized ERM as the means of prioritizing work needs and talent allocation. My role was to eliminate unnecessary work (silos) and take a full hands on approach, learning what worked, what didn’t, and as equally important, who did and who didn’t.

I was instrumental in creating a working 21st century business model (I still have the sketched out version from early 2009), complete with plan, actionable items, timelines and key performance measures that were so different it took a year to embed it throughout our company. It was a labor of love, complete with 60-70 hour workweeks and LBWA (leading and listening by walking around).

So when people say smarter, not harder work, I say…no, the smarter work comes through the harder work of getting commitment and buy-in to an idea before it’s time. It also comes from having to make the difficult decisions and having the courage to carry through on them.

Why did you take on this role/start this startup especially since this is perhaps a stretch or challenge for you (or viewed as one since you are not the usual leadership demographics)?

I did not really want to stay “corporate” and move/relocate for an opportunity in my comfort zone. I’d been there, done that – and to recreate in a new place sounded like Groundhog Day to me. Do I try to create again, while disrupting my children and moving them away from their friends and stability? I tried another corporate role – the ingrained culture was definitely not a good fit for my taste.

So I made the conscious decision to stay local for my children and find the right opportunity that made me ‘restart’ and challenge myself. I found it – the first start up allowed me to understand a very stable and growing industry (of all things, death care/airline logistics) and eventually landed into a financial technology startup. Both great learning, unlearning and elearning experiences. Remote work, new skills, involved nationally and internationally, opened my eyes to how interconnected the world truly is.

My take: The US financial services industry is slowly changing, yet not with the sense of urgency needed. Financial Technology gives me that sense of urgency and relevancy. Continual change. Sprints instead of 5 year plan marathons. Smaller teams, with forward vision.

So a few years into my role, some new lessons learned. #1: wisdom is critical, sometimes more important than knowledge alone. It gives you is a sense of calm, instead of worry and restlessness. Lesson #2 in our globally connected world: Networking with others is just as valuable as working on the business.  Lesson #3 is most personal to me:  Change of any kind means your living, not existing.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries or did you look for one or how did that work?

Financial Services – not really that many. In my earlier years, James G Mills. He was a visionary CEO who assembled a group of people, very eager to prove their talents, and build a progressive financial cooperative. He taught me how to grow a thicker skin, accept challenges, and view everything from a strategic, long-term perspective. He knew what was most important back before we used buzzwords or acronyms to describe it – the Customer Experience – always purpose first, then reasonable profit. Other than Jim, no one else mentored me in person – the rest came through reading publications, books, and learning on the job what worked and what didn’t.

Through my own study, I’ve had ‘role models’ rather than mentors. Warren Buffett’s annual reports. I trusted his view, humility and overview on business in the 20th c.  I followed Altimeter Group early on and like the work of Charlene Li and Brian Solis. Their Social Business Transformation was a great resource. Authors such as John Maxwell, Jim Collins (Good to Great – so fundamental), portions of Clay Christensen. More companies as business models, rather than their leaders.

Then in 2010-11 I started my immersion in mobile/digital Gen C world and lived/worked basically by iPhone, rather than desktop. Connected in the fintech space and found this great, remarkable wealth of individuals, who were (and some still are) my mentors that I observe and learn from daily (many without their knowledge).

Brad Leimer. Chris Skinner. Brett King & Bank 2.0. Sallie Krawcheck, Kelli Schultz, Ghela Boskovich, Duena Blomstrom…From a market/marketing perspective – Bryan Clagett, Jim Marous, and Alex Jimenez. From a company leadership perspective (from afar) Tom Shen. and countless others I admire.

How did you make a match if you and how did you end up being mentored by him?

With James Mills, I was brought in full time after I graduated from college and I knew he would teach me – he mentored me and committed as a sponsor for me. With the others, I’ve asked a few. Other times, I’d just study their work, their communication style and decisions. Understand their perspective, and how it may coincide or differ from mine.

I recommend you reach out to someone you admire, let them know what you need to learn and see if they will assist. The worst they can say is “no, thank you”. Ok, onto the next one. I was on the board for “Mentoring Women’s Network” for awhile. I believe we focus too much on mentoring. Real commitment is in “sponsoring” someone.

