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Women on Top in Tech – Nicole Sturgill, Principal Executive Advisor of CEB

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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 Nicole Sturgill, Principal Executive Advisor at CEB.

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What makes you do what you do?

I’ve worked in Financial Services for over 20 years and have been given tremendous opportunities to learn. My work at CEB allows me to pull those experiences together and to also explore new areas. What gets me excited is the psychology behind financial management. How people think about money and how that impacts how they do business with their bank is a fascinating subject and I’m fortunate to be able to research some aspect of that every day.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

Defining what “rise” means to me personally has been very important. I worked at Fifth Third Bank for almost 10 years before moving to London where my husband was attending graduate school. We sold our house, quit our jobs and moved to the UK, not knowing exactly where that path would lead but knowing that living in another country, experiencing many cultures and traveling were important to us. Relatively quickly I began working for Transoft, which provided the software for one of the areas I managed at the bank. That illustrated the power of the network very clearly. For Transoft, I worked from home and traveled throughout Europe, helping me see that it was possible to combine the work I love with a life I could enjoy.

When we moved back to the U.S., I knew that flexibility and travel were just as important to me as the content of my work. My role at CEB has given me opportunities to develop skills and knowledge and has allowed me to travel and work from a place I love, first in New York and now in New Orleans.

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)?

What’s the purpose of taking any role if it’s not a stretch? Growth is important, skill development can always be better and we always benefit from more knowledge. The best roles are those in which one can use the skills developed over time and combine them with new goals that one has never tackled before.

My current role, specifically, is constantly changing. Financial services technology is getting better every day and the challenges that banks face are always evolving. Helping banks and technology providers assess their problems and identify solutions requires me to constantly gain new knowledge and think creatively.

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

I feel lucky to have a strong network of professional support – individuals from the companies I’ve previously worked for, at CEB and within the industry. Plus I have great friends from a master’s program I completed at Columbia University a couple of years ago. They are outside my company and my field and give me an objective view. I firmly believe that gaining input from many sources is important to seeing the world, and our options, from a fresh perspective. We still have to make our own decisions but you can never have too much information from people you trust.

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

My role as an executive advisor at CEB, working primarily with our members, means that I get to work with CEB’s research teams for both our financial institutions and our technology providers, but in more of a collaborative role than a direct management role. Financial services aren’t the easiest industry to learn. How a bank operates isn’t particularly intuitive. A lot has to happen behind the scenes requiring knowledge of bank processes and technology. When I’m working with someone new to the industry, I try to relate banking knowledge to an individual’s own experience of making deposits, getting cash, making payments or buying a car. The more we can personalize teaching and use stories to illustrate the need for financial services, the faster it makes sense in the context of our research.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

I hope that I’m supporting diversity unconsciously but for fear of complacency, I can’t assume that I do. CEB has a number of internal programs that support diversity and inclusion but we’re all responsible for learning from the differences we each bring to the table. We have to ask questions of one another to make sure we are gaining unique perspectives and that is true in how we work with colleagues, clients and other business partners.

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

Leaders in retail banking are the ones that are working to help customers better manage their finances and help them understand that how they think about money – and the way to reach their financial goals – can impact how they save and spend. While some may gain accolades for increasing their share price in the short term, only those that take the time to understand and develop products and services that meet customer need are long-term leaders in financial services.

If I had to name one quality that a leader has to have, I’d say it’s empathy. It’s not easy to put yourself in another’s position, especially when there are vast differences in things like personal beliefs, lifestyles and education – but it’s worth it. A leader often has to make big decisions and understanding the positions of those affected are critical to making choices that uplift rather than discourage.

Advice for others?

As we head into 2017, challenges in financial services abound. Keeping the needs of both the banked and unbanked front and center will help all of us make business decisions and technology choices that  help customers manage their finances and, in turn, help the bank gain trust in the eyes of consumers.


To learn more about CEB, please see https://www.cebglobal.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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