In order to be a successful leader in technology, you have to treat it like fashion
Renata Telinova, Founder and CEO of scanservice a.s. Interviewed by Evita Lune. Editing by Veronika Suhareva.
Established in February 1998, scanservice a.s. is the largest document digitization company in the Czech Republic. Since its establishment, scanservice has been the leader in providing document processing services through outsourcing, as well as designing customized document management solutions for leading Czech and international companies, including state and local governments. scanservice has been listed in the prestigious “Czech Top 100” business index since 2003, taking 30th place in 2015.
Evita: What made you decide to become an entrepreneur?
Renata: I did not study any technical subject at an academic level. But my engagement with the technology field happened by a chance when I started to work for Eastman Kodak (for the Czech and Polish market it was a joint venture Kodak Eastbridge) about 25 years ago. They were looking for a sales person, so it happened to be my first job — partly business, but partly technical oriented position.
Together with another colleague, who is now both my friend and business parter, we decided to educate ourselves by attending any kind of exhibitions, workshops, and conferences. We travelled around the world as much as possible, because self-education at that time was not that easy as nowadays, as we did not have access to any online resources.
I came up with an idea to establish a company to focus on services and business process outsourcing. We did not have any investments to establish our own company, so I made a deal with the majority owner of joint venture Kodak Eastbridge to establish scanservice. He gave me 10 % and kept the majority of 90 % to himself because of investments. We continued like this for a couple of years, and then — about 12 years ago — I made management buy out of that company together with my friend.
Evita: Even though you owned only 10 % of the business, have you been the CEO since the start?
Renata: Yes, I’ve been the CEO, the majority shareholder was more oriented to retail business and trusted me to focus on the technology business. He allowed me to go and play my game for a couple of years and he would wait to see what will happen.
Evita: You started your company already 20 years ago, and you have reached the major heights during this time. You are the owner and CEO of a large company, a leader in the Czech market in your field. But how did the company grow?
Renata: First of all, it is a project oriented business. Every or every second year we get a new important client, and it helps us to increase our turnover and earnings.
The second reason for our successful growth is our employees. Some of our people started working with us during the joint venture — we do have some very long term employees. We are also devoted to developing our people and their skills, educating them and offering career growth.
Evita: How many people do you manage? How would you characterize your leadership style? Is there any specific one one should know when managing the technology staff?
Renata: We have around 60–70 full time employees. The rest are project-based part time employees, and sometimes we are using a recruitment agency to engage the team for project work, which can be up to 400–500 people per project.
Successful leadership requires a special sense for people, good humor, relationship building, finding small ways to help the organization grow. I think that women are better suited for leadership positions than men. Women are running the family successfully with husbands and children, organizing everything at home, and they are able to do the same at work. I do not want to say that women are working twice as much as men, but I think we are better suited to run a balanced life.
Evita: What would be your advice for managing technology teams?
Renata: I know that this is a very difficult task. Most of them are very well educated and smart, but you have to be able to offer something different than the other companies. It requires a lot of communication with people, discussing every small problem. And this is not just my task, but that of the other top leaders in our company as well. They need to have a feeling that they are important to the company, as well as their families. People are spending a lot of time at work, probably even more than at home. For this reason we are making family evenings or weekends all together so that we can get to know each other and be aware of the situation in the family as well. I know their kids, their parents and even grandparents. If you are happy at home, you can be satisfied at work too.
The leader of a technology team has to always know what is new and trendy, keep up with the team in terms of novelties in the technology space, know what is coming up next year in software and hardware base, you have to make short term tactics and longer term strategy — three, four years.
Technology is like fashion — you have to know what is going on, what is coming up next year and the year after, what is everybody talking about. And it is coming in waves, forwards and backwards, just like fashion.
Evita: Does your work require continued learning? Female leaders are typically rather self demanding in the field and ready to step outside one’s comfort zone. How deep is your technology knowledge?
Renata: For sales and leadership people, such as myself, it is very important to know 30–40 % of the technical stuff, but not more. We are dealing with the customers who are not too technical — usually finance directors or operation leaders in our case, and if we become too technical, they lose attention. It is important that we are able to explain our clients what we do, what can we offer, what is the return of investment for our clients, and to check if there is a capacity to implement the project.
Evita: How do you organize your learning? Is it part of your job or you have to make an extra effort outside your normal working time?
Renata: Both, it is a part of my job. First of all, Kodak provides learning programs for almost each position. The same is with our partners from Israel and IBM, who are providing sales and technical education. But this is just about products and service, the rest I have to do myself — I need to know what is trendy in the field. I not simply read articles — I have to hear from partners, clients, suppliers, and the community.
Evita: What has been the biggest challenge in your entrepreneurial path?
Renata: The biggest challenge was my son. If you have a family and everything is working well, you have time and mood to do an excellent job, but if you have personal troubles, sooner or later it will affect your work too. My challenge came from private life, but it affected my work. My son is the most important person in my life. But now everything is fine, he is married, and I have a grandchild.
Speaking of the business, the most challenging in the positive way are our employees. From the negative challenges I can mention political situation and every kind of changes in it — every election, changes in state government, changes in local government — it makes an impact every time.
Evita: What is the source of your motivation? Where do you get your energy and inspiration from?
Renata: First of all it’s my family and friends. Then, you need to do something which is good for you — you should know how to relax and spend your private time properly, so you can return back to work full of energy. For me it is swimming every day in the morning, exercising a couple of days per week, and long walks with my dog. We all are different, but we need to try to turn everything negative into positive.
Evita: What are you looking forward to? You are a successful business leader, owner and founder of one of the largest companies in the Czech Republic, but what is next for you?
Renata: Maybe technology, because with it you can help other people to make their lives easier. But it has to be a balance between technology and non-technology. Somehow technology is helping us, but you have to find a balance in your life, to spend some time without any phone or gadget.
I try to be as positive as possible, take many things with a good sense of humor. My recommendation would be not to be too serious to yourself. People have lots of trouble — because of money, family, weather, many other things. A leader has to spread positivity. Even if I do not feel like it, I have to stay positive, I should not show my problems in front of my team and my customers.
I get a lot of motivation from positive interaction with customers, with employees, with business partners. There is a good push for development all the time — new technologies, new products. This is very motivating.
Evita: What about the share of women in technology field?
Renata: In the Czech Republic it’s not that balanced, it is improving very slowly. I do not have any official statistics to refer to, but I think it is about 20 % women and 80 % men. If we are speaking about top management, the situation is even worse. In my company at the top management we have four women and only one man. But it is not the same among software developers and consultants, where there are about 70 % men and only 30 % women. However, in administration, there are mainly women.
Evita: Why should girls and women learn technology?
Renata: Women are using all kinds of technology — a smartphone, iPad, different applications... So why not to learn how to create and operate them yourself? It is a very difficult profession indeed, but women have the same chances, probably even better than men, to succeed in this role.
Evita: How to become a successful female leader?
Renata: The most important is to find a life balance, a balance between family and professional life. Sometimes young women try to be very dedicated to work and forget about their nature. They should have a family, they are “flowers”, not “hunters”. Being unhappy in personal life will not allow to succeed in the business and leadership, for sure.