Now as a leader how do you spot, develop, keep, grow and support your talent?

Fairly easy to spot – Talented, curious people who ask questions, put team before self, intentionally communicate and think in terms of responsibility, not rules or obligations. I look for those people. It’s incredibly easy to keep the invested ones and grow when we understand the vision and want to influence it and stay engaged. Culture matters –Talented, curious people must have rewarding work, meaningful recognition and a supportive tribe. You have to create and fuel a work environment that we’re all in it together. We learn from successes and fails, and never stop improving. That smarter, harder work combination applies here, too.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

CONSCIOUS Inclusion. I’m probably more vocal than most are accustomed to in the US. I’ll champion it until the day I stop breathing.

It is the only way we will grow – as a company, as a team, as a country, as a world. Statistics prove that diverse companies have better results. It’s a no-brainer. So it is maddening to me that diversity is not embraced. My concern is my daughter won’t experience gender equality and diversity in her lifetime.

What is your take on what it takes to be a great leader in your industry and as a general rule of thumb?

In financial services, leaders who have a good perspective on those who have less financial wherewithal than most. They know what It feels like to be hungry (they don’t get fat at the helm), remain humble (they have their ego in check) and be viewed with indifference at times or the forever underdog (they challenge the status quo).

Leaders who have passion and compassion; discipline and daring; with drive and self-regulation – they can operate in a world disrupted and adapt on the fly.

Advice for others?

My advice to other women as they establish their careers and walk their path… Courage is a trait we ladies all have. Culture may teach you something different. Be strong, resilient, competent and confident. It becomes you.

And by all means, you are not a “girl” who codes, a girl Friday or a girl living in a man’s world.

You’re a lady. Rise up.


To learn more about Allied Payment Network, please see http://alliedpayment.com/.

I am a huge fan and cheerleader of Women Leaders — If you know of an AMAZING Woman Founder, CEO, Leader in Tech or you are one yourself — Write me here.
AMPLIFY Conscious Business Leadership with me.

Entrepreneurship

Is There A Coworking Space Bubble?

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An annual growth rate of nearly 100%, almost five years in a row? More than 60 coworking spaces in a city like Berlin? Are these the characteristics of a bubble? Nope, these are characteristics of a lasting change in our world of work, which has been further catalyzed by the recent economic crises in many countries. But what makes this change different to a bubble? We’ve summarized some arguments of why the coworking movement is based on a sustainable change. However, that doesn’t mean it’s an easy job to open a good working coworking space.

Five reasons why the growth of coworking spaces is based on organic and sustainable growth: 

1. Coworking spaces invest their own money and create real wealth

Already, there is a convincing argument supporting why coworking spaces are not developing in a bubble: the fact that they create real wealth.

Whether referring to the dotcom bubble a decade ago or the real estate crisis in Spain or the United States, the crisis originated in a glut of cheap money, in an environment in which the sender and the recipient were unacquainted. From funds and banks, money flowed in steady streams to investments which offered little resistance and the most promising returns – which only a little while later turned into delusions and ruined investments.

Redistributed risks create illusions. Those people who distributed the money rarely wore the risk of investment decisions. The risk was mainly taken by small shareholders or people who bought parts of those investments. This was because either both parties’ (better) judgement was drowned out by the noise of the market, or because shareholders were unaware of the risk, and were at the mercy of banks and funds for reliable information.

Another fundamental condition for the creation of bubbles are the sheer amounts of money that flow from various locations globally and are concentrated, by comparison, in much fewer places.

Most coworking spaces, however, receive their funding from local or nearby sources and do not operate within this financial system. In fact, the founders mainly inject the bulk of the required investment, and turn to friends or relatives for additional support. They wear the full brunt of the risks that are involved in small-time investment.

They have access to much more information, because it is their own project, rather than a foreign one thousands of miles away. This also includes failures and mistakes that are encountered along the way, but the risk is less redistributed, thereby decreasing the probability of failures.

