For this month’s interview, we had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Gulrajani of Lenovo. Michelle discussed with us her transition from working as a Territory Manager and Account Director at Triangle, to opening her own consultancy firm. Michelle also shared with us some valuable advice to women wishing to endeavour to be entrepreneurs.
Interviewed by Hajar El Baraka
You have an extensive experience, having worked in sales before opening your own consultancy firm, “Signature Consultancy”, which was later sold to a competitor. How did your interest in the tech industry start and what inspired you to launch your own consultancy firm?
At a young age, I was never shy; I loved meeting new people and making new friends. It was actually a family member who initially guided me into sales, as she noted that this sector drew upon pre-existing skills that I had.
My position at Triangle was that of Senior Account Manager, where I was responsible for some of our biggest customers in the UK. It was in this position that I started looking at the business more strategically; even though I was a senior salesperson, I proactively worked with the business to tailor multiple off-the-shelf workshops and services based on what I was hearing from my customers. I was also involved in retraining existing employees in my team, from different backgrounds, into sales roles. Unfortunately, after many years, the company went into administration and that’s what led me to start my own business. I initially launched Signature Consultancy and set myself a goal of three months to start building a successful business.
To cut a long story short, I had a successful business for over eight years and that period was incredibly rewarding. After that time, with so much time in my career selling to end-users, I decided to sell the business to start a new challenge. I was keen to start a new adventure utilising some of the many skills I had acquired in my career and this brought me to Lenovo, working at a large corporate vendor.
Can you tell us more about how your prior experience helped you as an entrepreneur?
Running your own company is a tremendous experience. If anyone is reading this and thinking about starting a business, I would say: don’t hesitate; don’t live with the regret of not doing it!
Every day I draw from my prior experience as a reseller and business owner. I can genuinely relate to sitting on the other side of the fence as a reseller, and this perspective is important for me, our partners and customers at Lenovo. For the past 25 years, I have been selling to end-users and Managed Services Providers, so I can also draw on those experiences.
My biggest lesson is to not fear failing. I have made many mistakes. I was so busy when I started my business that I decided to employ another salesperson. It was the first person I had recruited. While that was a great success in terms of additional revenues and profit, I subsequently realised that what I really needed was someone to support me in the areas that were time-consuming, such as the invoicing and taking payments. Taking a step back and focusing on what would free up the right people, with the right processes to do the right job and maximise productivity, was a valuable lesson.
If anyone is reading this and is thinking about starting a business,
I would say: don’t hesitate;
don’t live with the regret of not doing it!
Another challenge that you must have faced is the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on the global tech industry, particularly as China is a major manufacturing centre. Has this crisis impacted your work and how have you tackled these challenges?
Inevitably, Covid-19 impacted our business in terms of both supply and demand. However, I feel we did better than many in our industry, thanks to our excellent operations and supply chain. As a global organisation , we do have multiple factories around the world, and we are currently opening a new factory in Budapest. Looking ahead, as more and more people work and study from home; not only in terms of devices, but also data centre and infrastructure technology to power that increase is required in digital consumption and the requirement for faster networks.
Obviously, we have had to adapt the way that we work with our teams. In terms of managing my team, I conduct team calls multiple times a week. Often, they are more informal to try and recapture those missed chats around the coffee machine. This month we even have one of the team who is going to teach us how to make sourdough pizzas on a video call, a great team building exercise that we are looking forward too. As a business, we have regular calls with our UK and Ireland team to ensure that everyone is kept up to speed with our strategy.
Having held management and leadership positions throughout your career, what do you consider to be the key leadership skills necessary to succeed in such positions?
Adapting your style based on the individual and your company or team is incredibly important. By doing this, rather than adopting a broad management style, you get the best out every team member. This also helps them to develop as individuals throughout their careers.
People follow by example. I have always been passionate and enthusiastic in any role that I have done. That energy does transfer to my team and, as a result, it has created a good team work ethic with everyone caring about our vision and striving for success.
Never assume that you have all the answers. Being confident is essential, but being keen to learn from others around and above you means that you develop every day, which will result in you becoming a stronger leader.
Being keen to learn from others around and above you means
that you develop every day,
which will result in you becoming a stronger leader
There is still a long way to go before women are no longer considered a minority in tech. Statistics from tech Nation suggest that only 19% of the tech workforce are women. In your view, what do you think should be done to encourage more women to enter the tech industry and to attract them into senior and leadership positions?
There are so many young women who aren’t aware that the skills they possess could lead them to a career in tech. It is not all about being technical and in fact there are a wide variety of jobs available. Developing closer working relationships between businesses and academic institutions is the way forward so women can develop a greater understanding of the variety of jobs that are offered when choosing to pursue a career in tech.
The same applies to women returning to work. Women who are further on in their career often choose to make changes to their career path. Their prior experience could strengthen the tech industry, yet they too might not be aware of this.
I am a big advocate of organisations providing mentoring and support for all women in any workplace. I am lucky that at Lenovo, we have an extremely strong Woman in Lenovo Leadership Programme. By providing this type of platform, women together can grow their network, develop their leadership skills and encourage each other to progress within an organisation. I would certainly say that from my personal point of view that has been a great thing to be part of.
Closer working relationships between businesses
and academic institutions is the way forward so women
could develop a greater understanding of the variety of jobs
that are offered when pursuing a career in tech
We usually end the interview with a question from our Proust Questionnaire. Therefore, which talent would you most like to have? Why?
I would love to learn to fly and get my private pilot licence. The ability to jump into a plane and take a trip anywhere in the UK or France for the day or the weekend is really appealing!