On the ascent

On the ascent

CIO talks to three women IT executives tipping the gender imbalance in the sector as they take on leadership and decision-making posts.

Terry Shubkin: The business of not-for-profit

Terry Shubkin has over 18 years of experience in the IT business and her curriculum vitae includes some very important roles, such as head of operations of Unisys New Zealand, acting GM for marketing communication and fundraising at Barnardos New Zealand and director of Mint Consulting Services. None of those, however important as they were, had the level of personal impact Shubkin feels her current role has on her.

The CEO of not-for-profit Youth Enterprise Trust says this is the "most personally rewarding job" she has ever had and, despite the downsides of sometimes struggling for funding, her answer when asked about the job is an enthusiastic one: "I absolutely love it".

The Youth Enterprise Trust promotes an enterprise and financially literate culture among young people, through education programmes with the goal of helping develop a generation that contributes to New Zealand's future economic and social prosperity. As part of her role as CEO, Shubkin says she is responsible for "basically everything" but has a good team behind her to make sure all aspects of the business run smoothly.

The CEO and her team will be busy this year, as they prepare to launch new enterprise education programmes while making a number of changes to how they operate. Shubkin lists the increase in number of students participating in enterprise projects as one of her priorities for the year. The creation of an alumni programme is also planned. "We want people to reconnect with us and tell their stories," she explains.

The development of new technologies within the enterprise programmes is also top of the list. Shubkin says they started creating podcasts in 2010 and the feedback has been very positive so the goal is to increase production this year. The creation of webinars is also something that Shubkin is keen to focus on. "Traditionally, we have been very face-to-face and teachers love face-to-face learning, but that is very costly," says Shubkin. She says webinars, combined with podcasts, will be added to face-to-face learning as a way of cutting costs, a particularly important result to achieve, considering the institution depends on funding.

Shubkin's corporate past means she is familiar with the differences between that world and the not-for-profit one. "I have had to learn to cut corners," she explains. She adds that the trust does not get its revenue "from selling products or services" like a corporate organisation so it is heavily dependent on funding.

The CEO says it is all possible because she works with a great team. Staff engagement is very high, the CEO says, and, once again, her knowledge of the corporate world helps her understand why that is the case here, "having worked for IT, where budgets are traditionally higher, and working for a not-for-profit now, where budgets are lower".

"I know that everyone in my team truly loves what they do," she says. Additionally, she says engagement with "clients" is also "very rewarding", even more so than she experienced in previous roles.

The personal gains Shubkin takes home from her role mean she no longer worries about keeping a good balance between work and leisure. "I used to worry about that and now I don't. It doesn't mean I'm working any less hours but, in the hours I'm putting in now, I feel everything I'm doing is what I want to do, not what I have to do," she says. Despite having enjoyed her previous roles, Shubkin admits it is now hard to imagine herself returning to the corporate world.

Tracy Voice: Leading transformation behind the scenes

Tracy Voice was appointed CIO of the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry last November after spending over four years with NZ Post, where she was also CIO. Before becoming CIO of MAF, Voice was on a contract as programme manager for the same agency and worked on the merger with the Ministry of Fisheries.

She says that merger has, of course, impacted the business and part of her year ahead will focus on restructuring the team and some of the business applications that will need to be amalgamated, due to the merger. She reports to Nigel Price, deputy director general corporate services at MAF.

Voice sees her role as a transformational one and will lead the MAF through some key changes in the next few months. "The two main focuses for 2012 are building an effective team and developing a strategic plan, a five-year roadmap for MAF," she explains. "We need to understand what information and data we gather and how that affects the business," Voice adds.

For the new MAF CIO, "the challenge is how quickly you can transform and not impact the business". She says much of her and her team's work is done "behind the scenes" and, despite affecting how the business works, it is important that the impact is not felt as a disruption.

Voice is no stranger to business challenges and transformation, though. As NZ Post CIO, she launched the first commercial corporate deployment of Google enterprise applications in the Asia Pacific. She left the company in January 2011 and went on to provide strategic IT and management consulting services.

Voice believes having a good balance between work and personal life is fundamental to ensure her job is done correctly. She says MAF is a great institution to work for in that sense as it provides "a flexible work environment". She chooses to work from her home in the Wairarapa on Fridays.

Claudia Vidal: Never stop growing your career

As the general manager for business operations at Uniservices, the research and commercialisation company of the University of Auckland, Claudia Vidal says the main challenge is dealing with the clash of cultures that sometimes occurs when you get commercial clients talking to the university, as the two types of institutions often have very different focuses.

Making that communication work is part of Vidal's job, along with her team of 10 people working at the business operations side of Uniservices. She also leads the development of the business strategy and IT strategy, as well as supporting the team that does contract negotiation, and managing vendor relationships. It is a role that keeps Vidal busy but she wouldn't have it any other way. A mother and wife, in a dual career couple, Vidal also does a good job of managing the balance between her career and her personal life. As "flexible" as her work environment may be, Vidal says it is not a nine-to-five job and there is a lot of additional time involved. "I have a very supportive family. They appreciate what I do and my children are used to it," she says.

Prior to Uniservices, she worked for a number of private sector companies including The Warehouse Group, TelstraClear, Air New Zealand and Johnson & Johnson.

Her role with the university presents her with new challenges and helps develop skills that the private sector roles did not necessarily call for but Vidal welcomes all the opportunities to evolve in her new career. "As with any kind of communication, there are no fixed rules, you get better at it as you go along," she says.

Vidal refuses to stop growing and evolving in her career. She has recently completed a course that granted her a certificate of company directorship with the Institute of Directors in New Zealand. "It was one of the best courses I have ever done," says Vidal. "The best part is the interaction with your peers."

The course taught her a lot about how to behave as a board member, what it entails to be a board member, what is required to be one and how to interact with other board members and contribute to the growth of the company. She says she definitely aspires to holding such a position in the future. "I have an interest in governance and business strategy so this has always been an ambition of mine."

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