2. Labor market changes demand on certain office types lastingly

Most users of coworking spaces are self-employed. The proportion of employees is also on the rise, in many cases simply because they work for small companies that increasingly opt to conduct their business in coworking spaces rather than in traditional offices. The industry of almost all coworkers fall within the Internet-based creative industries.

With flexibilisation of work markets, new mobile technologies that are changing work patterns, and the increase of external services purchasing from large and medium-sized enterprises (outsourcing), the labor market has changed radically in many parts of the world.

The long-term financial and emotional security of becoming an employee no longer exists, especially for younger generations of workers. Bigger companies are quicker to fire than hire, and precarious short-term contracts are on the rise. Promising options on the labor market are more often recuded to freelancer careers and starting your own company.

And that’s possible with less money to invest. All you need is a laptop, a brain and a good network. For years, the number of independent workers and small businesses has been growing worldwide – particularly in internet-based creative industries. Anyone who has sufficient specialized skills and the willingness to take risks may adapt more quickly to market conditions if they own a small business or are self employed; more so than if they were to work in a dependent position in an equally volatile market.

Coworking spaces provide an environment in which to do this. Once they have joined a (suitable) coworking space, these factors become apparent to coworkers, who will remain in their space for years to come.

Furthermore, independent workers rarely fire themselves in crises, and even small companies are less likely to give their employees the boot – compared to their large counterparts. This combination enables more sustainable business models – and less business models à la Groupon.

3. Coworking spaces don’t live on crises

Global economic growth is waning while the number of coworking spaces is continually growing. Do coworking spaces thus benefit from this crisis?

The current crises accelerate the formation and growth of coworking spaces, because they offer solutions and space for the resulting problems. Coworking spaces are therefore not a result of a crisis, but the product of change that pre-dates their existence. A crisis is simply the most visible expression of change.

The first coworking spaces emerged in the late 1990s; the movement’s strong growth started six years ago – before the onset of economic downturns in many countries.

4. Coworking spaces depend on the needs of their members

Most coworking spaces are rarely full. Does this mean they are unsuccessful? On average, only half of all desks are occupied. But the average occupancy rate of 50% refers only to a specific date.

In fact, coworking spaces generally serve more members than they can seat at any given time, since members do not use the spaces simultaneously. Coworking spaces are places for independents who want to work on flexible terms. Smaller spaces rely more on permanent members. Larger spaces can respond more flexibilty to the working hours of its members, and, can rent desks several times over.

If a coworking space is always overcrowded or totally empty, the purpose of said space would be defeated. Firstly, it is rather impossible to work in an overcrowded room. Second, it’s impossible to cowork in an empty room. Given the nature of flexible memberships, a coworking space only can survive if they fit the needs of their members. Members would otherwise be quick to leave, and membership would be much more transient.

5. The coworking market is far from saturation

Less than 2% of all self-employed – and even fewer employees – currently work in coworking spaces. Reporting on coworking may increase, but inflated reporting on the coworking movement in the mainstream media is still far away.

Coverage of coworking space are most likely to be found in the career or local sections in larger publications – front cover coverage remains the dream of many space operators. This is because the whole coworking movement can’t be photographed in one picture. What appears to be a disadvantage, however, is actually a beneficial truth: niche coverage allows the industry to grow organically, and avoid over inflation.

Conclusion

Coworking spaces don’t operate in parallel universes – like the financial market. Demand and supply are almost exclusively organic and operate in the real world economy.

For the same reason, there is no guarantee that opening a coworking spaces will be automaticly successful. Anyone who fails to learn how to deal with potential customers in their market, or is unfamiliar with how coworking communities function, will have a difficult time of making one work. In the same way that business people in other industries will fail if they do not understand their market.

Those who simply tack on the word ‘coworking’ to their space’s facade will need to work harder. The structure of most coworking spaces is based on real work, calculated risk, and real-world supply and demand.

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About the Author

This article was produced by Deskmag. Deskmag is the magazine about the new type of work and their places, how they look, how they function, how they could be improved and how we work in them. They especially focus on coworking spaces which are home to the new breed of independent workers and small companies. see more.

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Callum Connects

Dextre Teh, Founder of Rebirth Academy

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Dextre Teh is a consultant and marketing guru, helping F&B businesses to tighten their operations and grow their businesses.

