Name: Fiona Tee
Job Title: CFO
Location: London, UK
What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received?
Although it doesn’t sound that exciting, one piece of advice that I was given that I have come to realise is terribly, terribly important, is to make sure you have the right team structure and resources in place to support you in your role. Without this, it’s impossible to work in an effective way, with the visibility, control and clear-headedness that you need at a senior level. If you don’t have the right team structure, it’s all too easy to get too involved in the day to day, and lose sight of the big picture.
Many of the roles I have held in the past have required me to take the lead on re-shaping the team to help identify where people might not be in the right position, or where we need more support. Of course, this can be difficult at times. The prevailing consideration, for me, is that this must be done in a fair way – there’s no need to cause unnecessary heartache. It’s about doing the right thing for the business, but in a way that keeps people ‘whole’.
What was the worst piece of business advice that you received?
To take a role that forced me to stray too far from my core comfort zone. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t stretch yourself, it’s just a question of “stretching safely” in a way that allows you to build on experience and grow – rather than a full “career transplant”! I would also now be wary of any career move that prioritised short term benefits (including money) over long term career fulfilment. It can be difficult to avoid the temptation to be seduced by wads of cash, but in my experience, no good has ever come from taking a role on this basis.
What advice would you give to someone starting their career in the tech industry?
If they are joining an early-stage, high growth company, then I would encourage them to go into it with their eyes open to the reality. That is, the exciting opportunity to innovate, shape the company and ‘make it happen’, often comes with the lack of a blueprint, and landscape. This is enormously empowering, but might be overwhelming – and indeed frustrating – for someone that is looking for a firmer structure. Early stage tech companies tend to be modern in their approach – don’t go into that if you can’t cope with ambiguity.
I would also strongly recommend that they go into an area of tech that resonates with them. ‘Tech’ is such a wide umbrella term. I get most excited about technology that is applied in a new way to solve a significant business problem – tech that is truly relevant in solving the challenges that come with today’s increasingly connected digital world.
What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position?
In a nutshell, that it’s about leadership rather than management. Part of being a strong leader in a C-level position is about understanding your own brand, as you interact with all the various stakeholders, to make sure that all your interactions have the right impact. On top of your technical skill, you must also develop political and social skills. To lead, means creating a certain distance from your team, which can be hard – and lonely at times – but crucial if you are all to work together to achieve the best results, as you move between Leader, Coach and Manager.
Are you particularly proud of any career advice that you’ve given or the career route/development of anyone you’ve mentored?
I give the same advice to all those that I have developed or mentored – to have a career plan. Where do you want to go? And then, what’s the journey to get there? What skillsets will you need to have, what experience will you need to have clocked? It’s a case of taking the time to get out the weeds, and think about your career on a longer term basis. Of course, mentors and managers can give individuals the support and tools to develop this vision, but the ambition and drive must come from within the individual. This is why great role models are so important – particularly for women. If you cannot see someone in a senior role, it’s hard to envisage yourself in that position, and see the opportunity to map that career journey.
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Phil Muncaster reports on China and beyond