An Interview with a Top Influencer

A/N My interviewee this week is recognised as one of the Top 25 European Office 365 Influencers. Only two women made this list.  She is also one of the 4 women recognised in the Global Top 25 Office 365 Influencers.   As if that’s not enough, she’s also been awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

I was born as the first child of a very poor family, living in Eastern Hungary. I inherited my father’s skills at problem solving; he had been always good at school, but he didn’t have the chance for any higher education.

In school, being the smartest and poorest child in the class was a very bad combination. Since I didn’t have too many friends, I turned to what I was good at: learning. My math teacher recognized my math skills and managed to let me into the programming classes. I loved sitting next to the Commodore +4s! Controlling what they should do was one of the most powerful experiences I’d ever had at that time. There was never any doubt that I wanted to study programming after high school.

When I was accepted at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, I thought my life was on track – but a few months into my studies, I realized that university was too much of a burden. The costs of my studies and living in the capital were way too much for my family to afford.

I was at a huge decision point. Everything suggested I had to stop my studies and look for work. Nobody believed there was any way to avoid this and stay at the university, continuing my studies. But I didn’t give up. I was sure there must be some way.

I made the decision: I would look for a job AND continue my studies. Due to the programming awards I had received during my high school years, I found a programming job at one of Hungary’s biggest and most well known IT companies.

Five months after starting university, I found myself working there. I was saved! Those years were the hardest period of my life, though. I studied hard. I worked hard. I slept for only a few hours every day. My parents got divorced. But I was free.

For the first time in my life, I was doing what I loved, and I could do this because I made it possible for myself. In the end, I finished studying and got my degree after seven years. And I already had 6.5 years work experience which proved to be a HUGE benefit.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?
First of all, you have to be passionate about your job and you have to be persistent. Also, you have to love learning new things every day.
Last but not least, you have to be a team player. Even if you work from home like I do, IT projects are always complex, there’s always a whole team of professionals involved.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?
What I do is quite complex. I help enterprise organizations with their Information Architecture (how to organize and classify their content, how to “clean up” and optimize their processes, etc.) as well as with Enterprise Search (how to make the content findable and discoverable, how to help users reduce the time spent with searching – especially with non-productive searching).

It sounds like it’s an IT role, but it’s much more about understanding people’s content, intent and behaviour. It’s much more about psychology. Maybe this is why I not only like working on people’s Information Architecture and Search solutions, but also mentoring them with their own life and career path. It’s amazing how similar these two things (consulting and mentoring) can be!

What can be challenging about your profession?
First, in IT, we have to solve complex problems and we have to deal with new kinds of problems every day. If you don’t like that, you’re lost.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a programmer, an administrator, a project manager or a system architect – if you don’t like solving complex problems, you cannot be good at it.

Secondly, in what I do, it’s very challenging to be able to think like my customers. Even organizing our own stuff can be challenging, just think about your kitchen or children’s rooms. But being able to understand the content and knowledge of someone else quickly and to provide a structure that helps them – this is something that’s never easy. But this is why I love doing this!

Thirdly, you should never forget: IT is always about serving humans. Always. Even if you never see the end users and customers, working with those bits is always about making people’s life easier in some way.

What do you most like about your profession?

I really like solving the complex problems of my enterprise customers, I like it when I have to use my brain power. Because every customer and every project are different, I learn a lot from each engagement. What could be better than being paid for learning time? 😉

But beyond that, I like the human part of my job the most. I like travelling the world and seeing beautiful places. I like meeting people, making new connections, having friends literally around the globe. I like helping others with their journeys.

I especially love helping young women with their career paths: to find their real passion, their real mission. To motivate and inspire them – this is what I like the most.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
A few years ago, before my children were born, I was working for a company in a role I didn’t really like, for quite a low salary. I wanted to quit, but at that time I was too young and not brave (self-confident?) enough to discuss it with my managers.

