The Leadership Summit for Women in Technology will be held on Friday 19th November where industry leaders will discuss career progression particularly for women – and the future of technology. Cherie Ryan, Vice President & Regional MD for A/NZ Oracle, is one of the Keynote Speakers for the event and here she talks with Suzie Veitch about how she navigated her career path within the tech industry.
Originally from the UK, Cherie Ryan’s has been working in Australia for close to 20 years. She has held senior regional and global roles with Ericsson, Novel, Genesys, Microsoft and Salesforce. She started with Oracle at the end of 2019 as Sales Director for Key Accounts and was then appointed as Regional Managing Director Australia/NZ in June 2020. We asked Ryan more about her career within the tech industry.
Ryan’s career pathway led her to become Australia’s first female Regional Managing Director of one of the world’s oldest, largest software companies for Australia and New Zealand. Although she’d like to say it was all planned strategically after finishing University, she says that’s not the “real world” and is “far from the truth.”
She says she plotted the general destination for her career, but what she found was over a period of career moves, life changed around her. Industries changed and different opportunities presented themselves, and in a similar fashion, Ryan personally changed over the years and found more about what was important to her.
How have you navigated your career path – from what you studied at University, to the roles prior to Oracle?
“I needed to be flexible enough and have the agility of mind to make sure I was taking everything into account, and not just purely thinking out my steps in front of me. It was a case of what was the right decision at that time, based on all the environmental conditions,” says Ryan.
Early on in her career, she invested in herself to understand and build knowledge in all areas of the company. When she moved into technical and moved into sales, she invested the time to know what was happening in product development, market development, operations and with company partners. This investment in knowledge gave her a solid and broad understanding to find out what excited her and what her pathway would be.
“This was a strategic move, I made that decision to invest in myself! But really importantly, which I call, grasping the scary nettle … it means, when an opportunity comes up that involves taking a leap of courage – you can either grasp that scary nettle with both hands or you can just stay in the same comfortable place,” she says.
A great example of “grasping the scary nettle” – and why these four words are so powerful to her – was when Ryan was at university studying to be a lawyer and she switched to a computer science degree after the first year. She made this leap of faith because she saw what was happening in business law and what was happening in technology. From a consumer side, as well as from a business enterprise perspective, technology was booming.
Her thought process questioned whether she wanted to spend her time writing papers or should she move into the fast-paced IT world and see where it would take her? At the time IT was a very male-dominated industry and highly technical.
“I thought to myself, well why not me? I can do that! So I switched courses and never looked back!” she laughs.
What types of challenges have you come up against that really tested you?
“I basically I arrived at the office, I was turned around to look out the window facing Europe, and my the managing director said to me – ‘Go get it.’ So I grabbed my passport and I travelled to Norway, Sweden, Denmark, France Germany, Finland and the Netherlands. I talked to the telcos about that switching technology, and then this newfangled thing that brought voice and data together at the same time to the desktop,” she says. When Ryan worked for Ericsson in Europe, they were launching new leading technology to market – voice and data integration. Back then it was really at the forefront of technology. So when Ryan left Ericsson, a very large company, and joined a very small company called Genesys, it was all systems go!
Although this was an exciting time in Ryan’s career, it was a huge challenge and required a great leap of faith in her abilities. She spent her time travelling around Europe, having conversations in different languages, talking about different strategies and understanding different cultures. She acknowledges that during this time she spent in Europe, she benefited a great deal from the time she invested earlier in her career making sure she really understood all the areas of the business including product development, business development and operations.
Whilst still working for Genesys, Cherie hopped on a plane to Australia. Her boss at the time was unwell and she was asked to give a presentation to a large technology company. It was then she fell in love with Sydney and Melbourne!
Ryan says she knew in her gut that she absolutely needed to be here in Australia and this was her next step. Although it was scary to pack up her life and move halfway around the world, she knew moving to Australia was the right decision.
“With all of these changes and challenges – there was a whisper in my ear. Are you brave enough? Do you believe in yourself enough? Can I do this?”
What achievement, are you most proud of?
“The achievement I am most proud of is right now!” says Ryan. “I am the first female Regional Managing Director in Australia and NZ for Oracle.“
Not long after Ryan started at Oracle, COVID hit in 2020 and everything changed. It was an exciting and overwhelming time for Cherie because as well as being the first Regional Managing Director for Australia and NZ, she also had to navigate through the uncertainty and stress of the pandemic.
A big focus for Ryan at Oracle has been the company’s new initiative of ‘one customer, one journey, and one Oracle family’. This approach was the driving cultural change to become more customer-centric; working closely with customers, having a partner-first strategy and looking after the daily stress of employees.
“And again, knowing how all these things tied together, really helped me change those relationships with our customers, with our partners and with our employees,” Ryan adds.
What would you say is the key ingredient in building a high-performance team?
Ryan says she believes building a high-performance team where employees are empowered and there’s a mix of personality types, will bring out diversity in the thinking process and emotional intelligence.
“You need inspiration, and you need a team where risk-taking is promoted but most of all wrapped around the team,” she adds. “We talk about trust a lot, but it is extremely important to be trusted and empowered to drive to an outcome.”
From her experience building teams, Ryan believes a factor that can destroy a high-performing team is ‘group-think.’ Or having too many people in a team can often do the same thing, she says: “The other issue that can affect a high-performing team is when one or two members are very influential; this can skew the thinking of the team. It can shut down the inspiration, the ideas and creativity,” she says.
The pandemic has affected businesses globally. How have you championed health and wellness in your teams, especially working remotely?
Championing health and wellness in the teams at Oracle has been at the forefront for Ryan. Knowing early that COVID would have such a major mental impact on employees’ health, Oracle was fast to act with some great initiatives to implement throughout the company.
“We’ve had some of the harshest lockdowns in the world and I’m often on calls with our regional teams and so I hear what happens in other parts of the world. But in our region in Australia and New Zealand – but especially in Australia, we’ve been under a lot of stress,” she says.
With the stress employees have been under, Oracle hired a psychologist to join their HR team. They also developed new initiatives called ‘Bloom and Thrive’ with the focus to help employees become more active and engaged.
Oracle focuses on a ‘whole family approach for their company wellbeing. They’ve been running programs for all ages and members of the family – even children aged 5-14 years old.
“I really feel we’ve created an Oracle family,” says Ryan. “Right now, at times our home is our office and our families are part of the extended Oracle Team. So, we‘re really focused on bringing our families together for some fun events, like our upcoming Christmas ice-skating.”
Ryan is constantly working on new physical and mental wellbeing initiatives for her employees – from running courses on how to prevent burnout to positive parenting – and to more physical things like online yoga and meditation.
In closing, is there any piece of advice you’d like to share?
Ryan says a quote from Professor and author, Brene Brown, has inspired her parting piece of advice. In fact, she wrote down this quote so she could read to it out in the interview…
“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say; ‘Damn that really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again.’ My gut reaction is, ‘What a badass.’” Brene Brown.
For Cherie, this quote says it all. She values resilience, tenacity and grabbing the ‘scary nettle’, but these final words from Brene Brown sum up the advice from Ryan perfectly – and we couldn’t agree more!