What’s your story?
I help frustrated F&B business owners stuck in day to day operation transform from a glorified operator into a real business owner. I’m a 27 year old Singaporean second generation restaurant owner and a F&B business consultant. Entering the industry at 13 years old, I have always been obsessed with operations and systemisation. At the age of 25, I joined the insurance industry and earned a six figure yearly income. However, I left the high pay behind because it was not my passion and returned to the F&B industry. Now I help other F&B companies to tighten operations and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services.

What excites you most about your industry?
The food. I’m a big lover of food and even have a YouTube show on food in development. But that aside, it is really about impacting people through food. Creating moments and memories for people, be it a dating couple or families or friends. Providing that refuge from the daily grind of life. So in educating my consulting clients and training their staff to provide a better experience for their customers, I aim to shift the industry in the direction of creating memories instead of just selling food.

What’s your connection to Asia?
I was born and bred in Singapore. I love the culture, the food and travelling in Asia.

Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Singapore hands down. The environment here is built for businesses to thrive. The government is pro business and the infrastructure is built around supporting business growth. Not to mention the numerous amount of grants available in helping people start and even grow business. If I’m not mistaken, the Singaporean government is the only government in the world that offers grants to home grown businesses for overseas expansion.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
Learning to do things you do not intend to master is a BIG mistake in business. Focus on what you are good at and pay others to do the rest.

Many business owners including myself are so overwhelmed by the 10,000 things that they feel they need to do everyday. We try to do everything ourselves because we think it saves us money. The only thing that, that does for us is overload our schedules and give us mediocre results. Instead we should focus on what we do best and bring in support for the rest.

Who inspires you?
Christopher M Duncan.

At 29, Chris has built multiple 7 figure businesses. He opened me to the possibility of building a business on the thing that I loved and gave me a blueprint of how to do it. He also showed me that being young doesn’t mean you cannot do great things.

Imran Mohammad and Fazil Musa
They are my mentors and inspire me every single day to pursue my dreams, to focus on celebrating life and enjoying the process of getting to where I want to be.

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Time is always more expensive than money. Money, you can earn over and over again but time, once you spend it, will never come back.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
I am a firm believer that your experiences shape who you are. I am grateful for every single moment of my life be it the highs or the lows, the successes and the failures because all these experiences have led me to become the person I am and brought me to the place that I’m at so I will probably do things the same way as everything was perfect in its time.

How do you unwind?
Chilling out in a live music bar with a drink in hand, listening to my favourite live band, 53A. Other than that I’m big on retail therapy, buying cool and geeky stuff.

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Bangkok. It feels like a home away from home where the cost of living is relatively low, the food is good and the people are friendly.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Everything you know about business is wrong by Alastair Dryburgh. It is a book that challenges commonly accepted business “truths” and inspires you to go against the grain, think different, take risks and stand your ground in the face of the challenges that will come your way as a business owner.

Shameless plug for your business:
I’m the creator of the world’s first Chilli Crab Challenge. It gained viral celebrity earlier this year with 3 major newspaper features and more than a dozen blog and online publications featuring it in the span of two weeks. In the span of the two weeks, the campaign reached well over a million people in exposure without a single cent spent in ads.

Now I help F&B companies to tighten operations, increase profits and grow their businesses with my consulting and marketing services. Chilli Crab Challenge (https://www.chillicrab.com/nationalday)

How can people connect with you?
You can connect with me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/djtehkh) or visit www.rebirthacademy.sg for more information or book a 10 minute call with me @ www.tinyurl.com/dexclar

This interview is part of the ‘Callum Connect’ series of more than 500 interviews

Callum Laing is an entrepreneur and investor based in Singapore. He has previously started, built and sold half a dozen businesses and is now a Partner at Unity-Group Private Equity and Co-Founder of The Marketing Group PLC. He is the author two best selling books ‘Progressive Partnerships’ and ‘Agglomerate’.

Connect with Callum here:
twitter.com/laingcallum
linkedin.com/in/callumlaing
Download free copies of his books here: www.callumlaing.com

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