I applied for a job, which I really wanted, at a consultant company. To my great delight, they invited me for an interview. I thought the interview went well, and felt good that evening. The very next morning, one of my managers invited me to his office. Each of my managers were there, and when they closed the door behind me, I realized it must be something serious. It turned out, that one of the guys who invited me to that interview the day before, was a good friend of one of my managers. And of course, he’d called him asking about me.

It was a really embarrassing situation and an annoying discussion that I had with my managers that morning. I felt lost. I even felt stupid. But in the end I got a promotion at my existing company and my salary was almost doubled! It was a happy ending, but I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be as stupid as I was then.

Be self-confident. Be brave. Trust yourself. Maybe you won’t get the promotion I got that time, but even if you leave, it’s much better to do so in a friendly manner. I needed a few more years to learn that, but was lucky to learn that lesson through experience.

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?
My most nerve-wracking moment was many years ago when I had to make a presentation to a hall full of around 100 people I didn’t know. I’ve always been comfortable presenting to small familiar groups where you get some interaction. But to stand on a stage and not even be able to see the audience out there, let alone gauge their reaction is quite something.

It’s something I volunteered to do because I knew it would be hard – something about facing your fears and all that!

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?
Never give up. Even if you feel it’s impossible – it’s not! There’s always a way to move forward! Be curious. Be passionate. As Walt Disney said, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” – See more here.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
It takes time to build skills and move up the career ladder – don’t be impatient. Don’t pull yourself down, but don’t be over-confident either.

I thought I knew it all at 25 and I look back now and see that all those people who told me how important experience is were absolutely right.

Most importantly – be yourself. Find a role that fits who you are. Don’t try and be someone else. Be proud of who you are.

Agnes Molnar
Agnes Molnar

Agnes Molnar is a Consultant, Speaker, Mentor, Author and Modern Working Mother. She is based in Budapest, Hungary. You can learn more by visiting Search Explained

Contact details: aghy@aghy.hu

Interview with a Head of International Development – Retail

A/N  This week my interview subject is a fellow Old Rishworthian alumni. I hope you’ll enjoy reading her journey and the advice shared.

Tell us a little about your career and how you ended up where you are today.

From setting up shop with my cash register as a little girl I knew I wanted to be in retail. Somehow over the years I now am still in retailing, and now have the privilege of travelling all over the world looking for new retail opportunities with a great brand. How cool is that?! I always think I have been lucky, but my friends remind me that it is me who has found and made the opportunities.

What makes someone good in your chosen field?

Opportunity driven, understanding both your customer and client, loving your brand, long hours and sheer determination! Listen more than you speak. Consultation, persuasion and selling skills are critical.

What mediums/areas do you mostly operate in?

International Retail Development and Franchising.

What can be challenging about your profession?

Long hours and flexibility to be available 24/7, this is retailing. Jet lag and chronic tiredness. Demanding customers, clients and bosses. Life never stands still so you need to be flexible and on the ball.

What do you most like about your profession?

The buzz of making things happen. Easy measurements for success. Seeing results. Every day is different.

What has been your most embarrassing professional moment?
Announcing the wrong speaker at a huge conference I had organised. I wanted the floor to open up. I don’t think it bothered anyone else but I hated making a mistake!

What has been your most nerve-wracking professional moment?

Negotiating and landing a big contract.

What one piece of advice would you give someone starting out their careers; especially in your field?

Believe in yourself at all times.You can make anything happen if you have the will and determination.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

Build up as many contacts and connections as you can. If you find someone interesting who makes you rethink things see if they will mentor you.
Read articles, chat, listen and learn.
Don’t forget your family and friends.. You can’t bring back time..

Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London
Helen Barnish, Hamleys of London

Helen Barnish is Head of International Development – Retail, Hamleys of London. Researching new markets to expand to, and contracting new Partners

A coach or a mentor?

Allan Jagger OBE & Michelle Hanton OAM

I suspect that each of us can fondly remember our best coaches and mentors.

Why? Because they have shaped our lives and influenced the development of our personality.

We may not have recognized that at the time, but with hindsight it is easy to look back and recollect them.

But are coaches and mentors the same thing?

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, mentoring and coaching are two very different experiences.

