‘It’s my job to put the right people on the bus – then allow them to drive’

18 May 2021

Carmel Owens. Image: Sidero

Sidero’s Carmel Owens discusses driving new business in the Covid era, how she gets the best out of her team, and why finding a mentor is crucial for career progression.

Carmel Owens has more than 20 years’ experience in the IT sector, previously holding senior roles at tech companies in Ireland and the UK such as Sungard Availability Services, Dell EMC and Version 1.

Owens joined Athlone-based cloud and digital transformation specialist Sidero as its new CEO in 2020.

‘From booking vaccinations to ordering groceries, everything is moving online and digital is undoubtedly the new way of business’

Describe your role and what you do.

As CEO, I am responsible for shaping Sidero’s strategy, increasing our market share and spearheading overall growth at the company. On a day-to-day basis, I oversee Sidero’s business operations, develop and enhance our partnerships with global technology leaders, and devise and deliver on strategies to grow our customer base.

How do you prioritise and organise your working life?

I find it very valuable to hold daily team huddles with heads of departments from across the business. This gives me a good overview of the key ongoing activities, priorities and challenges facing my team. In combination with longer-term strategies, these regular huddles allow me to dedicate my focus where it is needed most.

Typically, I like to walk and talk with my team and get out to meet customers and partners face-to-face – it’s the best way to strengthen relationships and to check in on how people are doing. Of course, I’ve had to adapt my working approach given the impact of the pandemic.

While video calls have emerged as a valuable tool in place of in-person meetings, I take steps to limit the time and number of calls I take each day to ensure I retain scope to complete my strategic priorities.

What are the biggest challenges facing your sector and how are you tackling them?

As a digital transformation specialist, Sidero is blessed to be in a sector where demand for our services has remained strong throughout the period of Covid-19. However, we still face new challenges, including how to drive new business from organisations that have been significantly impacted by the virus and are in cost-cutting mode. Our challenge is to engage with businesses to stress how it is imperative that they establish and invest in a mature online presence.

The Sidero team has adapted well to the challenge of delivering projects from a purely remote basis. We have adapted to this by placing an increased focus on monitoring implementations, taking extra steps to ensure the customer is happy with our solution.

On the other side, I’m very conscious that the virus itself may place a significant burden on our own employees and have purposefully emphasised a social approach to work to help keep us better connected through this time.

What are the key sector opportunities you’re capitalising on?

The outbreak of coronavirus has transformed the business landscape and, in many instances, accelerated organisation’s digital journeys. From booking vaccinations to ordering groceries, everything is moving online and digital is undoubtedly the new way of business.

In the latter half of 2020, we saw more businesses realise the importance of digital transformation. We tailor any pitch to the customer’s unique needs and have seen an increasing preference for technology solutions delivered on an operating-expenditure basis, mitigating the need for costly up-front investment which may not necessarily be possible in today’s environment.

What set you on the road to where you are now?

Having studied computer science in Dublin City University, I began my career as an IT engineer. However, when my brother and I established our own business, Commtech, I quickly found myself in a sales role and leading growth for the start-up. We really began from scratch in the early days but the company steadily grew over time and was eventually acquired by US IT firm Arrow Electronics.

From there, I was lucky enough to join a succession of excellent indigenous and multinational technology companies, always learning along the way. I joined Sidero in June 2020 at a really exciting time for the company and I’m looking forward to further growing our business both nationally and overseas from our midlands base.

Did you ever have a mentor or someone who was pivotal in your career?

Earlier in my career, I didn’t realise the importance of finding a sponsor or mentor within an organisation. Identifying and working alongside someone who recognises your importance and contribution is really important for gaining visibility and getting on the radar of the board or senior management.

Women in particular may not feel they have the confidence to reach out and find this champion within their organisation but it is crucial to career progression. In my current role, I try to make myself available to offer this kind of guidance and encourage an environment where people feel comfortable in reaching out for help and advice.

In my time at Sungard Availability Services, the global CTO acted in this role for me, providing me with a lot of insight into driving strategy on a truly global level. Developing these relationships throughout your career is highly beneficial.

How do you get the best out of your team?

Hire well and hire people better than you are. It’s my job to put the right people on the bus and to then step back and allow them to drive the bus. As CEO, I will provide input and look to steer the overall direction of the business, but I put a lot of trust in my team to successfully move us forward.

2020 was also a tough year for all of us and I encouraged our team to take time off and re-energise. Another great way to keep staff engaged is to involve them in internal projects, including everything from coming up with alternatives to the office Christmas party to providing their input on the company brand. As well as involving staff in company strategy, it’s also important to recognise achievements, call out great work and celebrate successes.

Have you noticed a diversity problem in your sector?

The technology sector undoubtedly has a diversity issue, which has been well publicised. At Sidero, we attempt to address this beginning with our hiring strategy and we have 21 different nationalities working within the company and this diversity is a key strength of ours. We’re also very mindful of reflecting the different cultures in our organisation, in our internal communications, the way we celebrate holidays and in our monthly company gazette.

With regards the gender gap in the industry, this is a multifaceted issue but too many women continue to drop out of the IT sector. As flexible working has massively accelerated in the last 12 months, there is an opportunity for employers to really embrace this trend and better cater for those who feel the need to leave the industry for time reasons when they have children.

What books have you read that you would recommend?

I would highly recommend Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt, a book I’ve returned to several times in both audio and written format.

I like it because unlike other strategy books which can be too aspirational, the author cuts through buzzwords and fluff and remains very pragmatic. It outlines how to honestly assess your company’s current situation and offers practical steps on how to set and realise an achievable but ambitious strategy.

What are the essential tools and resources that get you through the working week?

This year, I’ve really leaned on technology and software to stay on top of my working life, including all aspects of Microsoft’s productivity suite. And, of course, I would be lost without my mobile.

My home office set-up has also become increasingly important to me and I’m always alternating between sitting, standing, using a yoga ball and getting out regularly for fresh air. As we adapt to the working week at home, I think maintaining a healthy work-life balance becomes even more important.

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