Gillian Arnold, Director, Tectre & everywoman Inspiration of the Year, on the Amazing Transferrable Skills of Busy Mums

Gillian Arnold is Director of Tectre, an IT services and staffing consultancy and Winner of the ‘Inspiration of the Year’ category at the 2012 everywoman in technology awards

Gillian worked at IBM for over 20 years before setting up Tectre in 2010. She is passionate about supporting and encouraging women in technology, has created a Women’s Network, chaired the Women in IT Forum for Intellect and sits on the board of BCS Women.

For past 15 years, Gillian has devoted over a day a week to supporting women within the industry through teaching, mentoring, speaking at events and at schools, as well as advising on the Open University course for Women in IT Returners.

We spoke to Gillian about the importance of diversity in a team; the amazing transferrable skills of busy mums; and her imaginary mentor!

TNW: How did you come up with the idea for the business then arrive at the decision to turn your idea into a reality?

GA: IBM was losing a lot of people due to a change in their pension scheme – including me!  I was managing lots of those people and could see that key skills would be lost and would be ‘out there’ in the marketplace. I wanted to help find people work and also to establish myself in business. I had been saying I would go into business for a long while, and thought I had acquired plenty of skills from working in lots of different roles in a big IT corporate. I had joked with the folks at everywoman over the years that I would jump and setup a business – so it was time.

TNW: What is your business model? What makes your company different from your competitors?

GA: I wanted to support a niche market. I believed that I could provide both staff and services to the IT vendors,  distributors, Systems Integrators and resellers. For example, some of the resellers have a very strong focus on Hardware but do limited software selling. To sell a complete solution to their customers, they need skills from both sides of the fence, and skills in services. So, I established an organisation which could provide short term and long term customer facing technical and sales skills. This might range from a few days support in an unknown area to providing permanent staff for customer facing roles.  We are also able to work in our own right on projects. We have very strong Green IT and cost case skills for energy savings. This is starting to be a big player given the rising cost of electricity for datacentres.

TNW: When you built your team, what are the key qualities you looked for to ensure the success of your business?

GA: I started with a collaborative approach, working together with ex-IBMers who had the skills I needed 

I am also committed to ensuring that women get a look-in in this field. I know from experience that diverse teams are more creative and more fun to work in.  I want that for the team I am working with now.

TNW: What is next for your company?

GA: I want to focus more on the energy saving work we are doing. It gives us a focus of our own. And of course, helping resellers to work on broader solutions is still really important.

TNW:What are the advantages of gender diversity in a startup? Are there any disadvantages?

GA: It has been really important to me. My network is very busy and that has allowed me to find new opportunities for what we sell. I think that I would not have the confidence and the courage that I need daily were it not for the work I have done in diversity over the last decade. But really – I think a mixed team has to be the way to go. I was told a story once about how  a company made up of women merged with a mixed company.

Over time the number of women decreased and the number of males increased. The person who was telling me this said that the best atmosphere and work experience was when the numbers were about 50/50.

There is plenty of research that says that happy employees are most productive – so – if true diversity can do that – that is what Tectre needs!

TNW: What lessons have you taken from your successes &/or failures?

GA: I had a success once that was attributed to the people in my team, and I was told that it couldn’t have been me who helped to facilitate that success. I am so very glad that I didn’t believe the person telling me that.  I think I have proved that I can create a profitable business and can stick to the business model. 

TNW: Do you have any tips or any advice for women who are thinking about becoming entrepreneurs?

GA: Be sure that you have the skills – you will definitely need to have a broad set of them. There will be times when you are called on to do sales and marketing, be your own finance manager (that is easier than you would think! ) and your own copywriter and even the office cleaner…..but hey – we are so capable of doing all these things. Just think when you last haggled over something you wanted to buy….something for you. That is a skill which you can use in business, just the same as the event planning to do a street party or the local music festival is the same event planning to run a marketing event.  

Busy mums are such amazing multitaskers – all these skills are relevant – we just need to see their ‘transferable’ natures.   We also need to have confidence – steel ourselves to take the knocks, pick ourselves up and move on. 

TNW: Do you have any role models or mentors?

GA: Ooooh lots!  My mum, my aunts, my friends, the women I work with at the BCS, and those from IBM…..oh – and lots of men too. 

I have created for myself a composite ‘role model’ made up of little bits of all the best parts of the people I know. She is intellectual, funny, technical, sharp witted (in business) and collaborative and a listener.    

Mentors are the same really.  Nobody knows how to do everything, so advice comes from lots of different places. 

TNW: What does your day look like?

GA: I am surprisingly easy going. I start around 8:30 and finish about 5pm most days, but I do do some work at the weekends. I make sure that I get out with the dog at least once a day – I need the fresh air, exercise and thinking space.  

TNW: What has been your biggest challenge throughout the history of your company, from planning to funding and execution, and how could others learn from it

GA: Self belief. Having a really supportive partner helps…..and I have a woman who works with me who is a personal business coach. She has been incredibly important in helping me believe that I can make things happen……I know I am very lucky to have her on the team.

TNW: What do you think could be done to increase the number of women entrepreneurs?  

GA: Lots of funding has been withdrawn from agencies which help women in business. We need more support if we are to help the economy grow. Disproportionately large numbers of women have found themselves out of work over the last couple of years. Many of them will now be thinking of setting up in business for themselves.

The government could ensure that business help was there for them.  Real assistance, not just people hoping to make a fast buck  whilst ‘looking like’ support agencies. 

If that were to happen, the government would find that they could benefit from the additional business growth fuelled by all of those women entrepreneurs.

TNW: What qualities do you think women entrepreneurs need for sourcing angel investment/raising venture capital? 

GA: Self belief! 

TNW: Do you believe that it is easier for technical women founders to achieve venture funding than non-technical? If so, what are your reasons for this?

GA: No – I think we are all capable of this…..we just have to believe we can do it and make it happen.

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