The result of both coaching and mentoring is success and personal growth. However, each takes a different path towards the ultimate goal.

The benefits of having a mentor

Sharing is something we are usually taught as children, to share our toys, and our sweets are often our first lessons in sharing. Research suggests that most people are not selfish when it comes to the proliferation of knowledge, we are genuinely happy to share.

A mentor is someone who shares and often has a personal, emotional stake in the outcome of a certain situation, being biased in your favour. Mentoring does not usually produce short-term results, rather it lays the groundwork and plants the seeds of growth.

Allan Jagger OBE & Michelle Hanton OAM
Allan Jagger OBE – a wonderful mentor – and myself

It’s no secret that humans use emotional tags to process information and develop behaviour.

Mentoring is a lasting arrangement that shapes much more than a career. It validates you as a person because a mentor’s job is to nurture and help you discover and develop yourself.

You can draw strength from a mentoring relationship, and many of us have a wide range of formal and informal mentors in our lifetimes.

A mentor’s influence will always depend on the strength of your relationship.

Given that human interactions and emotions are unpredictable, the volatility of this arrangement is a double-edged sword. A disagreement between the two parties can destroy your professional gains, given that the entire structure is built on admiration.

Mentoring can be done at a conscious or unconscious level. It is often a profound, long-lasting experience that is mutually beneficial for both parties.

The benefits of having a coach

On the flip side of the coin, we have coaches. Of course, each person’s approach is different, yet there are certain commonalities.

In contrast to the warm, nurturing, mentor, a coach is someone that is expected to be there doing a job, just like a sports coach, to bring out the result you desire.

Coaches must be pragmatic, performance-driven and logical. They must shun the broader, long-term approach of mentoring.

You could say coaches represent the boot camp of life: you may not like it, but they can teach you skills that can turn your life around fairly quickly. If you are in such a position, affection and respect are optional.

Coaching is a business relationship, where money changes hands, and a result is expected.

Coaching is usually a formula approach to self-improvement, with more predictable, consistent results. If you are going through one of the life’s rough patches and you want to resolve your issues as soon as possible, a coach is what you need.

A coach is a person to call if you need a performance boost, short-term results or some tough love. A mentor is more of a life guide, with a genuine interest in each person they choose to mentor as there is normally no financial exchange taking place. There are definite benefits for both parties, but these are generally personal satisfaction and at the pay it forward level of making the world a better place.

In my opinion, you can be a coach without caring (although good coaches always care!), but you can never be a mentor unless you do care.

In addition, the results of mentoring are less consistent than when working with a dedicated coach. That said, mentoring relationships tend to be more fulfilling and often turn into lasting friendships even when the mentoring days are long finished.

As always, I’m happy to answer inbox queries and love to see your comments here.

Michelle


My next steps

In Australia, July 1st marks the start of a new financial year. For most businesses, regardless of size, the precursor to this is a period of frenzied activity. Wrapping up the old financial year and preparing for the new: creating new strategies, setting and taking new directions, evaluating the past year’s performance success factors and deciding where to focus energies and resources next. It’s a part of the year-end process that I enjoy because it is a wonderful period of reflection where the results are normally visible and measurable. I derive great enjoyment from my involvement with my clients and personal students, both as a business woman, a teacher and as a bespoke coach.

En route with my niece
Singapore stopover with my niece

This year, the 1st of July also marked the date I arrived back in Australia after almost a year spent working in Europe. Instead of travelling solo, as I so often do, I was accompanied by my 13-year-old niece, who I was bringing on her very first visit to Australia. My son, who’s been spending the last couple of months in Europe was also accompanying me. We took time out to make a short stopover in Singapore and introduce Alexa to a little part of this island that hold so many memories for all the Van Buerle family.

