Updated: Jul 20
Exclusive Trusted Magazine Q&A with Cathy Smith, Managing Director of SAP Africa
How could you describe your career path in few words?
I would describe it as both a pilgrimage and a long term investment. The pilgrimage speaks to the journey of my career – it has taken place over several decades and always traveling to reach a purpose – the next thing to learn, or the next exciting role, the next challenge – interwoven with family life and personal development. It has been an exciting and rewarding career. The long term investment speaks to the fact that it required me putting in a great deal of effort, time, growing my skills, often making sacrifices – this was the investment! I started out as an application developer in the insurance industry, and have been fortunate to work for several of the world’s leading ICT companies in various capacities. These have included sales, HR, business development and, more recently, as Managing Director for Cisco Africa and SAP Africa. I truly believe that the skills I learnt in those very early days as a programmer – solving problems, listening, collaborating – have helped me navigate through my career. What was your most challenging experience and it has changed your mindset?
I have had many challenging experiences during the course of my career. Some challenges re-enforced my mindset, but more often than not, I had to step back, recalibrate and change the way I think about situations. In almost all cases, the challenges have related to people dynamics. People are complex and there is not one single way to manage engagement that is effective with everyone’s mindset, personality traits or communication style. In my leadership roles, I have learnt that building the skills to engage with people, whether employees, customers, partners or other stakeholders, is pivotal to ones’ own success and to the success of the business. It is through people engagement that I have experienced my greatest sadness and greatest joy.
When you get surprised by unusual or uncertain context, what do you think?
After the initial shock, I think to myself “Breathe!”. And after that pause, I become very curious and look at the situation with interest and wonder. I ask myself questions, and then I seek to find the answers and understand the context, then look for the opportunity. I believe it is key to dealing with uncertainty and surprises, especially in our world today. Based on your experience, what’s the key success factor for a female leader / manager?
In my experience, it has been to positively leverage who I am and my unique traits, many of them being feminine traits like empathy, creativity and collaboration. More importantly, to recognise that whilst I am female, I lead many human beings. They all have their differences, strengths, weaknesses, uniqueness – keeping this at the fore in my leadership style has been key to me being able to do my job effectively. I know that our collective differences make us stronger, so being respectful of what everyone brings to the business is important. I’m always aware that while I am a woman in a senior leadership position within the tech industry, in leadership we all carry huge responsibilities regardless of our demographics. This means that working hard, staying relevant, keeping connected and delivering strong results, cannot be underestimated for any leader.