Lady Colleen Glaeser is the first woman to serve on the board of international directors for Russian software developer AxxonSoft. She is also the owner of three businesses in South Africa’s telecoms, security and hospitality sectors, and has inspired scores of women around the world as a top motivational speaker. Here she talks about female leadership, her management style, and how “confidence is the key to everything”.
As a trusted global expert in a traditionally male-dominated telecommunications and security industry, Glaeser made history when she became the first woman to serve on the board of international directors for Russian software developer AxxonSoft. Named as the company’s global marketing director earlier this year, the Johannesburg-raised businesswoman integrates her corporate role with entrepreneurship and a commitment to both conservation in South Africa and sharing her can-do spirit with other women.
What inspired you to launch your own business aged just 22?
Having left school at 16, I had worked for electronics giants Siemens and Panasonic, and discovered that I was getting paid less than male counterparts.
I decided ‘that’s not for me’ and set out to start my own company, which was a big risk as a woman. I was told by everyone that it was never going to work, that people were not going to buy from me, that I didn’t even have a résumé. But you have to start somewhere. I am a very positive person and you’re either going to walk my journey with me or you’re gonna fall off the bus.
Your bold career move meant you were thrust into a management role at a very early age. What can you tell us about the leadership style you have developed?
I run my business along the lines of, ‘We know what we gotta do, let’s be passionate about what we’re doing and the money will follow.’
I see my company as a family – it’s very important to make sure all your staff know you, understand you and know that they’re important to you. I set goals and award little prizes for my staff, and I think my excitement rubs off on them. Every morning I come into the office, I say, ‘Good morning, winners!’
I have an open-door policy so they can come and see me any time. And I don’t care who it is – if the tea lady feels she has a problem in her world because the teacups are chipped, and she doesn’t want to serve them, I need to take time and say, ‘We’ll definitely get that fixed for you’.
As a female leader who has blazed a trail for South African women in industry, how can we lay the foundations for the next generation?
Our voices are being heard, we’re being taken seriously in the workplace and we are seeing more and more successful women on company boards or as CEOs of impressive companies.
It’s great for children, too, when they can actually see their mum in such a position – it gives them more confidence. My daughter had no confidence, but now I take her to all my public-speaking events so she can see her mum standing up in front of all these people.
It is vital that we continue to not only uphold this legacy but also to create a positive space for future generations of women leaders to grow and become the leaders they were always meant to be.
What is the most valuable attribute for young and ambitious female leaders?
I believe nothing is possible without confidence. This is particularly important for women. Confidence has been instrumental to my success in business. I believed I could create the life I wanted for myself, so I went out and conquered it based on this belief.
Confidence is the key to everything. It is not just about saying you’re confident, but it’s about inherently believing in yourself and about portraying this confidence through your beautifully unique offering to the world.
What are the typical mistakes young women in business tend to make and how can they be avoided?
As women, we are often too hard on ourselves. We are wired this way. It is something to delight in and be mindful of at the same time. It is important that, to find balance and lead a positive and meaningful life, we need to be kind to ourselves.
We do deserve that job, that promotion that piece of cake and Saturday afternoon massage from time to time. It is vital that we take the time to do the things we enjoy and provide us with passion. It is often during these times that our creative juices flow and we restore wellness and balance to our lives.
Your success in business has also provided you with the opportunity to explore your interests in various philanthropic initiatives. Why was this so important to you?
My philanthropic initiatives are very close to my heart. I believe that it is vital to give back. I am an active supporter of good causes, and a brand ambassador for Afrique Diamond – a jewellery company that pledges to use only ethically sourced precious stones. Meanwhile, with AxxonSoft, I am also taking on the problem of big game poaching by using the company’s ground-breaking Deep Learning security technology.
What advice would you give to women who want to achieve their full potential?
Keep it real, take the risks and remain positive – because you tell your own story. Plus, don’t be afraid, collaborate and communicate with other like-minded women and mentors to ultimately move towards increasing our important role in the world and the economy.