My very long journey back also allowed me plenty of thinking time. Time to reflect on what direction to pursue next in life. Teaching, guiding and coaching is such a rewarding, enriching, privilege on so many different levels, not least of which, is the sense of making a significant contribution to both the personal and business growth of clients and students alike. The wonderful thing about introducing new experiences, concepts, thoughts and ideas is that I can help people develop and grow so that they can achieve their goals regardless of whether on a personal or business level. Alexa’s experiences on this trip to Australia will be with her for the rest of her life. She will be able to use them as building blocks for her future. It is not too dissimilar to the experiences I offer my clients in the sense that it is building capacity for growth.

There is a misconception that a coach/mentor is a guru-like figure who spends their time telling lesser mortals what they should be doing when, in fact, nothing is further from the truth. It is about greater understanding, empathy, trust, respect, confidentiality, mutual liking and being on the same wavelength. It’s an egalitarian relationship of strong integrity and authenticity. I often develop a special relationship with those I work with and in some cases it even becomes an ongoing friendship.

My role as a coach/mentor has developed from working with diverse cultures and organizations. People began to consult me on matters that they were ‘stuck on’, life and business areas that they wanted better results from, identifying ways to move forward, strategies to move in new directions. My business achievements, life experience, cultural range and above all, my passion for progressive, empowering growth, seemed to resonate with individuals from widely varying backgrounds, age groups and levels of experience. They all have had the common objective of wanting to effect positive, meaningful change.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You could say that this kind of work crept up on me. I’ve found that there is nothing more fulfilling than working, either as a coach, mentor or teacher, to facilitate the achievement of powerful outcomes. With the wonders of technology, it does not seem to matter where I am geographically. My only real limitation of being able to help more people is time. Whilst working full-time I was only able take on a very small number of personal clients which was why the year in Europe was so wonderful, as it opened up considerably more free time in my work diary.

On my long journey from Barcelona to Darwin, I had time to think carefully and decide that I am making the time. I do not want to be bogged down in a corporate job. Sure a high salary is nice, but at the end of the day it is not fulfilling for me. Instead, I have decided that I am making the time to do what I really enjoy and that is being able to take on a few more personal clients through our Dragon Sisters global network. I am very happy with this decision and excited to think about the new goals, the new solutions and the new individuals that I’ll be able to work with over the next twelve months.

So, to all those who’ve been asking whether I will be available this year, the answer is yes. If you or someone you know is struggling to find solutions to achieve business ambitions or just generally wants to get life on track, I’d be happy to have a confidential, exploratory ‘chat’ about how I may be able to help.

Michelle

P.S. You can contact me via michelle@dragonsisters.com.au

Sisters are doing it for themselves or are they?

Although women are fantastically capable, we tend not to be self-promoters. We share our heartache, our grief and our moments of triumph with girlfriends. It’s in our nature to genuinely share the credit for a job well done with our team, colleagues and special friends. So, although we are so good at talking in groups, supporting each other through thick and thin, there are very few of us, certainly those in the 50 plus bracket, who feel entirely comfortable, stepping into the spotlight alone.

I do have to say that young women these days seem to be somewhat better equipped to do this. I am sure this is due, in no small part; to the way the school system does so much to encourage young people, both male and female alike, to make their voices heard. They get them out there at the front of the class for show and tell when they are tiny; this translates into being more confident standing in front of an audience and speaking about your topic. I applaud this method of introducing youngsters to public speaking. In my day, it was “sit down and shut up”. To be called out to speak in front of the class was a form of punishment!

When looking at things from a career perspective, one of the best exercises for women, if in Australia, is to undertake entering the Telstra Business Women’s Awards. I am sure there are equivalents in other countries too. Entering an award is not something that I would normally do. I feel uncomfortable with self-promotion and pushing myself forward.

However, I was nominated by someone I truly respected and purely for that reason; I accepted the nomination and went through the awards process. It was a wonderful learning experience. I was forced to take the time to evaluate my career to date. Time to reflect on my achievements, but more importantly the steps that I took to arrive at my present day position, and by doing so I learnt a lot more about myself. I was forced to stop and think. To think about me, not about others.

Everyone normally operates in automatic mode, travelling the same old road that they go down every day while their minds are thinking about other things – thinking about everything except the present.  As a youngster, we usually can’t wait to grow up – that desperate need to be 16, 18 and finally the magical 21! After that, the years seem to vanish, and we wonder where the years have gone! How often do people say, “If I knew then, what I know now?”

