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7 Questions with Amber Lee Skinner-Jozefson
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7 Questions with Amber Lee Skinner-Jozefson
Name: Amber Lee Skinner-Jozefson
Current title: Chief Executive | Managing Director
Current organisation: Oakam
For the past 15 years, my career has circled fintech and telecommunications technology, primarily in commercial marketing, corporate communications and go-to-market roles. Today, I'm based in the UK where I lead the credit building and consumer lending fintech Oakam. I've lived, worked and studied in a number of countries, including the US, the UK, southeast Asia and France. I'm particularly interested in the application of new technologies to unlock the potential of and within people - from communities to teams to the individual consumer, and in democratising access to wealth-building tools to alleviate poverty and empower underrepresented communities.
1. What have you found most challenging as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise?
Having to know more than a little bit about every single function within the business. My background is in commercial marketing so when I first joined the C-Suite of my company as Chief Product and Marketing Officer, I was very comfortable with this side of operations. I had had exposure to managing large budgets and data analysis to the degree required to head up a large Marketing department with revenue generation responsibilities. However, that experience was not in-depth enough to lead a fintech company heavily centred on data science and technical functions. Being part of an executive team means making decisions for the company, not just one department. I have had to - and will continue to have to - quickly and effectively upskill in areas I'm less versed in whilst relying on my ExCo peers, who are masters of their own domains
2. How did you become a CEO or executive of a large enterprise? Can you please briefly tell the story?
Around five years ago, I really started interrogating how I could be most impactful in a leadership capacity. By the way, having a positive impact on the success of an organisation doesn't necessitate being at C-Suite or even exec level. There are plenty of clutch playmakers throughout teams and departments, not just at the top. In my case, I felt I would be able to make the biggest difference having more of a say in allocation of resources, setting strategic direction and driving performance for the future of the entire organisation. Once this became my goal, I worked toward it, gaining leadership experience, leading special projects, expanding my knowledge base, completing an MBA, and generally putting myself in growth/stretch/uncomfortable situations to round out my experience.
I'm a newspaper journalist by training and have spent the majority of my career in marketing, corporate communications and public relations. This background has helped arm me with some qualities key to executive leadership: effective communication (interpersonal; internal; external), an approach to understanding psychological drivers of our customers, development of high performing teams.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
I have an infant daughter so management of time is both fundamental to my day and completely unpredictable. That said, I am much more of a morning person than a night owl; therefore, I tend to start early and get the bulk of my heavy work done before 2pm, when my mind is fresher.
I start every day at or before 6am. After waking up, I spend time with my daughter and husband, selectively scan the news and look at any correspondence from my family who are in different time zones around the world, and prepare the household for the day.
When I log into work, I start with a To Do list, reviewing my priorities from the day before and triaging tasks into "today tasks" and "tomorrow tasks". If I let it, my mind tends to jump from project to project. I have perfectionist tendencies and can delay tasks that I don't feel are 110% ready. Lists categorised by urgency help me combat these natural urges.
I am very focused on work from 7:30 / 8am to around 1pm. I try to eat lunch with my husband, even if just for 20 minutes, then round off tasks that require a great deal of detail and attention by 2pm. After that, I move into learning and structured reflection / big picture thinking. Sometimes that includes taking a walk by myself to mull over ideas, training courses, reading, etc…
A lot of seemingly unrelated things generate ideas and spark inspiration, so a lot of my productive reflection happens unintentionally after I log off for the day, particularly when I sleep.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
Long term success comes down to the people you have around you. Be purposeful about selecting your team and then trust them. If you don't, you'll end up taking on too much, alienating and frustrating your peers, and/or exerting an unhealthy dominance over what should be team decisions.
A healthy dose of self-awareness is always key. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses will enable you to move further, faster.
Communication is core to moving a team, department, company forward. Even with the best mission in the world, bringing folks along on the journey requires that everyone understands where they're headed, why they're heading in this direction and how they will get there. A bi-annual all-hands won't cut it. People need continuous communication to feel part of the plan.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
"The First 90 Days" by Michael D. Watkins, which I read early in my career. I didn't understand a lot of the methodologies or business concepts he referred to in the book and it motivated me to explore and learn more, eventually leading me to do an MBA.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in a large enterprise?
I am a big believer in mentorship and a very hands-on style of leadership. If you intend to groom a new generation of leaders, it starts with individuals. That is to say, tapping into more than just technical credentials in order to uncover leadership potential. Then develop that potential.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a CEO or executive of a large enterprise so far?
I was in what could have been a tense external call with an extremely broad range of very high level participants. I listened intently as one of my peers made innocuous small talk with everyone on the call until he found points in common with everyone. He then started the meeting. The atmosphere was completely changed and he commanded control of the show without aggression. A great demonstration of soft power. In the end, people are people. Niceties and human connection go a long way.