Interviewed by Alison Oates
Meet our Member, Fiona O’Brien, EMEA Chief Channel Officer and Head of EMEA Operations at Lenovo. We hear from her about technology’s potential to enable inclusion and participation, how to develop and maintain successful working relationships remotely and her unique take on mentorship.
You have been working for tech multinational, Lenovo, for 16 years where you have held a number of different positions. Can you describe your current role at Lenovo, and explain what you most enjoy about it?
I’m the EMEA Chief Channel Officer for Lenovo and I’m responsible for our engagement with our Business Partner Community. Lenovo sells its products with and through partners and so my team is responsible for strategy and relationships throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa. I also hold a number of other roles within the company: leading our mid-market sales organisation and managing our business transformation mission. In addition, I have the honour of chairing the Lenovo EMEA Diversity and Inclusion Board. Lenovo’s company strategy is “Smarter technology for all” and being the leader and enabler of Intelligent Transformation – that “for all” part means everyone. We can’t create products and solutions for a diverse global customer base if we’re not developing our workforce to reflect that diversity. We achieve that by adopting a robust D&I framework, with global and EMEA Diversity & Inclusion Boards and wide array of employee resource groups such as Women in Lenovo, Pride and People with Disabilities. We are particularly proud of our Product Diversity Office who help ensure accessibility, diversity, and inclusivity are reflected in our product development processes.
How has Lenovo operation evolved over the past decade and what are you most proud of?
I’m originally from Dublin, Ireland, and joined IBM’s Graduate Programme at the age of 19 straight after my studies. I held several positions up until 2005, when I ran IBM’s Personal Computing Division, and soon after we were acquired by Lenovo. I was given the option of joining Lenovo and setting up a new structure in Ireland. The company was relatively unknown but I saw the unique opportunity that moving could give me so I took the leap, joined Lenovo and haven’t looked back since! Lenovo has transformed into an industry leading technology provider and it has been a privilege to build this success with the extended team. Becoming the worldwide number 1 PC provider was a major milestone of us as a company. However, what I am most proud of is the Lenovo culture, where everyone feels empowered to be successful and where change is embraced. We value talent over location and today have created a community of employees who are best suited for their job, regardless of where they’re based.
I’m most proud of Lenovo’s culture...We value talent
over location & have created a community of
employees who are best suited for their job, regardless
of where they’re based.
COVID-19 has drastically affected the way that we work. As someone who works with a number of teams internationally, what methods do you use today to connect with people meaningfully at work?
Working with people you do not see — or who live in a different time zone, or think, talk, feel or act differently from you — can make even simple tasks difficult. I have been managing teams across countries for many years and have learnt the importance of building trust, understanding cultural nuances & unifying under a common direction. I’ve been quite lucky since, prior to Covid, I had been able to meet my teams in person and form close working relationships with them. As a result, this made moving into a remote world easier as we have been able to work similarly to the way we did before the pandemic. It is definitely more difficult to form new relationships remotely and therefore requires more effort on everybody’s part. In particular it is important to nourish human connections during remote working. Engaging with individuals, asking them what they, as individuals, need to be able to work remotely and supporting them is vital for remote working to succeed. Technology has been instrumental in enabling us to remain connected through this challenging time.
Engaging with individuals, asking them
what they need to be able to work remotely
and supporting them is vital for
remote working to succeed.
You are a strong advocate for mentorship amongst women. What have you learned from your different mentors and what do you try to pass on to women today?
Mentorship, both formal and informal, has been a key part of my career. My first manager taught me the importance of having a plan and ensuring that I was putting actions in place (making new connections, volunteering for a project) that would bring me closer to reaching my end goal. We all need help one way or another and in order to succeed, we need to get better at asking for it. There is no weakness in seeking support. Speak to as many successful people as you can and listen to and learn from them. We can all learn from our own experiences as well as others, no matter the level. In addition, try to lend a helping hand and be seen as an example to those coming up the ladder.
I am a true believer in the value of support systems and developing a trusted community of people, who you can turn to for advice, guidance and inspiration. I call this “situational mentorship”. When I’m faced with a problem or want feedback on an idea, I go to my network and simply ask someone. As a mentee, it is key to know what you wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there.
As a mentee, it is key to know what you
wish to get out of mentorship, and we shouldn’t be
afraid to aim high and ask people to help us get there!
You recently participated as a guest speaker in WIL’s panel debate “Technology: Obstacle or Enabler for Inclusion and Participation?” Why was it important for you to participate in this debate and what were your main take aways from it?
Working for a global technology company, we have to develop our products with diversity and inclusion in mind. Technology is a tool. Its usefulness depends on human agency and political will. My firm belief is that technology is and can be a great enabler for inclusion and participation, but only if it is developed in a responsible manner. It was wonderful to see, during the WIL debate, so much passion and activity and a group of women campaigning to make a difference.
Technology can be a great enabler for inclusion
and participation, but only if it is developed
in a responsible manner.
We like to conclude our interviews with a question from the Proust questionnaire: Who are your favourite writers?
During Covid I’ve finally had the time to catch up on my reading list - I’m currently discovering Irish female authors such as Megan Nolan, Laura McKenna and Emma O’Donoghue. While I love reading fiction to unwind, I also enjoy dipping into history books. Tom Holland is a great historian, and his work is so accessible! I always try to educate myself on Diversity and Inclusion topics, and recently read the children’s book Breaking the Mould by Sinéad Burke with my young son, which taught us both so much about celebrating difference, in particular around disability.
Video edited by Nadège Serrero