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but living in the past or constantly making plans for the future, only serves to cheat ourselves of the pleasure of the present moment. So, instead of living in the land of “I could’ve, should’ve, would’ve” or “what if,” we must live in the present moment – making the most of it & enjoying life to the fullest!

I encourage WINNER1 cmpeveryone to consider who you may wish to nominate for an award and if, in Australia, the Telstra Business Women of the Year Awards are currently open. For me, the process was extremely rewarding, but it was not easy; in fact, I’d go so far as to say nerve-wracking! The icing on the cake was winning, but even if I hadn’t won, I would not have regretted the process I went through. It was the beginning of a much greater awareness of self. Best of all, I came into contact with a fabulous group of individual women who are all sisters, doing it for themselves!

Are you one of those women forging your own path? Perhaps you are just starting out, or maybe you are, as they say in Australia, well ‘down the track’; wherever you are in your journey, I’d love to hear any thoughts, observations or reflections you might like to share.
Happy travelling!

Michelle

PS – you can also self nominate – so don’t hide your light under a bushel!


Self care – an essential

419290_511331578905810_463274963_nLooking after yourself. Taking care of number one. It doesn’t always come easily. However, it’s also absolutely essential we learn to practice this on a regular basis.  In today’s electronic age it’s too easy to always be ‘on’, to feel the need to check emails and answer mobile phones with little regard to the day or the hour.

I know, from first hand experience, that we are faced with onerous responsibilities, tough decision making and coping with a myriad of demands on a daily basis. It’s so easy to allow ourselves to be engulfed by the burdens that are an integral part of todays corporate landscape. This frequently includes a tightened budget which translates into more needing to be done with less. Less human resources to tackle tasks have a tendency to result in longer hours, placing even more pressure on individuals.

Self care should be embedded in our lives. We are all different and there is no one size fits all but, the one thing that is common to everyone is that, unless we practise self care we are unable to continually thrive and function at optimum levels.

Most of us naturally place our families first and foremost – definitely the way it should be. But, it shouldn’t be at the expense of our own sanity or the risk of losing ourselves.

Self care means setting boundaries. It means valuing and respecting our own worth. It means being able to say no without having an attack of the guilts. It means carving out time especially for ourselves and regarding it as a necessity as opposed to an indulgence.

Michelle

Education – a key to change

EductionThe rights of the individual, the topic of our informal conversation class last night, provided for a stimulating conversation. We always begin our informal sessions with one of the students, introducing the area they’d like to talk about, and as this is a vast topic the scope is enormous, with the choice being very much up to the speaker as to which aspect of a topic they choose to explore.

As this is a C1 level class, it means there is a high degree of fluency, so the evening is always enjoyable and there is no predicting which way the conversation might flow or which areas we may segue into. The experience is highly authentic for all concerned including me.

Our lively discussion kicked off with genital mutilation of females and somehow or other managed to, very naturally, finish with the right of individuals to exercise their votes at local and national elections. How did we end up here? Well, it all came down to the our discussion that both these areas need individuals to be educated in order to stop a barbaric practice (genital mutilation) and the importance of voters exercising their right to vote in order to ensure the systems in our countries do not fail those who need them.

If we do not provide access to education for everyone, then there is little chance for improvement. Without education individuals are left in a position of ignorance, it is not their fault that they are unable to make an informed decision.

Education takes many forms, formal and informal including life experience. What is clear is that it is only through education that we evolved and therefore it must be the fundamental right of every individual to receive a basic education in their formative years. Easier said than done, but if each of us, as individuals, does our own little bit towards ensuring this is happening, the world will surely but slowly change.

I am very fortunate to have received an excellent education, not just formal but also in the university of life, and as I get older I appreciate this even more and realise that this is the most wonderful gift that an individual can ever receive. It is a gift that cannot be taken away and I thank my parents for the sacrifices they made to ensure that I received this wonderful gift.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Michelle