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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.

allied-payment-network_company-logo


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

Women on Top in Tech – Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and Digital Innovation Strategist

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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.)

I am talking to Tara Velis, Growth Hacker and freelance Digital Innovation Strategist. Tara was selected and recognized by TheNextWeb.com as one of the 500 most talented young people in the Dutch digital scene during the 2017 TNW edition. Tara is known for her creative, entrepreneurial spirit, which she is using to her advantage in leading the change in SMEs and corporates around the globe.

What makes you do what you do?

I tend to see life as a big, complex puzzle. Because of my curious nature, I am in constant development, looking for new angles and new approaches to business problems. Innovation through technology is exploring ideas and pushing boundaries. The most radical technological advances have not come from linear improvements within one area of expertise. Instead, they arise from the combination of seemingly disparate inventions. This is, in fact, the core of innovation. I love going beyond conventional thinking practices. Mashing up different thoughts and components, connecting the dots, and transforming that into something useful to businesses.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I consistently chose to follow my curiosity, which has led me to where I am today. If you want to succeed in the digital industry, you need to have a growth mindset. Seen the fact that the industry is evolving in an astoundingly quick rate, it’s crucial to stay current with the trends and forces in order to spot business opportunities. I believe taking responsibility for your own learning and development is key to success.

Why did you take on the role of Digital Innovation Strategist?

The reason for this is twofold. On the one hand, I got frustrated with businesses operating in the exact same way they did a couple of decades ago. Right now we are in the midst of a technology revolution, and the latest possibilities and limitations of cutting-edge technologies are evolving every single day. This means that companies need to stay current and act lean if they want to survive. On a more personal level, I noticed that I felt the need to use my creativity and problem-solving skills to their maximum capacity. In transforming businesses at scale, I change the rules of the game. I love breaking out of traditional, old-fashioned patterns by nurturing innovative ideas. This involves design thinking, extensive collaboration and feedback, the implementation of various strategies and tactics, validated learning, and so on. I get a lot of energy from my work because it is aligned with my personal interests.

Do you have a mentor that you look up to in your industries?

Yes, I look up to Drew Boyd. He is a global leader in creativity and innovation. He taught me how to evaluate ideas in order to select the best ones to proceed with. This is crucial because otherwise,you run the risk of ideas creating the criteria for you because of various biases and unrelated factors. He also taught me a great deal on facilitation of creativity workshops.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I tend to have the characteristics of a transformational leader. People have told me that my enthusiasm and positive energy is motivating and even inspiring to them. Even though I take these comments as a huge compliment, I am not sure how I feel about referring to myself as a leader. To me, it still has a somewhat negative connotation. I guess I associate the concept with being a boss who’s throwing around commands. But if a leader means listening to others and igniting intrinsic motivation in people, then yes, I guess I’m a charismatic leader.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Yes, one hundred percent. I believe that creativity and innovation flourish when a highly diverse group of people bounces ideas off each other. Diversity in terms of function, gender,and culture is extremely valuable, especially in the ideation phase of a project, as it can help to see more possibilities and come up with better ideas.

Do you have any advice for others?

Yes, I have some pieces of advice I’d like to share.
First of all: Develop self-awareness. You can do so by actively seeking feedback from the people around you. This will help you understand how others see you, align your intentions with your actions, and eventually enhance your communication- and leadership skills.

Surround yourself with knowledgeable and inspiring people. They might be able to support you in reaching your goals, and help you grow both personally and professionally.

Ask “why?” a couple of times. This simple and powerful method is useful for getting to the core of a problem or challenge. Make sure to often remind yourself and your team of the outcome of this exercise to have a clear sense of direction and focus.

Data is your friend. Whether it’s extensive quantitative market research or a sufficient amount of in-depth consumer interviews (or both!), your data levels all arguments. However, always be aware of biases and limitations of research.

Say “Yes, and…” instead of “No”. Don’t be an idea killer. Forget about the feasibility and budget, at least in the ideation phase. Instead, encourage your team to generate ideas without restrictions. You can compromise certain aspects later.

Prioritization is key. There is just no way you can execute all your ideas, and, quite frankly, there is no point in trying to do so. Identify the high potential ideas and start executing those first.

Encourage rapid prototyping. Don’t wait too long to experiment, launch, and iterate your product or service. Fail fast and fail often. Adopt an Agile mindset.

If you’d like to get in touch with Tara Velis, please feel free to reach out to her on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/taravelis/

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Callum Connects

Marek Danyluk, CEO of Space Ventures

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Marek Danyluk has a talent for assessing the competencies of management teams for other businesses and pulling together exceptional teams for his own businesses!

What’s your story?
I am the CEO of a venture capital business, Space Ventures, which invests in seed and pre-series A businesses. I also own and run Space Executive, a recruitment business focused on senior to executive hires across sales, marketing, finance, legal and change.

My career started as a trainee underwriter in the Lloyds market but quickly moved into recruitment where I set-up my first business in 2002. The business grew to around 100 people. I moved to Asia in 2009 as a board member of a multinational recruitment business with the mandate to help them scale their Asian entities, which helped contribute to their sale this year, in 2017.

My main talent is assessing the competencies of management teams as well as building high performing recruitment boutiques and putting together exceptional management teams for my own businesses.

What excites you most about your industry?
Building the business is very much about attracting the best talent and being able to build a culture which people find invigorating and unique. It’s an exciting proposition to be able to define a culture in that regard and salespeople are a fun bunch, so when you get it right it’s tremendous.

From a VC point of view there is just so much happening. South East Asia is a melting pot of innovation so the ideas and quality of people you have exposure to, is truly phenomenal. The exposure in the VC has taken me away from a career in recruitment. Doing something completely different has given me a new level of focus.

What’s your connection to Asia?
Whilst I came here with work, both my boys were born in Singapore and to them this very much is home. That said, my father in law spent many years in the East so coming and settling here was met with a good degree of support and familiarity.


Favourite city in Asia for business and why?
Possibly Hong Kong. It’s the closest I’ve been to working in London. Whilst there are massive Asian influences people will work with you on the basis you are good at what you do and work hard. I find that approach very honest and straightforward.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
“Always treat people well on the way up!”

Who inspires you?
I like reading about people who have excelled in business such as Jack Ma, James Kahn, Phil Knight, Sir Richard Branson, Elon Musk, all have great stories to tell and they are all inspirational. No-one has inspired me more than my parents and they are well aware as to why…

What have you just learnt recently that blew you away?
Pretty much any technology innovation blows me away.

If you had your time again, what would you do differently?
Whilst it is important not to have regrets I do continually wake up thinking I’m still doing my A’ Levels. So, I’d have probably tried a little harder in 6th form.

How do you unwind?
I like the odd glass of red wine and watching sport

Favourite Asian destination for relaxation? Why?
Japan skiing. I love skiing and Japanese food and it’s a time when I can really enjoy time with the wife and kids. I recently tried the Margaret River which was divine, although not technically Asia.

Everyone in business should read this book:
Barbarians at the Gate

Shameless plug for your business:
Space Executive is the fastest growing recruitment business in Singapore focused on the mid to senior market across legal, compliance, finance, sales and marketing and change and transformation. Multi-award winning with exceptional growth plans into Hong Kong and London this year, and the US, Japan and Europe by the end of 2022. We are building a truly global brand.

Space Ventures is interested in any businesses that require capital or management and financial guidance or any or all of the above. We have, to date, invested in on-line training, food and beverages, peer to peer lending platforms, credit scoring as well as other tech and fintech start-ups. We are always interested in hearing about potential deals.

How can people connect with you?
[email protected]

Twitter handle?
@Spaceexecutive

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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