Women in Technology | Haifa El Ashkar, Executive Director of Managed Services, CSG | TelecomDrive.com
Meet Haifa Ek Ashkar who believes in lateral thinking and pushing herself outside her comfort zone. While venturing into unchartered territory can feel daunting, it also paves the way for a rewarding life. This is how Haifa has been able to make her own mark in her personal as well as professional life.
In a conversation with Zia Askari from TelecomDrive.com, Haifa El Ashkar, Executive Director of Managed Services, CSG takes us through her personal and professional life journey.
Personal Profile – Visualizing with an Analytical Mind
How would you describe yourself?
I am a very passionate person and would describe myself as:
- A visual strategist able to interpret and connect the dots across market trends and data.
- I have an analytical mind that loves solving problems and a very structured style when it comes to execution.
- I’m a strong believer in process, but I do not subscribe to processes designed for the sake of process. I believe a process must drive the best path to success, and I’m a huge admirer of the Jeff Bezos ‘Day 1’ mentality.
- One of my key strengths is that I can ingest information quickly and adapt to change (in fact almost every position I have taken up with every company I have worked for has involved working with ambiguity and defining/evolving my own role).
- I approach most things with a ‘top -down’ conceptual view, and ‘bottom-up’ building blocks.
Please tell us something about your personal priorities?
While I take a lot of pride in my work, my daughter, my husband and my family are my number one priority.
Please share with us some of your personal milestones and their contributions towards developing your personality?
During high school I developed my core skills – analytics, visualization and public speaking:
- I had an equal passion for mathematics/economics (analytics) and art/history/English (interpretation and creative expression). These core interests from my school days explain why I have always enjoyed sitting between Business and IT in my professional career.
- Additionally, during high school I discovered my skills for visualization – often using them to interpret and simplify complex economic concepts that would become briefing papers for the rest of the class.
- I actively participated in public speaking and debating events from year 9 through to year 12 – eventually reaching New South Wales (Australia) State Finals in year 12, and then being offered part-time work at a local community radio station. This helps explain why I really enjoy presenting/championing key messages.
During university I learnt how to process information and adapt to change:
- I didn’t really learn how to program at university (despite studying computer science). Instead I learnt how to think and how to take a complex problem and break it down into manageable pieces of work.
During the early years of my career I developed my passion for transformation:
- I was hired as the Data Integrity Manager immediately after completing university at the head office of a very successful retail chain that I had worked for (as a casual) during my university years. Within my first year at this company, I helped transform the company’s pick-pack system by writing a program and a process that helped improved stock turn around and save the company more than $0.25M back in 1994. That same program was later upgraded to a new programming language and is still in use today!
- A couple of years after working in the retail and shipping industries, I entered the telecommunications market as a Business Analyst for, what was back then, a new Australian Mobile company called Optus. During this time, I had the opportunity to work with BAINS on a company BPO and transformation initiative reporting into the Optus executive team. This was a key milestone in my professional growth and I learnt a lot about transformations, how to analyze, quantify and qualify information; and equally how to prepare and present messages.
How do you see yourself as a person? What are your three qualities that have helped you grow as a person and a professional?
I believe in lateral thinking and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone. While unchartered territory can feel daunting, it is also the most rewarding.
The 3 qualities that have helped me grow as a person are:
- Respect, trust and collaboration. I believe that at the core of life is the need to act and treat people the way you would like to be treated.
- Continual evolution. I believe every experience (good or bad) is an opportunity for us to learn and develop from.
- Creative Optimism. If you believe, then anything is possible, and with a little creativity and lateral thinking then everything is achievable.
Please share with us some of your hobbies and interests?
I enjoy going to the gym, retail therapy and chilling out with good friends.
I also enjoy reading a good book. I am a huge Jane Austin fan and my favorite book is ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I also enjoy the Dan Brown and Chris Kuzneski style of books that blend historical facts with new perspectives.
Please tell us something about your family? How has been their support in terms of helping you grow professionally?
I come from a family of 4 kids (2 boys and 2 girls) where English was a second language at home. My parents moved to Australia when my brother and I were very young, and they had to start a new life in a foreign country.
- My dad worked hard and held two jobs at a time to support us.
- My mother stayed home and looked after us.
- Both my parents understood the value of a good education and did everything they could to ensure we all completed university.
More importantly, they taught us the importance of dealing with change, upholding good values and the importance of planning ahead.
Haifa El Ashkar
Professional Profile – Leading a Balanced Life
How do you define success? What is your mantra to succeed?
For me success is being satisfied and proud of my own work and driving measurable results. I believe a clear approach and a good plan are key, but equally your plan needs to be able to evolve and pivot along the way to achieve those results.
Additionally, while I believe there will be setbacks along the way, I never stop to use those setbacks as an excuse for not delivering. Instead I believe you need find ways to work around them and still get to the goal line.
When you look back in your career – what according to you can be termed as big turning points. How have these turning points helped you professionally?
It is difficult to identify ‘turning’ points in my life because I truly believe everything (good or bad) is a journey. Hence, I see every challenge as an opportunity for growth and a potential turning point in both my personal development and my career.
What are some of the challenges that you faced and overcome during your professional journey? How did you overcome these challenges?
- At the age of 27, I led multiple teams and managed over 90 people in a very large and complex convergent billing transformation program at IBM. This really grounded me in what it takes to successfully execute on large complex transformations.
- Additionally, I helped deliver a complex program in Beirut with less then 30% of the team needed onsite, at a time when there was a lot of political instability in the country, and constant bombing. This required me to provide strong leadership (to both my team and the management of the account) while also rolling up my sleeves to help deliver the actual solution.
How do you see yourself five years from now? What are some of your big goals that you want to achieve?
I see myself leading a balanced life. While my professional ambitions involve bringing to life some disruptive business ideas and running my own company, I also understand that the time I have with my family is precious and no amount of money or success can bring back lost moments.
So, it’s all about finding the right balance for me.