(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.)

Today’s interview is with Cris Topfner-Rigby. Cris Topfner-Rigby has over 20 years experience in the financial services and retail industries, having held a variety of roles across information technology, payments and business transformation. Prior to joining Coles, Cris held positions in military research, real-time systems and national software agencies in Australia and overseas. She is an Advisory Board Member at Women in Payments.

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What makes you do what you do?

I have always been driven by a need to contribute, make things happen and a desire to learn. I find extreme satisfaction in supporting others and helping people grow.

How did you rise in the industry you are in?

I have fallen into Payments by accident, then fell in love with its diversity, complexity and the benefits it can bring to people and society – that was about 20 years ago. I have worked hard at being knowledgeable and keeping up to date, leading with honesty and from the heart and contributing to the broader payments industry outside my every day job. I have made sure I stayed true to myself.

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

No, I have never had a mentor – something I had not thought of in my earlier career. Nowadays, I have a lot of work friends with whom I can discuss a variety of challenges as they emerge. I have always watched others and the impact they or their actions made, reflected and leant from that.

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

To spot talent I look for the qualities that people demonstrate and their potential, not necessarily if they are good at the job they are in. I believe almost everyone has a talent – it is important to find the right challenges and motivators to see it shine. I focus my support on providing the right activities that play to the talent strengths – hard enough to stretch, not too hard to demotivate – I believe in focusing on people’s assets and providing the right tools to help with weaknesses. You will find diamonds in the most unexpected places.

Do you consciously or unconsciously support diversity and why?

Diversity has been an interesting journey for me. I grew up in an environment where it was not discussed as it was a given we are all equal in every way. Starting my new life in Australia as an immigrant woman with a Master in Computer Sciences, from a former communist country, has very quickly highlighted the issues and entrenched social expectations. It went against everything I believed in and known to be fair. The way to fight it and be part of the change has many facets for me. First I kept pushing into domains where my presence would challenge the status quo and I would be the “anomaly” so I can set an example by showing it can be done. Secondly, I have always recruited based on skills relevant to the job. I can say proudly that my group is exceptionally diverse by religion, country of birth, marital status, gender, etc. Thirdly, I picked one aspect to focus on – opportunities for women in payments by joining the Women in Payments from Canada and, together with its founder starting the Australian chapter.

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

In my opinion, leadership is about being a role model, doing as you say, being honest and always asking the difficult questions. You must never lose sight of the big picture and be prepared to make the right, not popular decisions. Above all, it is finding the right talent, empowering and helping them grow.

Advice for others?

So many things come to mind. My top picks are:

  • Stay true to yourself
  • Find a mentor
  • Always look for challenge and variety
  • Learn to asses and manage risk quickly
  • Do not be afraid to say no
  • Never ever forget the people behind you

To learn more about Women in Payments, please see http://www.womeninpayments.org/.

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